When NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the formation of the Commission on College Basketball last October, a massive scandal had landed on his desk. In September, the FBI had made several arrests -- including of four Division I assistant coaches from major programs -- as part of a federal corruption investigation that focused on coaches being bribed to steer NBA-bound players toward certain sports agents, financial advisers and apparel companies.
That ensuing scandal caused many within college basketball to speak of an uncertain future. Emmert asked former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to chair a commission tasked with making recommendations that would lead to "decisive action."
The commission announced its recommendations Wednesday, focusing on the NBA's one-and-done rule, providing a path for players to return to college if they go undrafted, enhancing punishment for rule breakers, and addressing concerns regarding grassroots basketball.
ESPN college basketball reporters Jeff Borzello and Myron Medcalf and ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony examine the major takeaways and analyze their potential impact.
Calling for an end to one-and-done
Looking for a 'boogeyman' to blame
Jonathan Givony: "NBA" is mentioned 86 times in the report. Abolishing the NBA age limit, also known as the one-and-done rule, is the commission's first recommendation.
It did not mince words, saying that "one-and-done has played a significant role in corrupting and destabilizing college basketball, restricting the freedom of choice of players, and undermining the relationship of college basketball to the mission of higher education."
The insistence on prioritizing this topic over a myriad of others is an indication of how much the commission is washing its hands of any real responsibility for the issues facing college basketball.
"One-and-done has played a significant role in corrupting and destabilizing college basketball, restricting the freedom of choice of players, and undermining the relationship of college basketball to the mission of higher education." College Basketball Commission recommendation
Dozens of players were indirectly named in the FBI investigation, most of whom were not considered top-shelf high school recruits or potential one-and-done prospects. Prior to the NBA age limit being instituted, the NCAA faced precisely the same issues it does now in regards to agents attempting to pay players.
It's preposterous to think that abolishing the one-and-done rule will fix all of college basketball's problems. The much bigger issue is not allowing players to profit from their likeness, receive endorsement deals or be properly compensated by schools for the huge amount of money they generate -- one the commission conveniently deflected, citing ongoing litigation and other issues.
The word "agent" is mentioned 107 times in the report, "advisor" 28 times and "third parties" 23 times. At some point, the NCAA will need to stop looking for boogeymen to blame for its issues, look in the mirror and try to understand why players are being approached so successfully by different people in the basketball industry. If the NCAA won't allow players to earn money, players will always find someone else who will pay them.
The issue of players seeking compensation for their athletic prowess extends far beyond one-and-done prospects. Talented players help win basketball games at every level in college, which is why an underground marketplace has developed, not just at the top of the sport but extending through virtually every conference. Eliminating the one-and-done rule will only cause schools to look at the next-best available players, the same way they did in the past.
Woj: One-and-done will remain until at least 2020
Adrian Wojnarowski says high school players will not be able to enter the NBA until at least 2020 as the league will focus on anti-tanking rules first.
Unintended consequences with freshman ineligibility
Myron Medcalf: Don't overlook another aspect of the commission's recommendation on this issue. It threatened to revisit "freshman ineligibility" if the NBA fails to adjust the age limit "by the end of 2018."
What? This doesn't make sense. So you want players who aren't drafted to retain their collegiate eligibility and scholarships, but you're also willing to put talented high school kids in a situation where they might not be allowed to enter the NBA draft or play for a college team as freshmen?
Rice said the commission did not want to adopt a baseball rule that would "lock" players into scholarships. The report states, however, that the commission will reconsider if the NBA fails to meet its demands. On Wednesday, league sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that the NBA and National Basketball Players Association conversations on eliminating the rule are centered on the 2020 draft as the earliest possible date for change.
This is worst stickup in sports history. The NBA doesn't have to listen to the NCAA. That's why they've had the age limit for more than a decade, despite complaints from many collegiate power brokers.
Also, the end of one-and-done would not end corruption and greed in college basketball. You will still have millions of dollars flowing through the game run by folks searching for an advantage and the spoils that come with it.
Cheaters will find new ways to cheat. Don't believe it? Ask the people who were convinced college sports would clean up their act after the CCNY point-shaving scandal in the 1950s or SMU's pay-for-play scandal in the 1980s that resulted in the death penalty for the football program.
The commission's myopic perspective and stone-throwing on a complicated situation is unfortunate.
Allowing undrafted players to return to school
Givony: The commission recommended that "high school and college players who declare for the draft and are not drafted remain eligible for college basketball unless and until they sign a professional contract. Specifically, players who are not drafted should be permitted to change their minds and attend college or return to college, provided they remain academically and otherwise eligible."
This is a good idea in theory, as no one likes seeing players go undrafted due to a lack of information. In reality, it's not realistic, as it would theoretically force schools to hold multiple scholarships every year well into the summer while waiting for players to decide what they want to do if and when they go undrafted.
Most of the top college programs will not wait on such decisions and will instead look to take on transfers, juco commits and less-heralded freshmen whom they can potentially redshirt and hopefully develop into contributors over time.
" high school and college players who declare for the draft and are not drafted remain eligible for college basketball unless and until they sign a professional contract." College Basketball Commission recommendation
There are currently 40 schools with multiple players on the NBA draft early-entry list, ranging from two to six players. With a cutthroat market for transfers and immediate contributors, very few schools will have the luxury of holding onto enough scholarships to appease all of these players who may decide to return. Most will choose not to.
The fact that the commission insisted on adding that the player must return to the same school (and not transfer) makes for all kinds of impossible scenarios.
What if a college coach doesn't want these players back? What if they already gave away their scholarship? What if a coach left for another job and the new coach that was hired wants to clean house and bring in his own recruits?
It does not seem as if a great deal of thought was put into addressing these scenarios.
Harsher punishment, including lifetime bans
Medcalf: On the surface, this is probably the commission's most practical and potent idea. The commission recommends possible lifetime bans for coaches hit with show-cause penalties and up to five-year postseason bans for Level I violators, while also stripping schools of any financials gains from those postseasons. The commission also seeks possible multiyear penalties for coaches suspended for NCAA violations. Both Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino faced multigame suspensions following high-profile scandals.
The message? Don't let high-level offenders back into the game and punish the programs that hired those coaches for lengthy periods that would force them to rebuild from scratch after the completion of their postseason bans.
In 2011, Bruce Pearl received a three-year show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA officials. He lost his job. He was fired by Tennessee and worked as an analyst at ESPN for multiple years. Next season, however, Pearl could start the year at Auburn with a top-10 program. It appears the commission would have liked the option to keep Pearl on the sidelines indefinitely.
These measures would ruin programs. A five-year postseason ban would deter any legit coaching candidate, and programs would lose significant revenue.
Here's the problem: The commission is not recommending mandatory five-year postseason bans and lifetime bans for coaches. It just wants the NCAA's enforcement arm to have that flexibility.
But the NCAA has already demonstrated its willingness and ability to deviate from guidelines. Ask Penn State. Plus, the Division I rulebook already acknowledges cases that might require more severe scrutiny and "whether a party should be subject to standard penalties or should be classified with aggravation or mitigation and, therefore, subject to a higher or lower range of penalties."
The commission also seems to lack an understanding of a show-cause order. The show-cause penalty is designed to put a giant red flag on a coach so future employers know they come with risks and possible penalties if they're hired during the terms of the order. So you either ban them for life or give them a show-cause penalty that opens the door to future employment. You don't need both.
Plus, all show-cause orders (and violations) aren't the same. The commission is not acknowledging that.
More clarity is needed from the commission on this.
Good luck forcing financial transparency from apparel companies
Jeff Borzello: It's clear the commission doesn't think highly of the current recruiting landscape. As it stands, the three major apparel companies -- Nike, Under Armour and Adidas -- handle most of the high-profile grassroots basketball. There are independent event operators that have more teams, but not as much of the top-tier talent.
"Currently, non-scholastic basketball is an ungoverned space with coaches, players and their families, agents and sponsors exchanging money and goods in the hope of future benefits and without accountability," the report states. "Of particular importance to the Commission are the cases in which non-scholastic basketball event operators and coaches seek benefits from colleges and college coaches in exchange for influencing their players' college choices."
The commission calls for the NCAA to enact rigorous criteria in order for "non-scholastic basketball events" to be certified. Essentially, the commission wants the NCAA to be able to audit the financials of every event operator and coach.
"In order for the NCAA to certify a non-scholastic basketball event, the owners, event operators, sponsors, and coaches for the event must agree to financial transparency about all events they run, including those that are not certified by the NCAA." College Basketball Commission recommendation
Aside from the fact that every live period event that coaches are allowed to attend in April and July already needs to be NCAA-certified, it's hard to see how the financial transparency criteria will be reached, and in some cases why it's even necessary.
How will the NCAA require Nike, Under Armour and Adidas to open their books? Even if they take away their certification, players will still play on those circuits. There are already dozens of grassroots events in the spring and summer that take place outside the live periods.
Will they threaten the shoe companies with ending contracts with member schools? Will the shoe companies turn around and threaten to pull sponsorship money from member schools? Let's see how the schools react if that happens. There are currently billions of dollars in shoe contracts between schools and sneaker companies.
The commission also doesn't make any notable reference to high school basketball, instead singling out the grassroots scene as the reason for many of the ills in college basketball. There are shoe companies aligned with high school basketball programs, just as they are aligned with AAU programs. The majority of high school coaches and people involved do things the right way, the same with AAU. Putting the onus solely on non-scholastic basketball is a tired argument.
As long as shoe companies are involved with sponsoring college programs and signing professional athletes, they're not going away from the grassroots circuit.
Proposing a new grassroots model
Borzello: Right now, there are two live periods in April and three in July. During each of the live periods, there are events run by Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, as well as programs affiliated with each of those shoe companies. There are also events run by independent event operators that invite AAU programs that aren't affiliated with sneaker companies.
College coaches are allowed to go out and watch players at these events during these five live periods -- and that's the only time they can watch players from the end of the high school season until early September.
The commission recommends that by 2019, the NCAA works with USA Basketball, the NBA and the NBPA to establish new youth basketball programs. It centers around the NCAA administering its own events in July that college coaches would "exclusively" attend.
In other words, the coaches would no longer go to several AAU events in one weekend.
In theory, this sounds good. USA Basketball already runs events for the best high school prospects, inviting elite players from different classes to Colorado Springs and conducting mini-camps and training camps twice a year.
From a practical standpoint, though, it's hard to see it really happening. There are hundreds of AAU programs and thousands of players playing AAU basketball; do they have the infrastructure or money to handle that?
Moreover, getting USA Basketball or the NBA involved doesn't necessarily eliminate shoe companies and conflicts of interest from the process. For one, USA Basketball is sponsored by Nike. College coaches who coach for USA Basketball use it as a recruiting tool.
Then there's the idea of the NCAA running its own events and limiting college coaches to those events during the three live periods in July. To start, camps are not an ideal evaluating tool. It's generally unorganized basketball and mimics pickup games. So that won't help the rising number of transfers.
More important, though, this only makes the third parties more prevalent. There will still be AAU events and grassroots tournaments. AAU teams won't just go away. So college coaches will have to keep tabs on prospects playing in those events without actually watching them firsthand. Who will coaches have to talk to for said updates? AAU coaches, scouting service operators and shoe company reps who are actually allowed to attend these events.
The commission is cognizant of how important the grassroots basketball scene is to recruiting.
"To recruit effectively, many NCAA coaches need to attend non-scholastic basketball events in which large numbers of elite players participate," it states. "In turn, these events, leagues and teams attract high school players by giving them the opportunity to be seen and evaluated annually by college coaches."
Yet these proposed changes might make it even harder for college coaches to recruit.
Givony: What is interesting was how little discussion this report had about the amount of money that is currently flowing not only from sneaker companies to AAU, but also to the colleges themselves. According to the Los Angeles Times, UCLA, Ohio State, Texas, Michigan and Notre Dame alone have deals that combine to earn more than a billion dollars. Kansas is in the midst of negotiating a 12-year, $191 million deal with Adidas.
To completely ignore that money in a report of this nature seems odd. There's a reason that apparel company employees have gone to such great lengths to ensure that their schools have access to top-shelf athletes.
If the commission is indeed as concerned as it is with eliminating the influence of sneaker companies, it seems that prohibiting these contracts would be a great place to start, as unrealistic as that might be.
Unfortunately, the entire college basketball infrastructure is built around the money that these companies provide. Until a more realistic discussion is had, the NCAA will continue to bury its head in the sand and pursue low-level middlemen who are easily replaced in the food chain, rather than confronting the issue head on.
It was surprising to see the level of detail the commission went into regarding its recommended plans for USA Basketball, the NCAA, the NBA and the NBPA to essentially take over the AAU world. It asked for these bodies to "provide an alternative to the individual and corporate influences which currently dominate pre-collegiate youth basketball particularly in the summer."
These are strong words. The commission discussed a desire to "introduce financial transparency and accountability to all such entities, establish NCAA youth development programs and provide regulated access to expert player evaluation for students and their families."
It's difficult to take these quotes as anything less than extreme hostility toward the sneaker companies, which certainly will provoke some type of response if the NCAA indeed acts on these recommendations.
What about increased compensation for athletes?
Medcalf: The commission should have started with this. This entire report, and the reforms attached to it, are all connected to the same issue: money. Some shoe companies, financial advisors, agents and schools (directly or indirectly) are giving players and their families cash, while violating NCAA rules. And the commission wants to stop this, it says.
Yet, the commission did not release one conclusive idea on legalized, NCAA-sanctioned compensation of athletes that would seem to deter some of the rule-bending and rule-breaking it confronts.
Per the commission's report: "Paying modest salaries to Division I basketball players will not address the particular corruption the Commission confronts; nor will providing student-athletes a modest post-graduation trust fund based on licensing of names, images and likenesses. None of the contemplated payments would be sufficient to reduce the corrupt incentives of third parties who pay certain uniquely talented players in the hope of latching onto their professional futures, of coaches and boosters seeking to secure the success of their programs, or of colleges willing to undermine their education mission to ensure the eligibility of players."
This is the commission's and college basketball's greatest failure.
It's easier to block the shoe companies and ban cheaters than to address the billions of dollars the NCAA and its members have made off the talented prospects who play for free. And that attitude is why corruption will persist.
The NCAA, and the commission it backed, is still unwilling to look in the mirror.