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5 things to know about the Rice Commission's plan to fix college basketball

Dennis Smith, unnamed coach at NC State referenced in updated FBI indictment

The FBI on Tuesday announced the filing of a superseding indictment in the college basketball investigation that alleges payments to include additional families of student athletes, including an athlete at NC State that appears to be Dennis Smith Jr.
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The FBI on Tuesday announced the filing of a superseding indictment in the college basketball investigation that alleges payments to include additional families of student athletes, including an athlete at NC State that appears to be Dennis Smith Jr.

The College Basketball Commission’s long-awaited recommendations arrived on Wednesday morning. Led by Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state and Stanford provost, the commission spent the past seven months developing solutions to address the myriad problems in college basketball, which has been in a crisis since September amid an FBI investigation that has exposed the sport’s corruption.

The highlights of the Rice Commission’s recommendations:

1. It calls for an end to the so-called “one-and-done” rule.

The one-and-done rule, which requires players to be one year removed from their high school graduating class before entering the NBA draft, is, in fact, an NBA rule, one that the NCAA and its member schools have no control over.

Still, Rice and the other 13 members of the College Basketball Commission have called on the NBA to end the rule, saying that the “downsides now outweigh any benefits” in college basketball. Some college programs, Duke and Kentucky especially, have become known in recent years for their reliance on freshmen who play one season before entering the NBA draft. The Rice Commission views the one-and-done model as a problem for college basketball, because the players who use it are often seen as commodities – by shoe companies, by agents – before they even arrive at college.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls upon the NBA to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from high school to be eligible for the league.

“These uniquely talented players are the focus of agents, apparel companies, investment advisers, college coaches and others seeking to profit from their skills and offering them cash and other benefits in hope of future gain.”

2. If the one-and-done rule doesn’t end, then … freshman ineligibility?

The commission has called for the NBA to end one-and-done by the end of 2018. If it doesn’t happen, Rice alluded to “other tools” that might be at the NCAA’s disposal. She said if the one-and-done rule isn’t removed, the committee would reconvene and consider what else could be done to address the problems the rule creates.

Among those, Rice said, would be consideration of the so-called “baseball model,” in which college baseball players are required to remain in college for three years. Another possibility, Rice said, would be freshman ineligibility, which would take college basketball back to its roots, somewhat. Freshmen were ineligible in college basketball, decades ago, but that rule went away in 1972.

Could freshman ineligibility really come back? Doubtful, but the Rice Commission’s take on the one-and-done rule underscores a growing disdain for that model and the perception that it needs to be changed.

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3. College players who enter the NBA draft, and aren’t drafted, should remain eligible.

No question, this will be the most popular of the commission’s recommendations. It’s one that has been batted around for a while but, for whatever reason, hasn’t gained much traction.

If the Rice Commission’s recommendations come to fruition, then college players who enter the NBA draft but aren’t drafted can return to school, so long as they don’t sign a professional contract. There are some conditions: The player has to return to the same school, and he has to receive an evaluation from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee before entering the draft.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, part of the independent Commission on College Basketball, said players should be allowed to test the professional market after a college season and still be able to return if they aren't drafted by the NBA.

For players, there’s no downside to this. They can enter the draft, not get drafted and have the safety net of returning to college – so long as they don’t sign a pro contract. College coaches, though, might grumble.

The NBA draft is in mid- to late June. This year, it’s June 21. By then, coaches – who, by nature, are all sticklers who love to have as much control as possible – will want to know who’s on their rosters for next season. This proposal, if it passes, makes that more difficult. It could create a scenario in which many more players enter the draft, creating more uncertainty for coaches who will now wonder whether a player is really gone or whether he might return based on what happens during the draft.

For the players, though, this proposal affords a lot more flexibility.

4. Players should be allowed to work with agents to better understand their pro prospects.

The commission recommended that the NCAA and its members “develop strict standards” for certifying agents and allowing NCAA-certified agents to work with high school prospects and offer guidance about whether they should enter college or pursue a professional career.

From the Rice Commission’s report: “Elite high school and college players need earlier professional advice, including whether to declare for the draft or whether college basketball offers a superior pathway. If NCAA rules do not allow them to receive that advice openly, they will often seek it illicitly.”

The commission has recommended that college players be allowed to sign with NCAA-certified agents while retaining their eligibility. Currently, it’s against NCAA rules for athletes to sign with agents. Among the long-assumed revelations in the FBI investigations have been black-and-white details about how agents attempt to induce athletes and their families while the athletes are still in high school.

Condoleezza Rice and the Commission on College Basketball is advocating for an NCAA program that certifies agents. Only those agents would be permitted to be in contact with student athletes.

5. Much harsher NCAA penalties are coming, as is an overhaul of how academic fraud is handled, if the Rice Commission has its way.

The commission essentially called for an overhaul of how the NCAA handles “complex and serious” infractions cases. The commission, for one, recommended that the NCAA create independent bodies to investigate and decide those cases.

Secondly, it called for much more severe penalties. How severe? Well, a case that includes allegations of Level I violations, which are the most serious, could come with a penalty of a five-year postseason ban. The commission also called for harsher “financial penalties” for Level I violations. Those, according to the commission, would include the loss of all revenue sharing in post-season play, including the NCAA tournament, for the length of the ban.

The commission also addressed how academic fraud cases should be handled. It recommended that the NCAA “revise and clarify its role in addressing academic fraud or misconduct by member institutions and make application of those rules consistent.”

The Commission on College Basketball recommended harsher penalties, including a 5-year postseason ban, for NCAA programs that are guilty of Level I infractions.

The commission did not specifically address the recent UNC case, which resulted in no NCAA sanctions at the end of a long-running investigation into how questionable African Studies courses helped athletes maintain their eligibility. Clearly, though, the commission addressed one of UNC’s arguments against penalties: that the courses in question were available to all students, not just athletes.

Initially, UNC described the case, to its accrediting agency, as one involving academic fraud. The accrediting agency, meanwhile, determined that the classes lacked integrity, and they landed the university on one year of probation.

Later, though, UNC argued that the case did not fit the NCAA’s definition of academic fraud, in part, it argued, because the classes were available to non-athletes.

The Rice Commission addressed that argument, writing: “Member institutions cannot be permitted to defend a fraud or misconduct case on the ground that all students, not just athletes, were permitted to ‘benefit’ from that fraud or misconduct. Coaches, athletic directors and university presidents must be held accountable for academic fraud about which they knew or should have known.”

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