Condoleezza Rice and her fellow members of the Commission on College Basketball stood on stage in Indianapolis Wednesday morning and announced to the world their plan to fix college basketball—aside from a few bright spots, it was a largely disappointing, half-hearted attempt at pushing back the inevitable decay of the amateurism model.
So, here’s the good stuff: The commission called for the NBA and NBAPA to end the restrictive one-and-done rule and allow pro-ready athletes to enter the league straight out of high school. They also lobbied for earlier contact with NCAA-certified agents to help high school athletes make this decision, and asked that the NCAA allow athletes that that enter the NBA draft but don’t get drafted to retain their eligibility.
These are all, on their own, fine rules and decent starting places for future NCAA legislation to continue along this line. Unfortunately, they were surrounded by a sea of terrible ideas and logic, all pulled straight from the NCAA bylaws.
Rice stood at the podium and threatened to reinstitute freshman ineligibility if the one-and-done rule is not repealed, an arcane and utterly baffling idea that will help no one. Rice also pushed the idea of regionalized NCAA-run showcase tournaments as a way to combat the free reign of AAU and similar high school tourneys. This is another dumb, half-assed move which would only give the NCAA more power and jurisdiction when it can barely handle the responsibilities it has now. Rice also called for harsher NCAA-led punishments, saying they’d like to see the Level I violation penalties bumped up—as seen in every case ever that involves a ton of money exchanging hands, harsher penalties will serve as only an initial deterrent, before schools and shoe companies find new channels to subvert them. And, most egregiously, Rice and the commission fucking punted as fast as they could when it came to the topic of an athlete’s right to profit from their own name, image, and likeness—because of NCAA amateurism rules, athletes currently cannot use their athletic talents or achievements to earn money, in any way, or they will lose their eligibility.
It was clear early on that the team assembled by the NCAA to patch up the underside of college basketball would do just that, applying short-term fixes to problems that will simply manifest again the moment these supposed solutions put into place, in part because harsher punishment is almost never going to fix a systemic issue as plain as income inequality (or rather, income existence).
There are plenty of quotes to pull from both the press conference and the report, which can be read in full at the bottom of this post, but the most telling in terms of the overall usefulness of this commission (aside from Rice saying “we want to put the college back in college basketball”) was the following passage:
But the uniqueness of the opportunity that college basketball offers should not be underestimated or undervalued. One only has to think of the non-athlete whose family made tremendous sacrifices to send him to college and who works 20 hours a week and takes on loans that will need to be repaid over years and even decades in order to earn a college degree. The student athlete who fully takes advantage of this privilege will get a head start in life
All that came before and after this makes total sense, then. If the commission, the one tasked with fixing a sport that runs a tournament that rakes in a billion dollars—$1,000,000,000, so we’re clear—and does not pay its players or allow them to access sponsorship deals with private companies, did not begin its process by acknowledging and accepting the very clear fact that the NCAA is operating a technically legal cartel, then “fix” isn’t a word that would be near any of the ideas rolled out Wednesday.
Instead, Rice made sure multiple times in her statement to remind viewers of the great benefit extended to college athletes. She reminded them of the “students who finance their own education,” she trotted out lines about how much degrees cost, how long students will be paying off their loans. Never mind the causes of why degrees cost more or the fixes that can be instituted there, what matters is that a four-year Duke degree costs more than $280,000, now, and the NCAA and its commissions can use that number to show people what a great deals athletes are getting, instead of using it to show just how fucked everyone is getting. It’s moving bad numbers around to look good for a specific cause, and it’s a game that people are slowly starting to figure out. Unfortunately, those people aren’t the ones on this commission.
In Rice’s opening statement and in the report, the commissioners admitted the graduation-related benefits granted by the baseball model—you can either sign with a professional team out of high school or commit to 2-3 years playing in college—but then argued against its adoption in college basketball, claiming it would create resentment among players who wanted to leave earlier. What, then, does she and the commission believe will happen when they roll out freshman ineligibility for all of college basketball? That they’ll comply quietly?
After working on this case for over half-a-year, Rice and her fellow commissioners presented the obvious solutions, like ending one-and-done, and then just played it safe, rolling out the most conservative, regressive plan possible, all built on a premise that the NCAA is ultimately an institution of good moral service.
In the executive summary, the commissioners wrote, “We the commissioners believe that this is a final opportunity to turn the course of college basketball in the right direction.” The sad part is they’re probably right. And, unsurprisingly, they fucking blew it.