While the ACC's football coaches are focused on the typical esoterica of their sport this week at the conference's annual meetings — recruiting calendars and headset rules — their men's basketball counterparts were dealing with nothing less than the future of their sport, although not exactly by choice.
The ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball corruption and the resulting NCAA commission led by Condoleezza Rice has had an indelible impact on the basketball conversation this week, forcing coaches and administrators to confront issues that had been ignored or avoided for years while wrangling with the Rice Commission's recommendations and debating the direction of the sport going forward.
As the ACC wrangles with the circumstances that launched the Rice Commission and discusses its conclusions, it's impossible to ignore how the debate within the sport has changed — and how quickly more changes are coming. The Rice report is barely 3 weeks old, and the NCAA Board of Governors is expecting to have legislation in front of it when it meets on Aug. 8. That freights the discussion this week with pragmatic weight it might not normally have.
“To say this is fast-tracked would be an understatement,” said NCAA men's basketball czar Dan Gavitt, who, along with NCAA Division I vice president Kevin Lennon, addressed a joint session of ACC administrators and basketball coaches Tuesday afternoon.
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Regardless of what anyone may think of the individual recommendations, on their merits or feasibility, there's no question they have focused the discussion not only nationally but for the ACC and its basketball coaches this week on issues that get to the heart of college basketball — potential changes that are not incremental, on a year-to-year basis, but could have an impact that reaches out decades.
“Could” being the operative word there, because arguing for change is one thing, but actually implementing it — with a diverse group of stakeholders that includes the NCAA, conferences, coaches, the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, agents, shoe companies and, unavoidably, all the hangers-on that cling to the sport like limpets — is something else entirely.
“I've always liked things that are basketball-specific, not trying to decide what's good for a basketball player would be the same thing for a rower or a fencer or a tennis player or a golfer or a baseball player,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “This was very much a basketball-specific group, so I liked that part of it. The recommendations they came forth with, I think they're all great, great ideas. How workable some of them are, when you have to get other people to cooperate, that's the question.”
In football, which lacks that kind of blueprint (and also, to be fair, also lacks an ongoing FBI investigation), the ACC coaches were focused on more typical minutiae, which this year includes the proposed changes to transfer rules, fallout from the expanded recruiting calendar and early signing day and restrictions on the number of coaches and players that can be on headsets or in the press box — all of which are essential to coaches but hardly hold the future of the sport in the balance.
N.C. State football coach Dave Doeren said he didn't see much in the Rice Commission report that was applicable to college football, although he did think data on the academic success (or lack thereof) of basketball transfers was worth examining for football purposes.
“Obviously we don't want to add anything to football that would make it worse,” Doeren said. “If that's something they already have data on, we probably ought to talk about it.”
In the absence of the Rice Commission or the FBI investigation into college -basketball corruption that launched it, the basketball coaches might have been dealing in similar administrative minutiae — scheduling, officiating, rule changes, transfers. Instead, they're wrestling with the future of their sport and the possibility of massive changes to the way they do business in very complicated ways.
The Rice Commission's recommendation that the NCAA take control of the summer recruiting process was particularly fraught with peril on several fronts. And even something as sensible as the NBA and USA Basketball getting more involved raises questions about what happens for prospects who aren't future pros — like, just for one example, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's grandson Michael Savarino, a Division I basketball prospect at Durham Academy.
“If you just do an elite NBA-USA basketball thing, you're going to discriminate against a lot of kids,” Krzyzewski said. “That doesn't mean you shouldn't do those things. But you have to be aware of giving opportunities to other people. That kind of stuff is still in the infant stages of being figured out.”
Also discussed were comments by Wendell Carter Jr.'s mother to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics last week, which got a lot of attention because she used the word “slavery” but actually offered a very nuanced and impassioned perspective on the paradox of spending an uncompensated year in college en route to an NBA career.
Krzyzewski said Duke was considering providing mentors from the Fuqua School of Business to its one-and-done players to better prepare them for their impending professional careers — not in response to, necessarily, but in acknowledgment of the situation she underlined.
It's one attempted solution to one inherent problem with the way the system is set up now, but there are countless problems where obvious — or, in the case of the Rice Commission, practical — solutions are harder to find. That's a process that's just getting started and will have to move quickly, and it has created a different kind of debate for the ACC this week in Florida.
“We're having more movement at a time where there hasn't been much movement and maybe we can correct a lot of these things,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it was a good step, a really good step. No one step is going to accomplish the fact that we haven't taken many steps in the last four decades.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock