New NCAA rules are more cosmetic than they are consequential
When NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the formation of the Commission on College Basketball, it was billed as an ambitious response to the scandal caused by the FBI investigation into bribery and corruption.
The commission, led by Condoleezza Rice, made its recommendations in April. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced sweeping changes based on those proposals, proof of the commission's intent to fulfill its mission.
"This has been a vast process," Bud Peterson, chair of the NCAA's Board of Governors and the president at Georgia Tech, said on the conference call.
"Essentially, something that would normally take us about two years through the governance process, we were able to accomplish in two months."
Emmert said he expected the new rules, which include stiffer penalties for rule-breakers and the certification of agents for top prospects, to help eliminate "the corrosive elements of college basketball."
But is he right? Here are some takeaways and questions about the new rules:
Undrafted players can return to school
The NCAA will now allow players who remain in the NBA draft but don't hear their names called to come back to school for another season, pending approval from the NBA and NBA Players Association. They'd previously been forced to withdraw 10 days after the NBA combine or forgo their eligibility.
Someone should fly to the Bahamas and check John Calipari's blood pressure. It appears a team like Kentucky could be forced to make room for returning players who fail to get drafted, a potential quagmire for a program that undergoes heavy roster turnover each season and might promise scholarships to incoming players that it can't provide.
This change isn't a huge a deal. First, it will impact only a handful of players who have requested an evaluation from the Undergraduate Advisory Committee and been invited to the NBA combine. Arizona's Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier, Kansas' Malik Newman, Duke's Trevon Duval, and UNLV's Brandon McCoy went undrafted after participating in the combine.
"The group of players that will be able to take advantage of this opportunity will be very limited in scope," said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men's basketball, on a conference call Wednesday.
Right now, these players are considered free agents after they go undrafted. Duval (Milwaukee Bucks), Alkins (Chicago Bulls) and Trier (New York Knicks) have signed two-way contracts, while McCoy signed a training camp contract with Milwaukee Bucks. Newman recently signed with Miami Heat.
Most of the players who get invited to the combine and get an evaluation, however, know where they stand with NBA teams and can make sound decisions about staying in the draft or withdrawing. A few cases could cause problems for college coaches who might need to make room on their rosters in late June. But this isn't a massive challenge because it won't affect many players.
How is agent certification going to work?
The NCAA will now allow agents to represent college players and pay for minor expenses tied to their professional ambitions, as long as the agents complete a certification process and the players request an evaluation from the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
High school players, who are identified as "elite prospects" by USA Basketball, will also have the power to hire agents before their senior seasons if the NBA changes its age limit. This will help the elite college players, and eventually top prep talents, identify and hire the help necessary to make significant decisions about their futures.
But what will the NCAA's certification process entail? Who gets to decide the standards for a good agent and a corrupt agent? The NCAA will also force players to terminate the relationships if they come back to school. Why? Let the players hire agents. That's smart. Allowing the NCAA to limit the relationship and control of which agents get certified according to an undetermined standard could convolute a measure that's supposed to benefit players.
Adding to the confusion is how USA Basketball will determine who qualifies as an "elite prospect" or if that is a responsibility that body is willing or able to take on. Further, the timeline regarding changing eligibility requirements for the draft is still dependent on the NBA. Several NBA officials have also told ESPN that they didn't think the league's age requirement would be lowered to 18 until 2021 at the earliest.
Scholarships for returning players is a good idea, but where's the budget for it?
The NCAA will require Division I schools to provide tuition, fees and books for former players who want to return to school and continue toward their degree. There are a few caveats: The players must be no more than 10 years removed from school and they can't have left before completing two years toward a degree.
Many schools already do this, so it's not a novel concept. While Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and the other Power 5 programs can cover the costs associated, the NCAA will establish a fund for "limited-resource" schools that can't afford the bill.
But what about every school in between? What if every player who has failed to complete a degree at Toledo or Western Kentucky over the past decade decides to enroll in school next year (the rule becomes official in August 2019) as a result of this? How many schools would be able to afford it?
It's an admirable effort. But it also sounds like one of those ideas created by people who don't have to worry about the financial details while students on campuses around the country are dealing with rising tuition and outlandish fees.
Why the need for so many official visits?
The NCAA will give student-athletes an opportunity to take 15 official, all-expenses-paid visits. Prospects were previously afforded five visits. Why? Because no kid has to take more than five official visits to make a final decision.
With five trips, players enjoyed unnecessary, leisurely "visits" at schools that never had the chance to earn their commitments. This is also an additional expense for schools, which can now pay for 28 official visits over a two-year period. San Diego and San Diego State will need teams of folks devoted to all the top-50 recruits who suddenly want to visit.
The NCAA has added to its enforcement arsenal
The NCAA's greatest weakness throughout this FBI investigation and other scandals has been its lack of subpoena power. That has led to numerous "investigations" with officials only having the power to compel players, coaches and administrators to cooperate.
That will change with this provision announced Wednesday: "People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law, government agency, accrediting body or a commission authorized by a school. This will save time and resources previously used to confirm information already adjudicated by another group."
This should terrify every program attached to the FBI scandal. This will allow the NCAA to take action based on the findings related to the investigation. Who knows what might come out of possible court proceedings?
The NCAA is no longer powerless to act based on the findings of a separate entity, which would greatly add to its enforcement powers.
"Let's be really clear, we don't have subpoena power," Emmert said. "This does strengthen the position of our enforcement group."
More independence for serious investigations is a positive step
It's important that the NCAA prove itself to be objective when investigating major infractions cases. A new set of independent groups should help the NCAA satisfy the complaints of those who've questioned the influence and role of bias in major investigations.
Schools can now request that these outside groups handle investigations of "complex" cases. The NCAA won't satisfy all doubters with this, but it's a solid step within the infractions case.
Changes to recruiting calendar won't help many prospects
The NCAA will now have multiple June events hosted by high school associations and limit the July recruiting period to one weekend for major apparel companies to host tournaments. Events in Las Vegas could disappear.
Yes, June is a new opportunity and coaches will have other chances to scout talent at camps that they'd previously been excluded from, but this won't help prospects or stop the corruption.
When you're not a top-50 prospect, you need every opportunity to prove you're worthy of a scholarship. A number of late-bloomers have captured the attention of coaches through a series of outstanding efforts in July. Now those same kids will get one weekend to make their cases.
Other opportunities for prospects to be seen will involve outside groups deciding which prospects can attend particular events. Those events will favor the elite prospects and hinder the opportunities for unheralded talents.
Part of the rationale in adding more high school-sanctioned events in June is to take the power away from AAU coaches and put it back into the hands of high school coaches. But what makes the NCAA think a high school science teacher making a few thousand dollars a year to coach a basketball team is less likely to succumb to the temptations of illegal benefits from apparel companies than an AAU coach would be?
Did the commission adequately address the issues it set out to solve?
No. The commission's goal was to address corrupting influences in college basketball. Right now, the NCAA thinks it has taken control of the entire scene. It will manage the grassroots events. It will generate severe penalties for violators. It will allow agents access but only with its approval. It will force coaches to find room for undrafted players.
But the NCAA has only moved the pieces on this vast chess board. Cheaters will still cheat. They'll just look for new ways to do it. More high school coaches will be enticed to commit the same violations of their AAU brethren, now that they'll hold a prominent position on the scene.
The kids the NCAA wants to help will have a more difficult time securing scholarships offers and exposure in the summer. Schools will have to find funding for former players who want to go back to school and continue their education.
The commission didn't solve any problems. It created more. It might have added a veneer of respectability to areas of the game that had been tarnished by scandal. Similar cosmetic changes have been made for decades, though. The same problems return. This isn't any different.