The NCAA fulfilled its promise Wednesday to enact comprehensive rule changes in response to last year’s college basketball bribery scandal.
The reform package alters the sport’s summer recruiting calendar, increases the contact between players and agents, allows undrafted underclassmen to return to school and adds independent members to the NCAA’s investigative bodies.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said during a conference call Wednesday that he “couldn’t be more pleased” with the changes, the NCAA’s first legislative action since the FBI case became public last year. They’ll strengthen the “integrity” of the game while giving more “freedom” to athletes, he said.
But did the organization move too fast? There are several details that haven’t been worked out yet — Emmert and top NCAA brass admitted that.
And do the new regulations address the fundamental issues that led to the two-year FBI probe? Critics say the NCAA’s amateurism model still needs review.
What’s clear is that the NCAA wanted to get something done. It formed the 12-member commission on college basketball — led by Condoleezza Rice — to make recommendations and then put together several working groups to help propose a new system. Wednesday’s announcement was the result.
Below is an analysis of the most significant new rules, with input from the state’s three Division I basketball coaches and Omaha Sports Academy Director Bob Franzese.
Recruits will now be allowed to take 15 official visits: five as high school juniors, five as seniors and five more after graduation. They can begin taking unofficial visits at the start of their sophomore year.
Why the change? The idea is to ease the financial strain on recruits and their families, and decrease the likelihood that a third party would step in and help fund trips to tour campuses.
Local impact: Taking a plane to Omaha or Lincoln tends to be pricey for out-of-staters. Nebraska and Creighton could then mitigate that disadvantage by paying for prospects to visit their campuses earlier in the recruiting process. It was the first rule change that CU coach Greg McDermott mentioned. NU coach Tim Miles was in support. Said Miles: “We need to get kids on campus. We need to use official visits.”
Unanswered questions: How early will recruiting begin? Some prospects are receiving scholarship offers as high school freshmen, or even earlier. Is it healthy for the process to ramp up before the kid can even get a driver’s license?
Coaches will make an additional off-campus recruiting trip in April. They can attend the NBPA’s top 100 camp in June. Some still-to-be-planned regional high school events will also take place in June. They’ll get to watch nonscholastic basketball tournaments for one weekend in July. And they’ll have a period in late July to attend a large nationwide camp — run by the NCAA, the NBA and USA Basketball.
Why? The NCAA hopes to limit the influence that handlers, runners and disingenuous AAU coaches have on recruits. If you take college coaches out of the stands at those events — where alleged malpractice is unregulated — then perhaps it’ll delegitimize them.
Local impact: Two things. For UNO coach Derrin Hansen and the Mavericks staff, the concern is that they’ll have fewer opportunities to evaluate players who aren’t rated as top-150 prospects. The under-the-radar guys. “I’m worried about how many evaluation chances we get at the certified events and how that will affect my recruiting budget getting coaches to see the right amount of kids,” he said. Also in this state, many of the players have been under-recruited over the years. OSA’s squads spent last summer competing the Adidas circuit — they’d get noticed there. But what about everyone else? Said Franzese: “It’s not just our program. Kids in Nebraska can play basketball. There are a lot of darn good players here.”
Questions: Most of the logistical details are unclear. But more than anything, there’s the debate whether the value of a college education — and the perks associated with playing D-I ball — equals a recruit’s full worth. The top guys can make millions for a school and a coach. How does altering the recruiting calendar change a worldview?
College basketball players can now hire agents at the end of their seasons. The top-tier high school recruits, as determined by USA Basketball, will be allowed to sign with an agent before their senior year — but only if the NBA and its players union eliminate the one-and-done rule, which reportedly may not happen until 2021 or 2022.
Why? From a player’s perspective, more exposure to the business nature of basketball is a good thing. But there will always be rogue agents acting with their own interests in mind. Laws are in place to regulate this — but they’re difficult to enforce. The NCAA plans to have its own agent certification process by 2020.
Local impact: Khyri Thomas chose to forgo his senior year at CU, becoming the 38th overall NBA draft pick in June. “Guys that are truly on the bubble, like Khyri this year, it would have been helpful for him to have his agent in his ear prior to making that decision,” McDermott said. The more information, the better.
Questions: If a college athlete enters into an agreement with an agent but then decides to return to school, he’s required to completely “terminate that relationship,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball. How likely is that?
NBA draft eligibility
If you’re an underclassman who requests an assessment from the NBA’s draft evaluation board, and you’re invited to participate in the NBA combine, and you aren’t drafted — then you’ll retain your eligibility and can return to school.
Why? There were 11 combine participants who went undrafted this year. Five were seniors. A couple of others probably had no intention of playing more college ball. So this rule likely ends up impacting a dozen programs annually. But on a player basis, it’s a big deal to have another postdraft option — especially if your stock unexpectedly dips.
Local impact: Creighton and Nebraska were looking this summer to fill open scholarships for next season. The pool tends to thin out relatively quickly, especially for the nonpowerhouse programs. Miles has some trepidation. “Now, we know by the end of May who’s coming back and who isn’t,” he said. Imagine if you’d have to wait until late June.
Questions: The NCAA stated that this rule won’t be administered until the NBA alters its system for undrafted players. If they returned to school, they won’t be allowed to join an NBA roster whenever a franchise came calling. That change — which Emmert described as an “expected” one — must be in place first.
The NCAA will now allow its enforcement staff to reference the investigative work of outside agencies — like a court testimony — instead of doing all the work itself. And for the most complex cases, it will create an independent body to adjudicate the process. This isn’t just for basketball, either. This is all sports.
Why? The NCAA’s staff is limited in size and power. It’s long been criticized for its regulatory procedures, though much of that is dictated by the schools. Also, the NCAA has to at some point start to consider all of the allegations levied by the FBI last year. Some serious rules violations allegedly occurred, involving multiple programs. Coaches were fired. Players couldn’t suit up. Perhaps it just created a way to help manage the cleanup of this crisis.
Local impact: Emmert said he expects three to five cases nationally per year to require independent involvement. Not a lot.
Questions: There will be harsher penalties adopted. Five-year postseason bans. The suspension of coaches for a full season. Recruiting restrictions. Loss of revenue from NCAA tournament games. But will that deter cheating?
The NCAA plans to allow agents to pay for meals and transportation for players and their families, even while they’re still enrolled in school. But it’ll first need an amendment to the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which is ratified by 42 states, including Nebraska. The United Law Commission will conduct a conference call with NCAA officials next week.
College basketball coaches will now be required to report all outside income of more than $600 to their schools.
Athletic directors and coaches must sign an addendum to their contract that states they will cooperate with NCAA rules investigations. They’d have to report relevant details, share documents and perhaps even hand over their phones.
Presidents and chancellors will be held responsible by the NCAA for an athletic department’s rules violations.
Schools are required to cover tuition costs and other expenses for a college basketball player to return to school and finish his degree, as long as he was initially enrolled for two years. The NCAA will establish a fund to help smaller-budget schools cover this expense.
World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht contributed to this report.