Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
What a charade the entire Rice Commission episode has been, but there was plenty more from August’s announcement that most of the panel’s recommendations had been transformed into NCAA regulations. The news will draw plenty of headlines from people who chose not to pay attention to the fine print:
NCAA will allow basketball players to have agents! Well, kinda, sorta, not really.
“Elite” high school prospects will be allowed to sign a written agreement with an agent for the purpose of deciding whether to turn professional out of high school. But that’s when the NBA ultimately changes its draft rule to allow 18-year-olds to enter, and the agent still cannot loan or gift money to the player or his family. A college player can only secure an agent at the close of his playing season, with the same limitations.
And then there’s this: “All agreements between agents and high school or college student athletes must be … terminated when the student enrolls in or returns to college.”
What the NCAA has done is provided agents incentive to give self-serving advice. If an agent has a written agreement with a high school prospect that will be terminated if the player attends college, why wouldn’t the agent recommend the player enter the draft? They have a client now; if that teenager chooses to develop in college basketball, that no longer will be the case.
A reputable agent might recommend what is best for the athlete, but reputable agents haven’t been the problem. Those agents who are in it for themselves, however, simply have another way to take advantage of athletes.
NCAA will allow undrafted players to return to college! Well, a few, maybe. Possibly none.
In order to qualify for this dispensation, a player must request an official NBA underclassman evaluation (no biggie), then be invited to and participate in the league’s pre-draft combine. So undrafted players such as Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel, Louisville’s Deng Adel and Xavier’s Kaiser Gates — none of whom were invited — would not have had that option in 2018.
So how many would have been eligible to return last year? I counted five players who got combine invitations and subsequently went undrafted: Rawle Alkins (Arizona), Allonzo Trier (Arizona), Trevon Duval (Duke), Brandon McCoy (UNLV) and Malik Newman (Kansas). That’s it. Those who are overconfident in their abilities, only to find the NBA disinterested, should not be making mistakes that are irretrievable.
But that’s where we’ve been. I counted 30 serious Division I players who left school early and went undrafted in 2018. Some may have faced academic eligibility issues, and some maybe were done with college hoops. But if you’re going to offer a mulligan, shouldn’t it be to the guy who yanked his drive into the bushes?
The NCAA is putting the shoe companies in line! Well, some of them, sort of, a little. At least the ones they’re not empowering.
The recruiting calendar will change in 2018-19, eliminating all but a single window in early July that surely will contain Nike’s well-established Peach Jam event. Adidas and Under Armour will likely conduct showpiece events during that week as well. The NCAA also plans to allow coaches to evaluate a new series of camps it will operate in conjunction with the NBA, its players association and USA Basketball.
There’s one catch with those joint camps: Nike is a major sponsor of USA Basketball. So the other two major apparel companies will be almost entirely excluded from that part of the recruiting process — a great boost for Nike.
The changes instituted to the recruiting process will do nothing to reduce the influence of “runners” or rogue agents, who, remember, remain incentivized to secure clients. And there will still be non-scholastic tournaments the rest of July, only they will no longer be NCAA-sanctioned — giving runners and agents at those events less interference from NCAA oversight than ever.
The Rice Commission’s proposals did lead to some interesting rules changes, most notably one that allows NCAA investigators to use documents from outside agencies such as law enforcement or internal university investigations as part of the enforcement process. A separate body, comprised of two groups independent of any school or conference, will be created to deal with complicated NCAA cases. More responsibility will be placed on university presidents, and the potential of an extended postseason ban is of note as well.
The NCAA also will ensure any basketball player who wishes to complete his degree after leaving college to pursue a pro career will be able to do so, including creating a fund for this purpose.
But if the commission’s charge was to enact lasting change that would prevent a recurrence of the FBI arresting four Division I assistant coaches last fall, then the NCAA failed with these rules. One Division I athletic director told me on Wednesday this process was supposed to address vulnerabilities that led to all that, but that he was “not seeing what this does” to mitigate any of it.
The truth is the Rice Commission was designed to do something. That’s all. Just something. It wasn’t about creating effective change that would make college basketball better. It was just made to give the impression that Emmert and the NCAA were on the case.