The Commission on College Basketball's report and recommendations are a well-intentioned, well-presented failure. The commission had a golden opportunity to address a flawed system, a system that generates billions upon billions of dollars and systematically limits to expenses only one class of person, the class that produces that revenue.
Instead of addressing the money in the game and the issue of amateurism, the commission simply accepted the flawed argument upon which this entire multibillion-dollar industry is based. It blindly accepted the NCAA rhetoric that athletes already "get enough." The commission accepted the fallacy that college basketball's "problems" are not based upon its flawed rules but are caused by greedy third parties -- parents, summer basketball personnel and capitalist apparel companies.
The commission whiffed. By any reasonable measure, Mark Emmert has not had a successful tenure as NCAA president. He has presided over unprecedented scandal and has largely failed to move the NCAA and its membership to address their most important and glaring issues. When the FBI investigation and federal criminal charges became public this past September, Emmert could no longer ignore the contradictions and hypocrisy over which he presided.
He established a commission, led by Condoleezza Rice, to bring credibility to the process and to bail him out of his mess. In short, Emmert established this commission so as not to let a good crisis go to waste.
The commission is made up of many of the smartest and best people in sports. It has unquestioned integrity and the best of intentions, and it had a difficult task to tackle in a short time frame. But, just like with the NCAA itself, great people and good intentions do not always result in good policy. Don't get me wrong, a few of the recommendations were good, but the overall report was sloppy and illogical and missed its chance for real change and real reform.
What we have from the report is simple. It is a doubling down on current NCAA policy, including its history of antitrust violations, its role as a cartel trying to consolidate economic control over and influence of lower levels of basketball. It shifts the blame to those outside the NCAA system instead of serving as a clear look in the mirror to examine and admit what college basketball and college sports really is.
Instead of being bold, it was unimaginative. Instead of identifying root causes, it pointed fingers everywhere but at the NCAA rulebook itself. Instead of being consistent from one area to another, it was inconsistent and illogical.
Of course, it was not all wrong or entirely flawed. Here are the few areas around the edges of the report the commission got right:
1. Outsourcing enforcement and adjudication to neutral and independent bodies
This has been long overdue and something that many have advocated for years, but the NCAA has been willfully blind to its necessity and ignored calls to reform the system.
Having investigations and adjudications undertaken by independent parties (with reasonable prosecutorial discretion) will bring some consistency, fairness and credibility to a process and a body that has had little or none for decades.
However, having the NCAA implement such a system is asking the fox to design the henhouse. An independent and neutral party should put together the framework for such a system, not the NCAA itself.
2. Allowing players to have certified agents in high school and college
The ban on agents has long been a failure of NCAA policy, driving all interaction between players and agents underground and forcing the better, more ethical agents to the sideline while the worse, less ethical agents had open-field running to influence players.
The report correctly states that, in the absence of open access to agents, players will simply get such access illicitly.
So, it should be allowed. Pretty simple.
Agents can be certified and regulated with relative ease, and players should be allowed to sign agreements with certified agents. Of course, the commission should have anticipated that agents will also be providing advice on where a player should go to college and will have the ability to advise players to attend schools in package deals, too.
In the absence of players being able to benefit beyond a scholarship, expect third parties such as agents to fill the influence void.
3. Allowing players to maintain college eligibility until they sign a pro contract
Rather than wait for the NBA and National Basketball Players Association to agree upon policy to protect the NCAA, the NCAA could just protect itself and allow its players to return to college.
If this is really about the player, why put up a stop sign for those who wish to continue as students? This is good policy, but it should not be limited to the team the player left.
If a team or coach does not want the player back, he should be able to play immediately at another school. Anything short of signing a pro contract should allow the player to maintain his eligibility to play anywhere in college, not just at the program he left.
Otherwise, there is no real lifeboat for a player to return to college.
4. Accountability from administrators, especially college presidents
In addition to enhanced penalties for rules violations, the commission advocated accountability for athletic directors and presidents, which is long past due. For too long, coaches have been accused of looking the other way and using plausible deniability while those above them avoided all accountability.
We will see just how serious the NCAA is about reform, and whether presidents will be held accountable for rules violations that occur on their watch. NCAA history has taught us all that presidents like to say they are in charge but do not admit culpability or accept responsibility. Such things are for coaches.
5. Adding public members to NCAA boards
Corporate boards of directors have outside members, as do university boards of trustees. Yet the NCAA has always been one big echo chamber that preaches to its own tone-deaf choir.
Having outside and disinterested members of the NCAA board of governors -- who have a vote -- is a positive step forward to provide a different perspective.
Of course, the NCAA presumably will just appoint like-minded people, but it's a start.
Rice sees 'tremendous' benefits from NCAA reform
Condoleezza Rice shares how the Commission on College Basketball's recommendations to the NCAA will deter exploitation and greatly benefit universities and student-athletes who are serious about academics.
Where the commission recommendations failed
The report goes out of its way to address the benefits flowing to the athlete, such as the scholarship, training, and health and welfare benefits, including the chance for the valuable college degree in exchange for player services.
Yet the report does not address the value that players create and the money flowing to everyone else but players. The implication is clear. The NCAA can solicit and accept money from media rights deals, apparel deals and other revenue streams, but any third party has to change its business to conform with NCAA rules.
Instead of examining NCAA rules to determine whether they were valid, fair or moral, the mountains of money and mountains of NCAA rules were accepted as such without examination. Nowhere in the report does it question or even mention the money generated, the obscene salaries paid relative to the NCAA's rhetoric and stated mission or the lavish spending.
One irony was inescapable. Rice is a member of Augusta National Golf Club, which annually hosts the Masters golf tournament. The Masters is impressively noncommercialized, when it could easily maximize revenues with no complaint from consumers.
But the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club steadfastly protect their product and do not allow it to become commercialized beyond its stated values and mission. The NCAA, which includes the conferences and member schools, on the other hand, commercializes every aspect of its properties, selling them to the highest bidder and maximizing revenues, and it does so in contradiction to its stated values and mission.
The Masters, the most valuable professional golf tournament on the planet, is more amateur in nature, action and restraint than the NCAA tournament or any regular-season college basketball game.
It was a failure that the commission did not address the money in college basketball, the issue of amateurism and whether the NCAA was making justifiable choices given its stated values.
The report started with the questionable moral judgment that a degree is the "centerpiece of intercollegiate athletics" and that college sports is a "trust based on a promise."
The promise is the exchange of athlete services for the chance at a college degree. "Any policy or action that violates that trust is morally wrong."
So the enterprise with powers that be who sell players for billions of dollars while paying themselves first (and limiting athletes to expenses only) is moral, and anything in contradiction to that is immoral? This moral pronouncement is not only questionable, it is laughable. To state that college basketball is to be played by "student-athletes" and not paid professionals is like saying college itself is for unpaid students and not paid professionals in a chosen field.
Yet all non-athlete students can earn or accept any amount of money in a chosen field and still be a college student in good standing. The report states that one has only to ask those who finance their own educations the value of the benefit to an athlete, ignoring that scholarship musicians, scholarship English majors, scholarship art majors or the countless others on scholarship get the same valuable benefit and opportunity without any restriction on what they can earn or accept in the marketplace.
Although it is undeniable that a college scholarship is valuable and a wonderful thing, nowhere in the report does it address that non-athlete students are unrestricted but their "peer students" are subject to a cartel restriction. The moralizing in the report was disappointing.
3. Blaming the NBA's one-and-done rule
If the commission believes players should have a direct path to the NBA without any barrier, it is perfectly acceptable to recommend that the NBA and NBPA allow 18-year-old high school players to enter the draft.
However, to imply or state that the elimination of one-and-done players will limit corruption in college basketball ignores more than 100 years of NCAA history and is factually inaccurate.
There were similar (if not identical) rules violations before 2006, when high school players could skip college and go directly to the NBA. The rules violations today are not limited to one-and-done players but occur among all players. And there will be similar rules violations in the future.
Blaming one-and-done for college basketball's problems, as if it is some sort of contagion, simply isn't fair, and it is not remotely true. The commission is not endorsing the "baseball rule," which means players will still be able to leave after only one year and players can still reclassify to enter college earlier, as Marvin Bagley III and Silvio De Sousa did this year, among others.
One-and-done will still be in effect, no matter what.
Lastly, to spend so much time addressing pathways to avoid college, yet to threaten "freshman ineligibility" or a lockup of scholarships if one-and-done is not eliminated makes no logical sense. The commission wants players to have a pathway to the NBA and not be "forced" to play in college, but it also wants to force players to sit out and to punish schools if players take that pathway?
4. Name, image and likeness
Some commentators have said it was clear from the start that the commission would not address paying college athletes, as that was not its charge. However, Rice stated after the recommendations were released that the commission could have addressed the issue if it had chosen to do so.
Clearly the commission should have addressed players' rights to monetize their name, image and likeness. The commission was making recommendations. There was no legitimate reason to punt on NIL issues.
The O'Bannon case provided the legal parameters necessary to make an informed judgment. Even if the commission were to recommend allowing NIL rights, that would not carry the day in pending litigation any more than my recommendation on a radio show would.
This was a missed opportunity and a failure.
5. Transfers should sit out
There is already a group dedicated to examining rules involving transfers. Apparently that is not a deterrent to the commission rendering its judgment as it was in the case of name, image and likeness.
Transfer policy is not an issue of corruption. It is an issue of fundamental fairness and player rights. Whether a player sits out a year is hardly an issue of corruption, and there is no evidence that third parties are persuading players to transfer who otherwise would not transfer.
These are either students or employees. Students can transfer at will. Employees can be subject to noncompete provisions. The commission whiffed on this one, as well.
6. Summer basketball reform
This was both a hit and a miss. It is perfectly appropriate for the commission to recommend the NCAA establish its own basketball camps and academies to provide competitive opportunities for young players.
It is also appropriate to recommend the NCAA regulate and certify events to better ensure legitimacy. However, it is not appropriate or effective to limit access of coaches to the entire landscape of youth basketball, save for NCAA events.
Just like access to agents, limiting access of coaches to players empowers the third parties that the NCAA seeks to limit. The answer to influence isn't to take coaches away from the players but to allow more access of coaches to players.
When NCAA coaches are not present, others will fill that void. The commission suggested greater access of NCAA coaches to their own players during the summer so third parties will not be empowered. It also recommended greater player access to agents so bad agents will not be empowered. But limiting youth players' access to coaches will somehow limit the influence of third parties? That makes no sense.
It's fine to have the NCAA, NBA and USA Basketball collaborate to run camps and academies as an alternative to current market offerings. But trying to squeeze out competitive camps with anti-competitive practices is not the answer, and it opens up the NCAA to more claims of antitrust violations.
Coaches need to see players to evaluate them, and players need to be seen by coaches to be evaluated. The NCAA should endeavor to present a better product, not to improperly influence competitors in the industry.
By the way, does it occur to anyone that Nike is the exclusive apparel provider to both the NBA and USA Basketball?