The NCAA knew it had to do something following the federal corruption investigation into college basketball’s black market last year, the worst kept secret in all of sports yet one perpetuated by the organization’s own antiqued rules. The NCAA knew no one trusted its system. It knew it had to make changes.
“We can’t go into the next basketball season without having made some pretty significant changes that restore people’s confidence in, not just basketball, but in the enterprise,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said Oct. 31.
This was an opportunity for the NCAA to make a bold, progressive statement, to lead college sports into the future and salvage a gigantic money-making operation that people still care deeply about. It could have allowed athletes to profit off their likeness. It could have put additional infrastructure in place to help its players handle the demands athletics and school. It could finally put a fork in the amateurism model that is so obviously obsolete.
The NCAA didn’t do any of that when it announced its changes Wednesday. Instead, the NCAA doubled down on its own core values, increased its punishments for breaking rules ,and enhanced its own power in dishing out penalties.
Even the new rule changes that seem good on the surface won’t have a tangible impact on the vast majority of college basketball players. The NCAA rushed to make a statement to appear as if it was taking a hardline stance in response to the FBI investigation. In the process, it served no one but itself.
Very few athletes will benefit from the rule allowing undrafted players to return to school
Giving underclassmen the option to return to school should they go undrafted in the NBA? That’s good! The problem is the one major stipulation the NCAA stuck on this rule. Here’s how they worded it:
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.
Great. So that means only six players would have fit the criteria to earn the option of returning to school based off the results of the 2018 NBA Draft. Three of them, at the most, would have entertained the idea of going back to their college team:
By my count, only six undrafted players would have even had the option to return to school this year under the NCAA's new rule: Rawle Alkins, Brian Bowen, Trevon Duval, Brandon McCoy, Malik Newman and Allonzo Trier.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) August 8, 2018
Only applying it to combine invitees is needlessly limiting.
Bowen would not have been eligible. Alkins and Trier were likely ready to move on. Maybe Duval, McCoy or Newman come back? But certainly no guarantee that any of them prefer that option.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) August 8, 2018
This is classic NCAA: wanting to earn some good PR for making it look like they’re helping athletes while actually helping almost no one.
The way the NCAA will allow players to work with agents isn’t as good as it sounds
Perhaps the most noteworthy piece of news from the NCAA’s announcement was the decision to let college players and “elite” high school players work with agents. Of course, the fine print spells out why this is not as good as it could and should be.
For college players, the ability to work with an agent only extends to the offseason. The agreement must be “terminated when the student enrolls in or returns to college.” Athletes will get some free lunches out of this. They will get to learn the realities of what working with an agent is really like. But they won’t have that counsel as soon as school starts up again.
How this extends to high school players is even murkier. Here’s how the NCAA put it:
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.
It turns out USA Basketball wants no part of deciding who is “elite”. The NCAA never even fully disclosed to them how exactly this would work.
Few are pleased w/ NCAA's handling of release. USA Basketball and the NBA were blindsided w/ NCAA dictating USAB would decide which HS players could eventually hire agents. USAB doesn't have desire or infrastructure for those evaluations. If anyone has that expertise, it's NBA.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 8, 2018
That doesn’t even address the matter of how non-American players like incoming Duke freshman R.J. Barrett or Clippers lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — both of whom are Canadian — fit into all of this.
By the way, the NBA isn’t abolishing its age limit until 2021, at the earliest. This is the most shortsighted part of a plan that is decidedly shortsighted altogether.
Deemphasizing “AAU” basketball might be a disaster
The NCAA clearly wanted to destroy shoe company-sponsored grassroots basketball, AKA the club teams athletes play on away from their high school teams in the summer and the spring, AKA “AAU” ball. When the NCAA said it was intending to “Minimize the leverage of harmful outside influences on high school recruits and college student-athletes,” grassroots ball was the target.
So the July recruiting period will only have college coaches at grassroots events (read: Nike’s Peach Jam) for one weekend. Instead, the NCAA will bring back community “jamboree”-style events and force coaches to evaluate players while they play with their high school teams. The NCAA is also starting massive regional camps that will include up to 2,000 athletes.
It’s obvious the NCAA is biting off so much more than it can chew with this. The creation of the regional camps is a gigantic undertaking, from selecting the players to getting everyone from the coaches, athletes, and instructors to buy-in. There’s also a good chance under-the-radar players slip through the cracks in a setting like this, or that a coach won’t even nominate a player he likes because he doesn’t want another school to see them.
It’s hard to imagine how any of this is going to be more beneficial than the leagues Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour put on. Those leagues are well run and give athletes exposure and coaches evaluation opportunities. The NCAA isn’t recognizing any of that. Instead, it’s telling players to go back and play with their high school teams in the offseason.
Are we really sure high schools will be any better when it comes to guiding a player through the recruiting process? Grassroots teams are built for this. Instead of embracing all of the goodwill the shoe company leagues have given back to the game, the NCAA has decided to demonize them while still accepting their money for multi-million dollar school apparel contracts.
Condoleezza Rice was always in over her head
The NCAA made these rule changes after they were recommended by the Commission on College Basketball, a group headlined by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
When do you think the last time Rice spent a weekend watching Nike’s EYBL or the Adidas Gauntlet or the Under Armour Association? It was always a joke that Rice was effectively in charge of this.
What’s next, Sean Spicer as the head of the NCAA? The Manafort Council on March Madness Reform?
All the NCAA really did was give itself more power
Two key points from the NCAA’s announcement:
As a term of employment, school presidents and athletics staff must commit contractually to full cooperation in the investigations and infractions process.
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.
This essentially gives the NCAA its own version of subpoena power, putting school presidents and ADs on the line for forcing rules while also now accepting anything the FBI finds as truth instead of having to investigate it themselves.
This should make the initial schools involved in the FBI scandal even more scared. Under these rules, NCAA punishment could appear at any moment. And the new rules also make the punishments harsher than ever.
The NCAA did do some good things ...
Another really, really good change: "Division I schools will be required to pay for tuition, fees and books for men’s and women’s basketball players who left school and returned later to the same school to earn their degree.”— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) August 8, 2018
I really, really love that one.
But even that won’t be available to players who leave school after one year.
In general, the NCAA’s changes amount to window dressing. It all sounds and looks nice, but much of this won’t have any real benefit for student-athletes. College basketball’s problems still persist, and will continue to do so until the amateurism model is finally scrapped.