By Kevin Sweeney
“Committed to Change”
Those were the words plastered atop the NCAA’s midday Wednesday release. That release announced a host of rule changes in college basketball, championing supposed player-friendly legislation in the wake of the federal investigation that has shaken the game to its core since the September 2017 indictments.
At first look, the changes appeared to be moves for the better. The first points one comes across when reading the release are all about player flexibility, and on paper, all seem like great moves.
Yet in the “fine print” of these talking points, it quickly became clear that the rules were limiting and poorly thought-out. More official visits seemed like a great way to level the playing field for recruits without the financial ability to travel across the country visiting schools. But increasing the number of official visits a player is allowed from 5 to 15 while only increasing the number a team is allowed to host from 24 to 28 over a rolling 2 year timeframe makes little to no sense.
Allowing high school and college basketball players to have agents represent them was a seemingly positive step, and one that many around college basketball had suggested for years. A closer look, however, reveals that high school players will only be allowed agents if they are deemed “elite” by USA Basketball.
Anyone see a problem with this?
What about these rules, for the college players?
Because it’s so easy to just terminate a relationship with someone who bought you food and flights with the thought that they’d get paid in the future, once the athlete turns pro.
Finally, we get to perhaps the biggest bombshell of the bullets above, that players will be able to return to school if they go undrafted. Yet once again, a deeper dive shows that only players invited to the NBA Draft Combine would be allowed to return to school, limiting the impact of this legislation to at most 25-30 players per year. Why not simply allow all players who enter the draft to return if undrafted?
Add in the already-discussed-at-length new recruiting period changes that diminish the July live period and re-emphasize high school programs in the recruitment process. If you’ve been on Twitter in the last several weeks, you’ll find a whole host of reasons why that’s a bad idea.
There are some pieces of the new rules that are good for the game. Forcing schools to pay for former players to go back to school and finish their degrees is a great move. A few other great moves in this are “Coaches and athletics staff must report athletics-related income from any source outside their school, such as an apparel company,” and a move that would seemingly give the NCAA subpoena-like power in their investigations: “As a term of employment, school presidents and athletics staff must commit contractually to full cooperation in the investigations and infractions process.”
The root of the NCAA’s problems is amateurism. In a system in which high-level players worth hundreds of thousands if not millions to their schools can only accept a college scholarship, there are bound to be under-the-table dealings. Did anyone expect the NCAA to simply back down on everything they have been built on and allow players to be paid? No.
At some point, the NCAA has to address this. Opening things up to allow players to profit off their own likeness is the most-discussed common ground. Instead, they attempted a quick PR stunt.
Had these rules been implemented the right way (less restriction on who could have agents, what players could return to school, and better communication with USA Basketball and the NBA, etc), they could have been seen as a move towards common ground. Instead, the NCAA looks like a laughingstock once again.
The only thing the NCAA is committed to is the status quo. Next time, make some real changes.