The NCAA is taking steps to try to clean up college basketball, carving out a limited role for agents to work with players and changing pivotal parts of its rules-enforcement system as part of numerous reforms in the wake of a corruption scandal.
The Indianapolis-based governing body for college sports announced Wednesday that its Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors had adopted a "series of significant policy and legislative changes" as part of an effort to "fundamentally" change the NCAA's structure. Some are immediate, while others first require action from other agencies — such as the NBA changing the age limit for draft-eligible players that has fueled the wave of "one and done" at the college level.
That follows late-April recommendations from the commission headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice following a federal investigation into alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. Georgia Tech president and Board of Directors chairman Bud Peterson said the NCAA had pushed through changes in about 3 1/2 months that would "normally take us about two years through the governance process."
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"Today was obviously a very important day for the NCAA and especially for men's basketball, and ... Division I," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
While many agree the reforms are a step in the right direction, it is unclear how effective they will be.
"It's important to be mindful that we won't reach perfection; however, we can't let that stand in the way of significant progress," Atlantic Coast Conference John Swofford said in a statement.
In terms of agents, the changes are as much about transparency and offering a legitimate avenue for communication or advice that previously could've taken place in the shadows — and raised the likelihood of attracting unscrupulous characters.
Now college basketball players can work with an NCAA-certified agent while testing the waters of declaring for the NBA draft. College players first would have to request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee about their draft prospects after the season, and that would clear the way to enter into a written agreement — disclosed to the NCAA or school — with the agent.
That agreement must end if the player returns to school.
Agents would be allowed to cover minimal expenses such as meals and transportation associated with meetings or workouts with pro teams, but that could be complicated. The NCAA noted that might first require revisions to the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — a version of which is in place in more than 40 states to regulate unethical agent conduct. And because pro teams previously could cover some of those expenses, the monetary benefit could be minimal.
The agents would have to be certified by the NCAA by no later than August 2020, agents certified by the NBA players' union would qualify until a formal deadline is set.
The NCAA included a provision allowing agent relationships for high school players identified as an elite prospect by USA Basketball beginning July 1 before their senior year, though only if the NBA changes its age-limit restrictions. If the NBA and its players' union decide to lower the age limit of draft-eligible players to 18, it would clear the way for elite players to go from preps to pros.
It's unclear when and if that would happen, or what impact that would have on colleges recruiting NBA-ready prospects.
The changes also include allowing a player to return to school if undrafted, but only if he sought the NBA advisory evaluation and participated in the scouting combine — a number that NCAA senior vice president of men's basketball Dan Gavitt said would be "very limited in scope." That, too, would first require tweaks to NBA and players' union rules.
At least one prominent coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, wondered aloud as to how that will work.
"My question is, what if there are no scholarships at that school because they gave the scholarships away because they thought he was leaving?" Calipari said in an interview on ESPN. "What does that kid do now? Does he go to another school?"
There were also significant changes to the enforcement process to handle cases of rules violations. That included the appointment of Rice-recommended independent groups to handle and resolve complex cases, with Emmert estimating it would apply to maybe five cases annually.
The changes also allow the NCAA to accept outside information that has been "established by another administrative body or a commission authorized by a school." The NCAA says that will save time since investigators would no longer have to independently confirm those details, which could apply to the current corruption case with federal investigators having access to information through subpoenas and wiretaps — tools the NCAA doesn't possess.
The changes also include requiring school presidents and athletics staff to commit "contractually" to cooperate fully with investigations, stiffer penalties for violations and regulation of the summer recruiting circuit.
Federal prosecutors announced last fall they had charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State along with a top Adidas executive — in a fraud and bribery scandal. The case has entangled schools such as Kansas, North Carolina State, Maryland and Louisville, among others, though prosecutors withdrew a criminal complaint in February against one of the defendants.