Luke DeCock

Rice Commission airballs on real reform, doubles down on NCAA's basketball flaws

Rice: We’ll leave NCAA image likeness issue to the courts

Condoleezza Rice, who leads the independent Commission on College Basketball, said her group offers no official recommendation on whether college athletes should make money off their name and likeness. Rice said it should be the courts who decide.
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Condoleezza Rice, who leads the independent Commission on College Basketball, said her group offers no official recommendation on whether college athletes should make money off their name and likeness. Rice said it should be the courts who decide.

It's all window dressing. It's all impressive verbiage in useless service to a flawed, inequitable, exploitative system. It's all a waste of time.

Buried on Page 10 of the much-heralded Rice Commission report on college basketball commissioned by the NCAA is the poison pill that makes all of this a waste of time: “The commission has decided to focus its recommendations on supporting the college model.”

Airball.

In other words, no real reform. Just another attempt to concentrate and retain control over collegiate athletics, and in this specific case basketball, in the hands of a privileged few, allowing them to make as much money off the backs of college basketball players as they can.

You'll be shocked to find out the Rice Commission supports the current rule requiring transfers to sit out a year. Just shocked.

A lot of this sounds good. Some of it is. Beef up and outsource enforcement while strengthening penalties. Let players come back to college if they go undrafted. “Fix” one-and-done, even if that's entirely outside of the NCAA's purview. Take control to police summer basketball, which would require an entirely new arm of the NCAA in charge of high-school players. Take control of agents, which would again require – hey, who saw this coming? – more new jobs in Indianapolis.

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.

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These changes, Condoleezza Rice said Friday, will “restore credibility to the phrase student-athlete.”

Huh?

That phrase has never had any credibility. It was a legal fiction, adopted in the 1950s to avoid paying workers' compensation to the widow of a football player who died from a head injury suffered on the field. If Rice and her cohorts were serious about fixing what's wrong with college basketball, they would acknowledge not only the inherent contradiction of that loaded phrase but its obsolescence. Instead, they doubled down.

NCAA President Mark Emmert tells the Knight Commission that college basketball must undergo fundamental change before the next season.

None of this will stem the river of dirty money running through college basketball, because it refuses to address the basic inequity at the heart of it: NBA prospects have tangible value, and the NCAA insists they do not. As long as that's the case, money will find its way to them. Just as it does now. The laws of economics do not bend at the will of the NCAA.

“A college degree is the real ticket to financial security for most student-athletes,” Rice said. But the dirt in college basketball isn't collecting around “most” players. It's about the elite, the ones for whom the “lifetime” earnings of a college degree pale in comparison to their immediate NBA earning potential.

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“We are not running this the way a billion-dollar business should be run,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said back in October. “We try to put a circle into a square. That's what men's college basketball is. It's not a bad circle. But it can't be done like the square.”

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski addresses recent scandal reported by Yahoo News which involves many of the NCAA men's top programs.

The Rice Commission spent more than six months in the interim desperately trying to squeeze that circle into that square. It just doesn't work. It never will.

So all of this sounds good. Some of it – like an impartial panel of outsiders to adjudicate NCAA infractions cases – is long overdue. There are hints that letting athletes get a piece of their name-and-image rights wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, even if the commission avoids actually taking a stand issue because of the ongoing litigation.

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.

But most of it is on a spectrum from impractical to ludicrous. If the NCAA can't govern itself, why on earth should it get into the agent-certification business, let alone the summer-basketball business? We'll be back here in five years to hear from a blue-ribbon panel on fixing those.

And the threat, if the NBA and its union don't address one-and-done, to make freshmen ineligible in retaliation is not only laughably out of touch but suggests a willingness to irreparably damage college basketball in order to save the collegiate model. There's a rejection of the baseball model, which is fine, but no mention at all of the hockey model, which indicates something less than impeccable diligence to explore all options.

It's terrific the NCAA has finally acknowledged it has lost control of the sport, but these recommendations aren't designed to retake control of college basketball; they're designed to retake control of the so-called collegiate model, to make sure the money and the power stay with the schools instead of the players.

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The Rice Commission was given unlimited power to take on and address the issues surrounding college basketball. Its unwillingness to do that, to slap a new coat of paint on the same old flawed system, to partake in all the old tropes and rhetorical underpinnings of the NCAA's exploitative foundation, is not only a waste of time, it's an unconscionable waste of one of the rare openings when the tumblers of public and internal opinion clicked into place and real, tangible reform might have been possible.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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