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4 takeaways from the NCAA basketball rule changes

Change is coming to college basketball, but what does it really mean?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-NCAA President Press Conference Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The FBI’s investigation into corruption throughout college basketball has now resulted in tangible changes to the sport. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced it has accepted recommendations from the Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball aimed at cleaning up college hoops.

The NCAA’s mission was to “minimize the leverage of harmful outside influences” while also giving players more freedom and flexibility. While the intent of many of these changes sounds good on the surface, there will be unintended consequences at the onset of the process as athletes and coaches try to navigate college basketball’s new reality.

Many of the changes have been previously reported, including the overhaul to the grassroots or “AAU” basketball summer evaluation period and how it will impact the way players are recruited. These are our main takeaways from the NCAA’s announcement.

Undrafted college players can return to school ... if they were invited to the combine

Here’s what the NCAA is saying:

College basketball players who request an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation, participate in the NBA combine and aren’t drafted can return to school as long as they notify their athletics director of their intent by 5 p.m. the Monday after the draft.

Here’s how it might actually work

Let’s take two Arizona players from last season as an example: Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier. Each declared for the draft as underclassmen and were invited to the combine. Each signed agents and decided to stay in the draft. Each went undrafted. Under the new rules, players like Alkins and Trier would be able to return to school.

The problem is that this rule change applies to a small number of players. The NBA invited 69 athletes to the combine in 2018, which left plenty of capable players with pro dreams on the outside looking in. St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds is one example of a player who was snubbed by the combine. Now those decisions on who is in and out of the combine take on extra weight.

This year, only six players would have fit this criteria: Kansas’ Malik Newman, UNLV’s Brandon McCoy, Duke’s Trevon Duval, South Carolina’s Brian Bowen (who had his own issues) and Alkins and Trier.

The NCAA is allowing “elite” high school players and any college player to be represented by an agent

Here’s what the NCAA is saying:

College basketball players can be represented by an agent beginning after any basketball season if they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Pending a decision by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, high school basketball players can be represented by an agent beginning July 1 before their senior year in high school, provided they have been identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball.

The effective date will be decided if/when the NBA and the NBPA permit high school students to enter the draft.

Here’s how it might actually work

The idea of letting college players work with agents is a good one. Agents can now pay for meals and transportation for players and their families when they’re going through the process of selecting an agent. This is available to any college basketball player in the offseason once their team’s season in finished.

One problem: all agreements must be terminated when the athlete enrolls in or returns to college.

The agent process for high school players is even more complicated. Players have be deemed “elite” by USA Basketball to get the right to work with an agent. This is limiting in a number of ways, especially for players born outside the United States.

USA Basketball reportedly hasn’t had substantive conversations with the NCAA about their role in this yet. It’s another example of the NCAA pushing for reform in the wake of the FBI scandal without really thinking the entire thing through.

The NCAA no longer has to do its own investigating into rule breakers

Here’s what the NCAA is saying:

People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law, government agency, accrediting body or a commission authorized by a school. This will save time and resources previously used to confirm information already adjudicated by another group.

Here’s how it might actually work

This means that if the FBI finds that a school like Arizona broke rules, they can be punished by the NCAA without the NCAA doing its own investigation.

The NCAA is also trying to get subpoena power in these matters:

Grassroots basketball will have less influence

Grassroots basketball is the proper term of “AAU”. At the moment, most of the major recruits play in shoe company-sponsored leagues by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour during the summer. This is the NCAA’s attempt to deemphasize that and put coaches back in high school gyms with players competing with their high school teams. Yes, coaches can still be at grassroots events for one weekend in July, which means Peach Jam will be saved.

But the NCAA’s intent here is clear: it believes grassroots basketball is the source of much of the corruption throughout the sport, and it wants to diminish its influence.

There is a lot still to be figured out

The NCAA wanted to appear that it was being proactive in addressing the corruption uncovered by the FBI. The problem is that the real reason the sport has so much corruption is because of the amateurism model the NCAA still clings to.

Some of these changes will benefit athletes, but this is not the radical change the sport needs by any measure. There remains questions at every turn. Just how many athletes will be impacted by the decision to let undrafted players who were invited to the combine return to school? How will the changes to the recruiting calendar affect under-the-radar players? Are high schools really better equipped to give exposure and competition than grassroots leagues?

The NCAA will tout Wednesday’s announcement as a victory for cleaning up the sport. But as long as amateurism remains college basketball’s model, a black market will always exist.