Once you get beyond the unfortunate reality that the changes to college basketball and the enforcement process the NCAA approved on Wednesday don’t actually address the underlying problems with the sport, there’s actually a lot to like.
There are some legitimate global reforms, particularly to the mechanics of infractions and enforcement. There are some rule changes that will give basketball players more freedom, like the ability to hire an agent or return to school after going undrafted (under certain circumstances). And the changes to summer recruiting aren’t as draconian as first proposed, but have gone through a process of welcome moderation.
What’s missing from the changes the Rice Commission originally proposed? The one-and-done process is not addressed, nor can it be without cooperation from the NBA and NBPA, which may still be forthcoming. Also, the Rice Commission suggested the NCAA adopt a more proactive stance with academic fraud as it relates to athletics, apparently in reaction to what happened at North Carolina. That slipped through the cracks as well.
Above all of that, the Rice Commission never veered from its NCAA mandate to address the real roots of the issues, the anachronistic and hypocritical “amateur model” that artificially restricts the market value of college players to divert the massive profits of the collegiate-athletic-industrial complex to anyone but them.
That’s been clear since April, when Condoleezza Rice and her willfully blind committee suggested instead this package of half-measures designed to preserve the underlying status quo while papering over the cracks.
Most of these changes are like a Band-Aid on a tumor or a pain-killer for a virus. It might make things feel a little better, but it treats the symptoms, not the disease.
That said, this is far from a waste of time. There’s a lot of good in this, for players, for basketball and for college sports.
Start with the NBA draft: While one-and-done will have to wait, NBA-bound college players can now hire an agent and anyone who receives an invitation to the combine can return to school if they go undrafted. Players who leave early will get their scholarship back if they return to complete their degree. These are all positives for players, shifting the pendulum of power in their direction.
The changes to enforcement bring outsiders – and outside evidence – into the process in so-called “complex cases,” removing conflicts of interest like the one that saw SEC commissioner Greg Sankey oversee North Carolina’s academic-fraud case, while stiffening penalties for violators and requiring everyone from coaches to university presidents to cooperate with NCAA investigations.
The biggest question will be the impact on summer recruiting, where the NCAA and USA Basketball are trying to steal a trick on the shoe companies, essentially limiting coach viewing of shoe-sponsored AAU tournaments to one weekend – the so-called “Peach Jam” exemption, carved out of the original recommendations to preserve that summer ritual.
It remains to be seen whether getting the NCAA involved in summer recruiting is a good idea or a bad idea, and there are a thousand pitfalls to be negotiated and details to be refined, but it’s certainly a change.
Change, in this case, is good. There isn’t nearly enough here to fix the problems in college basketball – the money swirling around the game and the players both before and after they’re in school – but the changes to the enforcement system in particular are long overdue. The other stuff, it’s a step in the right direction.
Any positive momentum is better than where things were a year ago, before the FBI stepped in to shake things up and the NCAA was forced, finally, to take stock of what college basketball had become.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock