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Much Ado About (Almost) Nothing

Last fall, after the FBI filed corruption, bribery and fraud charges against 10 people associated with college basketball, NCAA President Mark Emmert appointed a blue-ribbon panel to figure out how to clean up the sport.

The commission, chaired by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, presented its findings and proposed a number of reforms at a press conference yesterday.

While a few of the recommendations were sensible and worthwhile, most were either obvious or impractical.

And none addressed the real elephant in the room.

Condi Rice is a very savvy lady. I had the privilege of serving on a few committees with her at Stanford. I found her sports knowledge to be broad and deep. She is a serious student of “the game,” whether it be football, basketball, the business of sport, coaching, facilities or recruiting.

But in this case, she was put in a no-win position by the suits at the NCAA. Due to pending litigation (discussed in a previous post) which almost certainly will result in student-athletes receiving compensation beyond the “full cost of attendance,” Rice’s commission was unable to address the issue that is at the crux of the corruption in college basketball—that is, the billions of dollars the NCAA and its members make off talented student-athletes who play for scholarships worth around $50,000 a year.

Instead, the commission “decided to focus its recommendations on supporting the college model.” That was a fateful decision.

Along with that core malignancy, the report contained two statements that undermined its credibility: 1) “The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league;” and 2) the commission’s recommendations “must be bold.”

Truth be told, college basketball already is, in most respects, a professional league. It rakes in billions of dollars every year from TV rights fees and sponsorships. Its coaches are paid seven-figures. Many of its arenas, locker rooms, and training facilities are palaces of excess. Virtually every game is televised, often at the expense of academic class time.

As for “bold” recommendations, we’re still searching for one.

The commission proposed eliminating the “one and done” rule, which has been suggested by virtually everyone with a computer, as well as allowing players to have early contact with agents and to return to school if they aren’t chosen in the draft. All sensible moves, but not earth-shattering; in fact, they should’ve been done long ago.

On the down side, the commission continued promoting the fantasy that penalties will deter corruption and that somehow shoe companies can be controlled by the NCAA.

The fact of the matter is that coaches will be fired much quicker for losing than for cheating. Repeat cheaters like Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson will keep getting hired as long as they keep winning.

And it’s doubtful that the proposed five-year bans will be imposed on top programs when the NCAA’s TV partners are paying huge fees to feature high-profile schools. The existing rules already provide for harsher penalties; the NCAA has rarely, if ever, invoked them.

As for the shoe companies, the committee wants to require more transparency and also wants the NCAA to take over summer basketball. However, it remains to be seen whether Nike and Adidas will follow NCAA rules or whether the NCAA has the wherewithal to run summer camps that are currently funded by the shoe companies.

To her credit, Rice acknowledged at the press conference that many of the commissioners were in favor of paying athletes a cut of the revenues they generate.

“Most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established,” she noted.

“I’ll speak for myself personally,” she said of compensating athletes. “I think there’s room for something.”

Those statements may have been more revealing, and more damning, than anything in the 60-page report.

Because the handwriting is on the wall. The NCAA’s days are numbered, and it won’t be long before college athletes receive more substantial compensation.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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