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The NCAA’s new report doubles down on just about everything already wrong with college basketball

An NCAA panel couldn’t find room in a 52-page report to suggest letting players make money. That makes the rest of it hollow.

Condoleezza Rice Speaks At Launch Of One Woman Initiative
Condoleeza Rice.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last fall, after it emerged that violations of NCAA rules had become the focus of a wide-ranging FBI probe, the NCAA named Condoleezza Rice the chairwoman of a reform group packed with administrators, coaches, and former players. The NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball report came out Wednesday.

There are no surprises here. The only thing that would’ve been surprising is also the only thing that would solve college basketball’s problems.

The commission does not suggest letting players make money. This is the only thing that could come close to cleaning up the messes the NCAA says it’s worried about stopping.

The NCAA asked for this report after 10 men connected to the men’s game — including four coaches at power-conference schools — were the subject of indictments unveiled in September. The government alleges a variety of fraud and bribery schemes, including two centered around agent types paying coaches bribes to steer players to their businesses.

The NCAA doesn’t let players collect money for their talents. The NCAA’s ban on player pay is the root for all of the actual crimes the feds are alleging. If players get paid above the table, they get paid less under it. There’s less incentive to launder money and commit fraud, like the government alleges in these cases.

The commission doesn’t make some obvious suggestions to help players, even ones that wouldn’t require schools to pay them.

The commission bats around an adaptation of the Olympic model, in which players would be allowed to profit off their own athletic likenesses even as schools don’t pay them. But it stops short of embracing even that easy step.

Rice’s group also says the NCAA’s sit-one-year transfer rule should remain in place. The NCAA might change that rule for players who reach a certain GPA requirement, but even that doesn’t go far enough to give players the same freedom of mobility as their coaches.

The ideas the commission does offer are a mix of good and bad:

It suggests:

  • The NBA and its players union end the league’s 19-year-old age minimum.
  • Letting players go all the way through the NBA Draft and then return to college if they’re not drafted. Right now, players have to withdraw from the draft beforehand to retain NCAA eligibility.
  • Letting players and recruits consult with NCAA-certified agents so they can get a better sense of their professional chances. The NCAA has already moved in this direction for baseball and men’s hockey, though only for high schoolers on their way to college.
  • The NCAA establish a fund to pay for the remaining education of players who want to come back to school after leaving early for the draft. Notably, it suggests players only be eligible if they’ve completed two years toward a degree. Many athletic departments already make this guarantee to players, but there’s no NCAA standard.
  • An overhaul of the NCAA’s equivalent to the judicial system, away from the volunteer-staffed Committee on Infractions and toward a more professionalized process.
  • Harsher punishments for violations of NCAA rules.
  • The NCAA take some control over AAU basketball, requiring that college coaches only go to AAU events if their finances are in order and they have “educational components.” Along with that, it suggests the establishment of NCAA youth programs.
  • “Enlisting” the big shoe companies to be more transparent.
  • Recruiting rule changes to “reduce the influence of third parties.”
  • Adding more “public members” — people not currently working for schools or the NCAA — to the NCAA’s Board of Governors.

The NBA’s age minimum really is bad, and bringing agent contact with athletes into the light can only be a good thing. AAU basketball really is a Wild West, and regulating it might be good, though the NCAA might be terrible at doing it. It’s a good thing to guarantee long-term scholarship money for athletes who turn pro before graduating, and it’s a good thing to let undrafted players come back to college hoops.

But at its core, this report is an exercise in maintaining the status quo.

Players are the labor in a national tournament that’s worth more than $1 billion per year in television money alone. Players are the product at the center of all college sports’ pride and pageantry. The best players in the country know what they’re worth, and they know the NCAA doesn’t want them to get it. Unless the rules change, they’ll keep getting broken.