In theory, Wednesday was supposed to be a big day in college hoops. It was the day that Condoleezza Rice and her “Commission on College Basketball” released its findings, after digging into the sport for the last nine months. The commission was put together shortly after the FBI probe hit back in September, and during that time it was clear something had to change in college basketball.
The question was what would that change be? We got the answer on Wednesday, and unfortunately, the committee’s “findings” were the most disappointing thing to hit college basketball since Virginia’s loss as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In essence, the committee just regurgitated a lot of the same common ideas that have been thrown around for years; that the one-and-done is bad, that draft rules need to change and that summer basketball is the root of all evil. Even the changes that were suggested that could have some value (like say, allowing players to have agent representation) were half-baked at best, and would need sign-off from other entities (like say, “The NBA”) to actually take place.
Therefore, Wednesday wasn’t really a good day for college basketball, but instead a sad one. After countless hours and dollars spent, this committee essentially came up with the same, boring ideas that any fan with a working knowledge of college basketball could’ve thought of. Wednesday wasn’t really about change, but instead tweaking the status quo and largely keeping things the way they are.
Now before we get into the actual suggestions, I do want to add one thing: In hindsight, I think we should have seen this coming. While this committee looked great on paper, it lacked the one thing that could have led to tangible change: Actual basketball people, who know the issues that actually face college basketball.
In hindsight, there was a grand total of one person on the committee has actually worked in college basketball in recent years (John Thompson III), and he was surrounded by a bunch of grey-haired AD’s, politicians and former players who aren’t in touch with the modern culture of college basketball. With all due respect, do you think Grant Hill has any idea how college basketball actually runs? Do you think Condoleezza Rice has actually been to an AAU Tournament in the past few weeks?
If this committee wanted to truly pack some punch it should have had people who know the landscape, some current head coaches, some assistants who are in the mud recruiting every single day, and maybe a reputable AAU or shoe company representative.
Had that happened, maybe we could have gotten actual change. Instead, here are some thoughts on some suggested changes and why they probably won’t work:
Removing the one-and-done rule
Look, anyone who knows my work knows that I’ve been a proponent of the one-and-done. I believe putting the best 18 and 19-year-old basketball players on the college stage has helped create increased interest in all levels of basketball, from AAU and high school, to college, the NBA Draft and Summer League and beyond. I also think it’s clear that when the FBI told us that the best high school players are having hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled to them under the table that maybe something needed to change.
There’s just one problem with the Rice commission demanding this rule be removed… IT’S NOT AN NCAA RULE!!! It has nothing to do with the NCAA, and the NCAA has no control over it. Therefore, instead of spending all this money working on a commission to change college basketball, the powers that be in the NCAA should have spent that time getting together with the NBA and hammering out a concrete plan to get the best high school players to the pros more quickly without college.
What might have been even worse however was the committee’s half-hearted threat that if the one-and-done rule isn’t removed, that the NCAA might alter its rules and make freshmen ineligible for college basketball. First of all, what is that? Like was that a real threat? Because I’m pretty sure Adam Silver isn’t exactly shaking in his boots and calling emergency meetings to change the rule after hearing that.
What’s even worse however is, what if that actually happened? No kid wants to sit out at all, and if that rule actually went into place, wouldn’t it actually serve as the opposite purpose its intended? Wouldn’t it send more players overseas and to the G-League as ill-prepared teenagers? Wouldn’t it create fewer kids focusing on school and education and more on ill-fated professional careers?
Among the committee’s suggestions that might have been the worst.
Allowing players to seek agent representation before they go pro
Again, this is one that sounds great on paper but lacks any real bite. Here’s why: The NCAA supposedly wants to certify agents to work directly with players. That sounds great. Except there are a few things I don’t really understand here. One, an agent’s job is to first and foremost make money. So are any agents – even those certified by the NCAA – really going to give a kid the best advice? Or the advice which just makes sense financially to them? Why would it behoove an agent to advise a kid to go back to college?
Just now getting caught up on the Rice Commission's "findings." Nice to know we spent nine months and countless thousands of dollars to come up with conclusions anyone with an elementary understanding of college basketball could've come up with
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) April 25, 2018
And the bigger picture here is this: If the Yahoo probe into college basketball a few months ago taught us anything it’s that… the best players are often times working with agents WAY before they even get to college. Heck, we found out that Dennis Smith Jr. took close to six-figures before he even committed to NC State. He had been dealing with agents for years before he even thought about college. Now he’s going to get to college and start working with somebody certified by the NCAA? Come on.
Ultimately this is another “suggestion” that I actually think has little to do with the NCAA. The NCAA can’t control what a kid does before he gets under the NCAA’s umbrella (aka before he enrolls in school) and by then, NBA certified agents have long since gotten to him.
If you want to limit the access players have to agents, the best bet is to get with the NBA and come up with uniform rules on when and where agents are allowed to contact players (kind of like how college coaches can’t call high school recruits before a certain time on the calendar). Otherwise, this idea is pretty fruitless.
Allowing players to return to school if they go undrafted
This was one of the few suggestions on Wednesday that I think unequivocally helps college basketball. If we can get past coaches not knowing what their roster will look like until mid-June (boo hoo, sorry coaches, deal with it), I see little downside. Most kids who declare for the draft without an agent are away from campus for two months anyway (often taking online courses) so ultimately what is another month? School generally isn’t in session for May, and while enrolling in summer school in June and July is a plus, it isn’t required to be eligible for the fall (as long as you leave the spring in good academic standing). Again, I see little downside for college basketball.
But the NBA? Can you imagine the chaos if the doors are opened to pretty much anyone entering the draft that wants to? Heck, we already had 200+ kids enter the draft this year, and that’s without this new rule. If kids knew they could enter the draft and stay in through draft night I really do wonder how many more would test the waters. My hunch is that it would be significant. And that doesn’t even take into account the idea that high school players will soon be eligible. So how many dozens more players will that now include?
So ultimately do you want to be the guy in the NBA scouting department tasked with wading through the hundreds of players who enter the draft to find the two or three your team is going to select on draft night? Me neither.
Trust me, give it a few years. But the NBA is going to hate this rule.
Limiting the role of shoe companies in summer basketball and handing it over to the NBA, NCAA and USA Basketball
To me, this is the most tone-deaf of all the recommendations, and ultimately shows how little that the folks on this committee actually know about summer basketball. In my mind this also speaks to the generally held – but also wildly misinformed idea – that “AAU basketball” is just a bunch of shady middle men trying to sell their best players to the highest bidder. Does that happen? Of course. Does it happen as often as AAU’s detractors make it out to be? Not even close.
The simple reality is that AAU basketball does way more good than harm. As someone who spends a good chunk of his summers at AAU events, I can tell you that for every one John Wall or De’Aaron Fox – the unquestionable, can’t miss NBA talent that would be identified no matter what – there are hundreds of other players who need AAU to get exposure and to be seen by college coaches. College coaches can’t go watch 300 different high school players, at 300 different high schools during the course of the winter months. But they can go to one AAU tournament and see those same 300 players under one roof.
And it isn’t just the elite, John Wall types who are getting noticed. It’s the players who have no NBA future, but might be of interest to smaller colleges who are getting noticed too. No matter what the model is, it will be easy for the Duke’s and Kentucky’s and UCLA’s to recruit. But what about the Central Connecticut’s, Eastern Kentucky’s and Florida Gulf Coast’s? How are they going to find their players if the NBA and NCAA hold a few camps over the course of the summer, instead of the current model, where there are events all around the country. You could argue it’s those schools that need AAU basketball more than the Duke’s or Kentucky’s.
Furthermore, when the committee says that the NBA and NCAA need to “take back” summer basketball, I don’t think they have any idea just how big this scope is. “AAU” isn’t just high school juniors trying to impress college coaches, but literally, teams, events and tournaments at all age levels from about nine or 10-years-old straight through 17-years-old. Just for fun, I texted an AAU buddy of mine and asked him how many kids were in his program. His answer “Combining all age levels? We have roughly 500 kids in our program.”
Did you see that? Five-hundred! And that’s just from one program, in one region of the country. That means that even if you took the 50 or 75 most reputable AAU programs in the country, the Boo Williams’ and Mean Streets’ and Compton Magic’s and West Coast Elite’s, we’re literally talking about 10’s of thousands of kids at all age levels. And the NCAA and NBA are supposed to get an infrastructure in place to replace that? Ain’t gonna happen.
By the way, there is one other thing worth considering here: The whole reason of putting the NCAA and NBA in charge of the summer circuit is to limit shoe company influence, right? Well, wait a second. Didn’t the NBA just sign an 8-year deal, $1 billion deal with Nike to make them the NBA’s official jersey maker?
So we’re to believe that now because the NBA is in charge, there will be no sneaker influence at all? When they’re a billion partner with Nike? To quote Cris Carter: C’Mon Man!!!!
Look, I could keep going, but I think the point has been made. I think everything above also shows just how little the committee did, and to be honest, even understood the issues.
Again, to be clear, this committee was put together when the FBI uncovered that high school and college athletes were being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars under the table by sneaker companies, agents and schools themselves for their services as basketball players.
There were tangible solutions to this mess: Work with the NBA to remove the one-and-done rule (rather than just issuing some thinly veiled threats), allow players to capitalize off their likeness, be it by allowing for paid endorsements, money from apparel sales (specifically jerseys) or things of that nature.
Ultimately I don’t have all the answers, but I do know there were better answers than what we got Wednesday.
For all the excitement about the Rice Commission, the suggestions ultimately came out flat.
They also left more questions than answers.