Nearly a year ago, the FBI set the college and amateur basketball worlds ablaze when it revealed a widespread investigation into the sport. In the wake of that news, NCAA President Mark Emmert said that his organization would "make substantive changes to the way we operate, and do so quickly."
His main step was to appoint former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to oversee a commission to propose changes to college basketball's rules. In April, the Rice Commission unveiled its recommendations; and on Wednesday, the NCAA announced it would implement several of those changes—some as soon as next week. The NCAA declared them "profound and meaningful."
Many of these changes are positive, and I'll detail them below, but it's important to note at the start that the NCAA is again trimming the trees but ignoring the forest. The NCAA's main problem, of course, is that it has created a black market in college sports. The organization's insistence on amateurism means that players—particularly elite players—aren't compensated at anything approaching their true market values. And because of that, a black market exists for funneling money to players and their families.
To put it plainly: The NCAA will never solve its problems until it, at the very least, allows players to profit from their names and likenesses.
But, in the interim, here are some of the helpful and head-scratching changes coming soon to a college near you:
This rule won't show up in headlines, but it's by far the most impactful change the NCAA made. Starting in 2019, "Division I schools will be required to pay for tuition, fees and books for basketball players who leave school and return later to the same school to earn their degree." This applies to any student-athlete who was in school for two years and decides to return within 10.
Many Power Five conferences already offer "lifetime scholarships," but this will be an especially helpful new rule for players who enroll in non-Power Five schools.
According to a 2014 report from Complete College America, only 19 percent of full-time students earn their bachelor's degree in four years. For a variety of reasons, many student-athletes choose to leave school before they've had a chance to complete their degree. But if they put their bodies on the line for their schools for two years, and if these schools really are about providing an education to players, then this is the very least they could do.
Agent representation for high school players
The major announcements deal with agent representation and, as I'll discuss below, NBA draft eligibility. According to the NCAA's release, if and when the NBA ends the one-and-done rule, it will allow agents to represent certain "elite" high school seniors. And it will be up to USA Basketball to identify those players.
The first problem? According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, USA Basketball and the NBA were "blindsided" by this decision. USA Basketball reportedly doesn't believe it has the infrastructure to manage this selection process.
To be clear, USA Basketball is a terrific organization, but even if it acquiesces to the NCAA, there are some clear problems with the partnership.
The first is that USA Basketball has a significant sponsorship agreement with Nike. If the NCAA really was trying to reduce sneaker companies' influence on the game, this is a step in the wrong direction.
And the second is that many elite college basketball prospects are not American and thus have no affiliation with USA Basketball. Would R.J. Barrett, the Canadian-born, No. 1 incoming freshman this season, be ineligible to have representation under these new rules?
Agent representation for college players
The NCAA also announced a convoluted way for college basketball players to be represented by agents—but only between seasons.
After each season, players will be allowed to hire agents, so long as they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. The players can also receive meals, lodging and transportation from their agents, so long as the expenses are either at their home or school or associated with meetings with the agent or a pro team. Are you still awake, or has the bureaucracy bored you to sleep yet?
Agents would provide valuable services to high school and college players. But the idea that the NCAA needs to legislate who can have an agent is laughable. The market can determine who needs representation.
And the thought that these relationships will involve money changing hands but will "terminate" when the student returns to school ahead of the new semester—or, in the case of high school students, enrolls in college—is just willfully ignorant of the way the sports world works. But, of course, that's the NCAA's modus operandi.
Eligibility after the NBA draft
This is another common-sense rule change that the NCAA has made needlessly complex. The easiest solution here would be to say that college players with remaining eligibility can return to school within two weeks of going undrafted. Instead, the NCAA has narrowed the potential pool of players to those who participated in the NBA Draft Combine and given them only four days to decide.
This is a protection for players who have either been fed bad information or made a misinformed decision about their NBA standing. For them, being able to return to college and pursue a degree is a major boon. However, because of the combine condition, only a percentage of the players will benefit.
If the rule had been in place this year, only five players could have returned to school: Arizona's Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, Duke's Trevon Duval, Kansas's Malik Newman and UNLV's Brandon McCoy. (South Carolina's Brian Bowen also participated in the combine, but the NCAA has ruled him ineligible.)
This change would be more beneficial if it was available to all players, even those who don't attend the combine. Some might argue that such a move would flood the draft, but most players understand their draft stock and will return to school if they have no shot at turning pro.
The window for the decision should also be extended, as many players will want to see if they can sign an NBA Summer League or two-way contract with a pro team when evaluating the decision return to college. The Monday deadline leaves them without enough time to make an informed decision.
The bottom line
In its rush to respond to the Rice Commission and to make changes before the upcoming college basketball season, the NCAA seems to have created more problems than it has solved. These are serious issues, and it's a shame the organization chiefly responsible for confronting them either ignores or bungles so many simple solutions. Ultimately, the NCAA will have to confront the issue at its core: amateurism. But until then, there's no reason why it has to mismanage marginal improvements like these.