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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

August 8, 2018

In their ongoing infinite wisdom (in case you can’t tell, this is dripping with sarcasm), the NCAA announced today on their website a series of legislative changes and reforms in the oversight of College Basketball. According to a joint statement by NCAA leaders (the NCAA President, NCAA Board of Governors Chair, and NCAA Division I Board of Directors Chair), “These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interests of student-athletes over every other factor.”

Most of the changes – summarized well here, and how these changes might actually operate are explained here – are in line with the recommendations made by the Commission on College Basketball in April, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. There’s a lot to unpack in what is obviously a direct response to the ongoing FBI investigation and related scandals, much of which should only inspire more skepticism.

  • First off, the NCAA was not previously prevented from using information gathered by other investigations; In fact, they often relied upon such to inform and guide their own investigations, as they did with their investigation into Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case. All this does is remove the requirement that they conduct their own separate inquiry to replicate or confirm those results, instead being able to directly utilize findings from outside investigations in its infractions process, whether that’s from an outside agency or the school’s authorized independent investigation. Plus, these new “complex case” bodies will still have to conduct their own investigation to confirm necessary information for their purposes. In the instant corruption case, this presumes the FBI would share part or all they have, which is not guaranteed as the FBI and DOJ are under no obligation to do so. It’s just as likely that the NCAA will be limited to the public record, and will have to investigate further on their own, which may be plenty enough for their purposes anyway. Regardless, they’re still going to have to wait for the FBI to finish their investigations, if not for the court proceedings to be completed. So to anyone expecting a quick conclusion to the NCAA investigations that will follow the close of the ongoing DOJ cases, I say don’t hold your breath.
  • I’m not sure the “University presidents and chancellors will be personally accountable for their athletics program following the rules” provision as stated on the NCAA website will last as currently written. Never mind that it’s not exactly what University presidents and chancellors signed up for when they took their posts. Sloppy language in the NCAA’s provision might open the question of whether they could be sued in court and held personally liable (read: financially liable) for financial damages caused by NCAA infractions. I would expect that to be “clarified” sooner than later. In any event, making this a contractual obligation for presidents, chancellors and athletics staff would provide the NCAA with a quasi-subpeona power to ensure cooperation with their investigations, which they lacked before, and the lack thereof had severely hampered previous inquiries. I’m not sure this is prudent either.
  • I’m good with increasing individual penalties for coaches getting caught cheating. Cynically, this will drive cheating further underground, and may not be enough of a deterrent, but increasing the costs for coaches is one of the only realistic avenues to curb corruption, and are more meaningful penalties than the “paper record” penalties where wins and titles are stripped, which is like trying to unring a bell.
  • I like allowing college players to return to school if they were undrafted, even though limiting it to those who participated in the NBA Combine will only help a few players each year. I like the scholarship requirement for those who return to school after their second year, although those who leave after one (1) year and go undrafted might be screwed. I’m concerned about the scenario where underclassmen drop out of school in March to prepare for the draft, go undrafted, then return to school in July and have academic issues of their own making to address before they can regain eligibility. Unless you’re on the quarter system (basically most of the universities in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as a smattering of other institutions including Dartmouth, DePaul, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern) where you can take a quarter off to prepare for the draft, this is a mess-in-waiting that the NCAA didn’t properly foresee or address. Scholarship management is also going to be trickier, and if the NCAA were smart (no guarantee), they would extend the end of the Spring Letter Of Intent period from late May to early July, so programs wouldn’t get caught with only 7-10 scholarship players in a given year. While it might affect only a handful of schools, they won’t be able to guarantee every recruit a scholarship, or backfill a lost roster slot, until they know whether a prior season’s player is drafted or returning (or leaving despite being undrafted).
  • The NCAA certifying agents is a mostly symbolic step that won’t change much. Bare minimum, the NCAA should require agents to be certified by the professional league in which they aim to represent players. But to step back a moment, I’m not sure allowing agents more access in general is a good idea.
  • I’m not sure allowing 10 official visits per recruit is wise, that’s another potential quagmire that the NCAA or the Commission on College Basketball did not fully think through. Nothing was wrong with allowing only five (5) official visits, a player should be able to reduce their list to five (5) schools, and if you give them a 6th, they’ll want a 7th, and so on. Combine that with the additional four (4) official visits allowed for each school to host (from 24 to 28 per year), and it’s a formula for the rich to get richer, as schools with bigger recruiting budgets will have even more of an advantage.
  • The net result of the changes to the recruiting calendar are that coaches will actually be on the road more, and see more of the top “elite” recruits from April-June for what will likely be 8-9 long weekends. While I agree with limiting apparel company influence through restricting the AAU events that coaches can attend, the apparel companies also have their tentacles in the high school Also, it looks like visibility for recruits outside the Top 100-150 of their class (i.e., the “non-elite”), as well as younger players and players who are not USA Basketball eligible, could be reduced or negatively impacted. Not that I’m in favor of 8th graders or high school freshmen being heavily recruited or having scholarship offers, but visibility for players not invited to camps has to be preserved.

All in all, while some of these changes will improve conditions for some athletes, it’s difficult not to see this as a blatant power grab by the NCAA, made in the interest of self-preservation and retaining whatever authority over college athletics or “amateurism” they truly still have, which frankly, lessens by the day. Nor do these changes adequately address the money and influence issues that the ongoing FBI scandals exposed.  With the track record of the NCAA, everyone is entitled to be wary of these changes.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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