There’s a scene early in the movie “Midway,” when a naval officer pays a visit to Admiral Nimitz to convey Washington’s wishes for him to use his fleet to defend Hawaii and the West Coast.
Nimitz asks the officer if he has orders for him. The officer replies no, that he was only told to consult. Nimitz decides to do it his way, sending his fleet to Midway to confront an approaching Japanese task force in what would prove to be one of the most decisive battles of World War II.
The NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, released its 60-page report Wednesday. Its intent is to help reform a sport badly in need of fixing in the midst of the still-evolving bribery and kickback scandal that touched down like lightning strikes across the college game.
Rice said college basketball is in crisis because of “failed accountability and lax responsibility.” It is difficult to see how her commission’s findings, or the NCAA, will be able to fix the many issues plaguing the game without a lot of help volunteered from outside the NCAA from entities who have long and likely will continue to operate in their own best interests.
In other words, there are no orders, only a directive to consult. You don’t have to be much of a cynic to conclude that grandiose statements and commission reports are not going to move the needle of reform very much.
Let’s take a look at the major points of the Rice Commission report:
- One and done: The commission called for an end to the so-called one-and-done rule put in place in 2006, again allowing players to go straight to the NBA from high school. That’s fine, but the rule is the NBA’s and its players association, not the NCAAs. The NBA and NBPA, which have been getting colleges to hone the skills of its future stars for free over the past 13 years, was noncommittal after the report’s release. Shocking. If the pros refuse to cooperate, the NCAA has suggested making freshmen ineligible again or locking a player’s scholarship for three or four years if he leaves after one. Coaches will howl about the latter, and how are you going to make freshmen ineligible for basketball and not other sports? This is a bluff the NBA is likely to call.
- Enforcement: The commission recommends harsher penalties for rulebreaking coaches and programs. Harsh penalties are already available to the NCAA. They are rarely if ever enforced, at least not to the degree that they could be. It is the act of purest optimism to think the NCAA will become stricter now.
- Agents: The proposal is to certify agents to make them available to players starting in high school through their college careers. Again, this is not something the NCAA can do autonomously but would require the assistance of the NBPA. It sounds a lot like getting rid of the mold in your house by burning it down.
- Reform AAU basketball and summer leagues: The root of many of college basketball’s problems, reform would require the cooperation of, to name a few, USA basketball, the NBPA and the very apparel companies that are providing the money to funnel players to programs in the first place. NCAA jurisdiction over these entities is nil.
- Greater transparency from apparel companies: Here’s a thought: get the high-minded but effectively inert Knight Commission to ask Nike billionaire Phil Knight to open up his books. “Hello? Phil? Hello? I think he hung up.” As with the AAU/summer league problem, where does the enforcement come from?
The golf writer O.B. Keeler, who chronicled the career of famous amateur Bobby Jones, once supposedly groused, “Money. It’s going to ruin sports.”
Money, and its corresponding issues, is still threatening to ruin college basketball. Nothing came out of the Rice Commission that is likely to decrease the danger.