The NCAA announced today that they will adopt many of the recommendations put forth by the Condoleezza Rice–led Commission on College Basketball in April, which was formed in the wake of the 2017 federal investigation into the college basketball world. There are some good ideas being implemented here, as well as some misguided ones. More broadly, however, the fixes do little to address the structural rot at the heart of the NCAA. They represent a band-aid slapped on a gaping neck wound.
The good stuff: college players and “elite” high school players can now sign with NCAA-approved agents (who is “elite” will apparently be decided by the NCAA); players who declare for the draft, sign with agents, but find themselves undrafted can now return to school (they probably won’t); players who leave school but come back to finish their degree will have their fees covered by their school (an unalloyed good thing).
Those are all pretty player-friendly ideas, though not as player-friendly as, say, fairly compensating them for their labor. Other reforms are more NCAA-friendly. AAU events will now be subject to more “rigorous certification requirements.” Coaches will now have to report all income they receive from sports apparel companies, and the NCAA says they are “pursuing an agreement” with those companies to promote transparency. Cases deemed “complex” will now be investigated by a pair of independent groups of 15 people with “no school or conference affiliation.” Anyone who steps afoul of NCAA regulations is going to be subject to harsher penalties, longer postseason bans, and additional recruiting restrictions.
All those new rules are theoretically targeted at disincentivizing players and coaches from taking apparel companies’ money and more seriously punishing those who do, which, even if you assume that the NCAA’s intention truly is to clean up the sport, is not going to work. There is too much money at stake, and as long as players aren’t getting paid by their schools, they will find someone else to give it to them. What the FBI’s investigation showed is how pervasive paying recruits is. These new rules won’t stop that. They just give the NCAA more power, and they’ve already shown themselves to be utterly unequipped to deal with their current slate of responsibilities. Even the “athlete-friendly” fixes perpetuate the gross and broken amateurism model that’s been outdated for decades.
The best way for the NCAA to fix college basketball would be to go and die.