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NCAA commission not only lacks punch, but fails to understand the issues that plague college basketball

Photo: © Robert Deutsch | USATSI


© Robert Deutsch | USATSI

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?

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.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

29 Comments for NCAA commission not only lacks punch, but fails to understand the issues that plague college basketball

  1. Ridge Runner
    5:48 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    Gosh, a lot of passion and emotion seen in the KSR staff on this. I just don’t see it to that degree myself. Collegiate players in all sports get scholarship funding. Yes, it would be good if they got money as would all talented students but they do not.

    • theWilkman
      10:02 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

      That’s just the issue, though. All other talented students CAN make money.

  2. Bluebloodtoo
    5:55 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    The biggest issue here is demand. That demand is created by the NBA. Everything else that’s going on in this whole issue is due to that demand and the market’s inability to fill that demand. Free market economies work just like this. The government imposes very little regulation on this NBA economy.
    Right now, everyone is pointing at the NCAA and saying they are supposed to fix this, but they have very little control to do so. Most people are right in saying that the biggest way they could fix this issue is to pay the players, because that is actually one thing that could change the demand pattern. The NBA could also affect the demand pattern by ending the “one and done” rule, but that doesn’t really benefit them in any meaningful way.
    The NCAA has very little interest in sharing their revenue with the players. They want this to all be about “education”… at least in their marketing strategy. In reality, if they wanted it to be about education they would stop signing those huge tv deals. And they would stop their member institutions from raking in all that money from selling school merchandise. But nobody in the NCAA, the coaching ranks, or the member institutions is talking about those solutions, are they? Please explain to me how the top college coaches can make more money than their professional counterparts? How much do the AD’s make at the high value member institutions?
    The NCAA is a governing body for college athletics. The employees are made up of people from the member institutions. No external group is going to recommend that they take 30% of their revenue and share it with students. It’s just not going to happen. But then again, neither will the member institutions ever agree to reduce their revenue and focus on ACADEMICS.

  3. krautdog
    6:32 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    Actually, the real scandal here is all the NCAA makes off of collegiate football & basketball and refuses to allow the players compensation.
    But what else would you expect from an organization headed up by Mark Emmarts!

  4. catsarerunnin
    6:47 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    The NCAA needs a complete overhaul.

  5. maxblackanvil
    8:03 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    Starting with the replacement of Emmert.

  6. Luether
    8:23 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    As usual, great post, Aaron…

  7. KSR1
    8:28 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    Probable committee meeting agenda:

    1) Call Meeting to Order
    2) Protect the NCAA’s revenue stream
    3) Don’t pay players
    4) End One-and-Done
    5) Write a long official report
    6) Adjourn

  8. Aar
    9:43 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    Aaron, I’m really disappointed that you opted to go the sensationalist route with this post. I usually find your writing to be thoughtful, level headed and insightful but not this piece. We all know that truth and reconciliation commissions can not implement change. They can only recommend them. As far as such commissions are concerned this one’s recommendations were far reaching and stronger than most.

    Recommending “poison pill” options to compel the NBA to eliminate their player age restriction is innovative and recognizes that the NCAA can only control its own rules. Suggesting extensive NCAA reform from board revisions through stronger coach and institutional penalties to the ability to punish institutional academic fraud with sporting penalties is quite aggressive. Calling out pending litigation as the reason for their inability to recommend that they grant student-athletes the ability to gain from their name, image and likeness has been mentioned by yourself and the rest of the sensationalist media only after roasting them for that shortcoming. They also made the strongest reasonable suggestions yet to channel apparel company money to players through legitimate resources – certified agents and legitimately organized recruiting expositions through USA Basketball or the NBA. Overall, these recommendations are short of implementing the hard fixes of college basketball that some fans and media desire. They are well considered, real world recommendations that the NCAA should choose to follow. That’s all the commission could ever accomplish.

    I realize that negative, sensationalist headlines and journalism generates the clicks and responses that sell the advertising that puts money in your pocket. I read your work and Mrs Tyler’s because it balances the sensation with a healthy dose of reason. I think you could have used much more reason in this post and will be less likely to click on your posts in the future. Just one daily KSR reader’s opinion. At least I’m letting you know. Take that for what it’s worth….

    • dismore
      8:18 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

      ^^This guy has it figured out. Thanks for a level headed post. Most on here just want to stroke their ego with smart ass posts.

    • justaguyinthebackrow
      2:14 pm April 26, 2018 Permalink

      What you are missing is that there is no poison pill option that the NCAA can institute. Why would the NBA care if the NCAA allows freshman to play? It means nothing to them. 1) The NBA is always going to get the best talent to come knocking at its door. 2) The top players who think they have a shot are just going to not play for a college. They can go to the G-league or overseas. This is akin to saying “If you don’t stop stealing my stuff, I’m just going to put it all in the backyard and not use it.” No one cares and you’re only hurting yourself. I get the sense you two would rather just obey authority than question its proclamations.

    • Aar
      7:05 am April 27, 2018 Permalink

      You may be right. However, right now, the NCAA is the doormat that apparel companies are using to develop and test market products with no long term commitment/contract. In order to break this cycle, the NCAA needs a lever and they currently have none, bupkes, zip, zilch, nada. By threatening to devalue apparel companies’ long term collegiate contracts they potentially gain the leverage the apparel companies have through their contracts with NBPA members.

      This is all about money and the threat of devaluing an investment could go a long way. Condoleezza Rice is brutally intelligent and she would have made sure this poison pill had legs before ever putting it to the public. What do you think these past few months have been about? The ideation was completed at the first meeting. They’ve been running around validating ideas before making this announcement. I wonder what ideas didn’t make the cut.

      Since a few years before Michigan’s Fab Five, the top 100-200 prospects every year should never have been in college. They should have been in academies on professional tracks after middle school. It’s time to legitimize teenage player development by putting prospects on paid pro tracks early. That way, college coaches can recruit the worst of the athletes in basketball academies and the best of the students in academic programs. The rest of the world does it that way. We should too.

    10:22 pm April 25, 2018 Permalink

    If this surprises you, at all, you are in fact a bigger idiot than Emmert.

  10. TB112162
    2:17 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    Thanks Aaron great article the biggest joke is blaming the one and done for basketball’s problem’s a joke.The problem a lot of people are making a lot of money in college athletics and it’s not the athlete.NCAA made 1 .1 billion go ahead don’t let the best high school players go to college and see how your tv money will shrink

  11. Bull Filmer
    6:01 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    The NCAA can’t kill the Goose that continually lays the Golden Egg. But they can take some action rather than no action. Essentially what they’ve done is ‘scold’ her, slowly rise up and down & make muffled noise, and pretend-slap it on the bill, wing, or webbed foot. All in the name of keeping the Goose healthy but appearing to be disciplinarian.

  12. Fitz
    7:16 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    Excellent analyst but Aaron omitted one salient point about the NCAA, it’s core mission and values

    The NCAA’s primary if not sole interest is to foster amateurism in college sports, so it’s not surprising the Committee came up with so many lame recommendations.

    • Kat4Life
      8:22 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

      Excellent point

    • J-Dub421
      8:25 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

      The NCAA cares so much about academics that they let UNC commit two decades of mass scale academic fraud without so much as a slap on the wrist

  13. AllBall
    8:05 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    Certified agents is the NCAA’s way of jumping on the gravy train. There can’t be one dollar generated the NCAA doesn’t claim their own.

  14. AllBall
    8:14 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    People are missing the point. The Commission is just a big facade to make it appear change is going to take place. People in positions of power and great wealth are not going to relinquish it just because you make a few recommendations.

  15. UKBoo
    8:34 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    An aspect that has been completely missed: Removing the One and done rule will most certainly affect high school performance. Anyone remember prop 48? It allowed poor performing high school students the opportunity of a second change at playing college. Today, we have kids from those same back grounds who are capable of skipping their senior year in high school. What changed? Statistics do not support an argument that high school performance has increased across the board so that hasn’t changed. I think early professional prospects know they must perform early in high school so they can enter college. It’s the required step and they are accepting that process. That is the change… Removing college as a required step means less kids will prepare at an early age for college. Every kid thinks they will be an NBA star so why bother with high school if at least some college isn’t required? The rule needs to be changed to two years instead of removing it. The outcome? More kids will know they must perform their freshmen year in college because they have to be eligible for a second year. I’ll admit, UK hasn’t seemed to have this problem but other schools have. I am not a fan of the one and done because it helps UK. I am a fan because a lot of gifted kids earn valid high school diplomas when not so long ago the same kids were illiterate.

  16. 3Goggles
    8:36 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    This whole article is spot on and pure gold analysis. The best thing KSR has done in a long time is bring Torres on.

    Nice work!

  17. Jiminy Crickets
    9:33 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    #1. Stop with the pay the players crap. If anyone thinks a 300-500/month stipend will stop guys from taking $100,000 cash to go to particular schools, or agents, you’re dreaming.
    #2. The NBA has no interest in any of this. The REASON the OAD rule was created by NBA was because when kids were allowed to leave HS to NBA there were 100 times more Kawmi Browns than there were Kobi Bryant’s or Lebron James, and NBA GMs were getting fired every day over signing these flops, then the kids were discarded like the trash.
    Now your asking the NBA to spends hundreds of millions of dollars to create camps to evaluate and advise these kids? Lol, ok. The NBA is concerned about product, if they go into draft, go undrafted, and live on the street, the NBA doesn’t care “it’s a business” remember.
    #3. Allowing the top 25 prospects in each senior class, and not a day before, to hire agents, and allow them to take actual legal loans, would stop the funneling of money at the top. These agents would have to show transparency so that they don’t become funneling tools to certain schools.
    I agree with almost everything you wrote, but the pay the players is a weak argument. If you don’t think money isn’t funneled to everyone of those kids, particularly at the top schools, you’re naive.
    #4. An agreement with NBA/NCAA to allow those “advised” to go straight from HS to NBA to go and if undrafted, go back to college, but if they go back to college they’re there for 2 years. When talking OAD we’re really only talking about 3-4 programs. UK, Duke, Kansas and Arizona. Everyone else may have one player every other years, those 4 are the only ones currently recruiting them by handfuls. And if you don’t think those schools would get the pick of the “next 25”, they would, while leaving 1-2 schollys open for the undrafted guys to come in in June

  18. Underdog
    10:21 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    The C in NCAA stands for Corrupt.

    It will NEVER do what’s right. Keeping the status quo was the Warren Commission’s purpose. I mean Rice Commission.

    Give the appearance of trying to improve and “do right” but then do nothing.

    The only thing that will work is when institutions leave, when basketball programs leave the NCAA.

    And that is not likely to happen because the institutions are part of the problem. They are part of the money making scheme.

  19. UKfanforlife
    11:02 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    The NCAA is the devil. The member schools should pull out and start their own league ad make their own rules. They sure Washington beauracrat like Condoleeza Rice sticking her finger in the pie. The NCAA hauls in a ton of money, the universities get scraps and the players get nothing.

  20. Rabbi Li
    11:27 am April 26, 2018 Permalink

    You will never convert Basketball in a capitalistic society into a socialist framework… and it doesn’t matter how many Teachers, Faculty, or PTA moms you line up.

    1. College players are rewarded with over $100,000 in scholarships, higher education, healthcare, benefits, perks, shelter, transportation, food, gear, and accommodations. It also offers them elite level coaching to improve their ‘skill’, prime time television ‘opportunities’ to potentially ‘catch the eyes’ of employers who could consider hiring them (for potentially huge contracts).

    They don’t have to take the scholarship. Repeat… they don’t have to take it.
    That is what is being offered. Repeat… that is what is being offered.

    2. 1 & done levels the playing field more than the rule that preceded it (where kids could just go straight to the NBA). This is because Calipari & Coach K go for the ‘fools gold’ and if they get caught up in it too much (with a bench that has no veterans or regional talent that bleeds for the University) then they will not win Championship.

    Once Basketball is being played by kids older than 10 years old… it becomes competitive. Every kid doesn’t get to play and only those who have earned a spot on the court should see it.

  21. makeitstop
    12:01 pm April 26, 2018 Permalink

    What a waste of time. You literally could’ve written this report in a week because there is nothing new here. And Rabbi is right: you have this product, it’s in high demand. 31 million fans ATTENDED games this year, lord knows how many watched and bought cars and beers and insurance and soap bc of that; our own team would be worth $250B according to the WSJ, and the NCAA bureaucrats raked in over $1B selling license rights etc. Shoe companies pay $100M to have a team wear their shoes and companies pay millions per year to slap their names on arenas. Pretending this is an exercise in purity and amateurism is DELUSIONAL. You think the Olympics would be worth billions of infrastructure investment if not for marketing rights? The best regulations don’t start from naïveté they start by understanding and properly harnessing market forces. Regulating agents and access? Okay, licensing works. Saying if u don’t let 18 year olds all declare for the draft we will punish ourselves by having our best athlete sit and be tall spectators for a year? Idiocy. They didn’t need a commission, they needed to hire real consultants and pay for real recommendations and instead did the silly political bureaucratic thing and appointed glitterati instead of cold analysts. Typical Emmert nonsense. That’s all on him. Time to go. Hire a real business guy to run a real business or paddle in circles like a ship of fools. Am I right or wrong?

    • makeitstop
      12:11 pm April 26, 2018 Permalink

      I’d add any solution that doesn’t work for the NBA, Apparel companies, advertisers, universities, NCAA and coaches, staff and advisors is DOA, and it should be. The NCAA can’t impose its solution on the nba, or advertisers to whom they are beholden. The baseball rule has worked pretty well for decades, and u don’t hear about college coaches getting bribed to push some left handed prospect to one agent or another. It may not be perfect but it’s a better starting point than forget about school u will all be stars and get drafted, oh sorry, no u won’t, we’ll better find a college w fake classes since u haven’t studied math since ur first dunk in middle school. Dear Lord what a bunch of silly rubbish was this “report.”