Column: Don’t bet on real reform in college athletics
Don’t bother reading too deeply into the report of the latest NCAA commission on the mess that is big time college basketball.
No reason, because pretty much all you need to know about the Rice commission report released Wednesday is that the authors begin with a defense of the system as it exists now.
Not surprisingly, they like the idea that athletes can get a college education by playing ball. Indeed, they make a point of saying that could be worth $1 million all by itself, and could help change a player’s family for generations to come.
What they don’t like is the idea of paying the players themselves. And they have no desire to actually upend a system that — by their own report — is so flawed that it may implode at any moment.
“The state of men’s college basketball is deeply troubled,” the report says. “The levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it.”
On that at least we can all agree. If the FBI probe into bribing players to go to schools is any indication, we have just scratched the surface of the corruption in college athletics. The billions that pour into college basketball every year are an infestation that has corrupted — in various forms — everyone from $5 million a year coaches to the people who take the tickets at the door.
But while the probe headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claims it wants actual reform, the proposals do little other than maintain the status quo. There are no real new ideas and the ones voiced — mostly about forces outside the NCAA — will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
No surprise there, because the real job of NCAA chief Mark Emmert and his cronies is to keep the money flowing. They, you might remember, are the ones who keep warning us that the entire system of big time college athletics could collapse if the players who provide the actual labor are fairly compensated for their work.
So what did we really get out of a 60-page report by a commission hastily put together to try and counter the implications of an FBI probe into allegations coaches were paying players under the table to attend their schools?
Not much at all.
Yes, there are legitimate proposals made in good faith that serve some purpose, like doing away with one-and-dones — something that only the NBA has control over — and allowing athletes to hire agents. There are calls for shoe companies to help sort out the mess they helped create, and proposals to outsource investigations to professionals and impose tougher penalties for coaches and schools that break the rules.
Laughably, there are also calls for the NCAA to take over youth basketball and run its own teams and tournaments for those aspiring to play in college. Yes, the same organization that has no clue how to even run itself would somehow be in charge of thousands of teams and leagues while at the same time keeping out the influence peddlers from Nike, Under Armour and Adidas.
Yeah, good luck with that.
Give some credit to Rice and others on the panel for finally fessing up to the depth of the corruption in college basketball. And the one thing the panel did get right is that the NCAA is basically paralyzed by its own incompetency.
Now that we’ve established a baseline, the problem is finding a way to fix it under the umbrella of the current system. And that’s pretty much impossible, no matter how much lip service is paid to proposed reforms.
Yes, the NCAA commission speaks loudly on cheating, as it should. There are recommendations like a five-year postseason ban, coaches effectively fired for life and the loss of postseason money that should have been in place years ago. And the idea that the NCAA investigative and enforcement division should be farmed out is a good one, if only because the bumbling gumshoes currently in place are both clueless and powerless.
But the NCAA will never get its member schools — much less the NBA, shoe companies and AAU coaches and officials — to come to terms on anything of any significance to fix things. The big schools don’t agree on much with the smaller schools, and the multimillion dollar contracts most of them have with the shoe companies ensure that won’t change.
There may be a few proposals that get implemented on a piecemeal basis, but the people who have run the lucrative racket that is college basketball aren’t going to give up their control easily. And good luck telling the NBA what to do about one-and-dones when the league and its player union will do as they please.
Really, commission members had an impossible task and not much time to complete it. Yes, they came up with a handful of good ideas which will get some debate and shift the attention away from the FBI probe.
But the issues that are eating at the underbelly of college basketball are rooted in the tremendous amount of money at stake for nearly everyone involved — except the players, of course.
And few currently drinking from that trough have any intention of changing anything that will get in the way of the cash flow.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg