Commission meets to talk change in NCAA
The NCAA-initiated Commission on College Basketball recommended sweeping changes that could drastically affect the Arizona Wildcats and other major programs Wednesday, but it asked for a lot of help in getting there.
The commission stopped short of recommending changes to the NCAA’s stance on amateurism, which forbids payments for play or endorsements.
Formed in the wake of the federal investigation that resulted in the arrest of former UA assistant coach Book Richardson and nine others with ties to college basketball last September, the commission called on the NBA and its players association to raise the draft-eligible age limit to 18.
The commission also asked USA Basketball to help revamp the summer recruiting events that are now largely run by apparel companies, and suggested the NCAA pony up significant resources to help pay for those events and fund athletes’ education if they put in at least two years on the court.
In moves the NCAA can make independently, the commission called for it to develop independent arms for investigation and enforcement, and to allow stiffer maximum penalties that could reach up to five-year postseason bans and lifetime show-cause orders for coaches.
“The majority of people in college basketball play fair and do the right thing,” commission chair Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Indianapolis. “We applaud them and we hope our recommendations can level the playing field.”
Many of the commission’s findings were parallel to those suggested by the Pac-12’s own task force. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said he was pleased to hear that the plans mirrored each other.
“We look forward to working with the NCAA and our members to evaluate and implement the recommendations,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday.
Both UA coach Sean Miller and athletic director Dave Heeke were unavailable for comment Wednesday. Heeke is expected to address fans Thursday during an athletic department “road tour” stop outside McKale Center.
Here’s a look at the major recommendations of the commission and how they could affect the Wildcats:
• The elimination of the “one-and-done” rule could make Arizona’s recruiting more difficult and uncertain.
Under Miller, Arizona has had players such as Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Lauri Markkanen and now Deandre Ayton stay in school for less than a year before bolting for the draft. But Miller has also kept recruiting with the expectation he would lose multiple players early, often replacing half of his roster.
An 18-year-old age minimum for the draft would mean Arizona would either have to stop recruiting players who have the ability to turn pro out of high school or keep spending resources to recruit them with the risk that they might ultimately jump into the draft anyway. UA signee Ndudi Ebi did just that in 2003 before the one-and-done rule was established in 2006.
While the commission called on the NBA and NBA Players Association to lower the age minimum to 18, it also said the NCAA should monitor the case of talented players who reclassify in high school, which could potentially create a new class of 17-year-old “one-and-dones.”
The commission said it considered but did not recommend a baseball-style rule in which players who enroll in college would have to stay there for two or three years, saying those who emerge as top prospects and are stuck in college could become “disgruntled magnets for corrupt money.”
That’s one area where the Pac-12 task force differed; it recommended a three-year baseball-style rule for players who do not declare out of high school.
The commission said it would consider adding a similar rule or take further measures, like declaring freshmen ineligible, if the NBA and NBPA do not choose to change the one-and-done rule by the end of 2018. Reports say the NBA wouldn’t change the rules until 2020.
“In short, the current situation is untenable,” the commission report said.
NCAA penalties and sanctions
• Investigative and enforcement procedures should be overhauled, with independent arms to resolve complex and serious cases.
The commission recommended penalties lasting as long as the number of years a program has violated rules, while saying college administrators should be accountable and that the NCAA should have jurisdiction to address academic fraud even if it benefited other students — a likely reference to the academic fraud case at North Carolina that the NCAA did not rule in.
With Arizona, the NCAA might ultimately follow up on the federal allegations that Richardson took payments to help in recruiting, as well as a February ESPN report that said Miller allegedly discussed paying Ayton $100,000 to attend Arizona, a report Miller has firmly denied.
The commission recommended a five-year postseason ban for programs found to have engaged in “systematic, severe and repeated violations of NCAA rules.” Doing so would effectively throw a program into a deep freeze, likely making it unable to recruit or hire coaches at a high level.
“The Commission acknowledges that imposing this penalty will result in significant punishment of innocent members of the college community and beyond, and that it must be limited to the extreme circumstances,” it said. “Nonetheless, the NCAA should use this punishment where necessary to address sufficiently grave patterns of misconduct.”
NBA Draft and spring recruiting
• Allowing players who declare for the NBA Draft to return to school if they are not taken could add a layer of uncertainty to Arizona’s spring recruiting.
Under the proposal, Miller wouldn’t know until after the draft in late June whether or not a roster spot would be needed for a player testing the waters.
As of now, players have until May 30 to withdraw from the NBA Draft, allowing them to participate in the mid-May NBA combine and then make a decision when spring recruiting is typically winding down. UA’s Rawle Alkins took advantage of the time last spring before opting to return to school, though the Wildcats have no players on the fence this spring.
Transfers and redshirts
• Transfers should still sit out a required year and the growing market for graduate transfers will be monitored, two items that affect UA and nearly every Division I program.
The commission recommended keeping the one-year redshirt requirement because transfers are less likely to complete their degrees and because “third parties” often influence the decision to transfer in the first place. The commission said it would monitor grad transfers because only 34 percent of them get graduate degrees and because it “heard that recruiting and tampering related to potential graduate transfers is rising.”
Arizona received a commitment from Pitt grad transfer Ryan Luther last week, and hosted Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman on Wednesday. The Wildcats’ lone grad transfer last season, Talbott Denny, is now completing an MBA.
Agents and high school recruits
• Players who want to meet with an agent in high school should be allowed to, but the NCAA should “develop strict standards” for certifying agents.
That could reduce the influence agents have behind the scenes, though it’s unclear if it would stop situations such as the one Richardson was alleged to have been involved in. The former UA assistant was alleged to have taken $20,000 from an agent representative to give to a recruit with the promise of directing that player toward the agent for professional representation.
Apparel firms and recruiting events
• The commission suggested a shake-up of outside recruiting events, which are often sponsored by apparel firms Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.
It suggested requiring more transparency about the funding behind them and recommended that by July 2019, events would be held in conjunction with USA Basketball and NBA, with the NCAA expected to “devote significant resources.”
That could make UA’s summertime recruiting easier, if top prospects were all in one place — though it could also be impractical for the NBA or USA Basketball to get involved because of the immense scale of summertime recruiting events.
The commission said events sponsored by outside firms must be fully transparent in their finances or they will not be NCAA-certified.
Paying players and corrupt incentives
• The commission stayed out of the issue of players being paid for their likenesses because it is still being hashed out in the courts, and made it clear that pay-for-play was not an option.
Arizona typically has multiple players who are talented enough to theoretically command payments for both performance and endorsement.
“Paying modest salaries to Division I basketball players will not address the particular corruption the Commission confronts; nor will providing student-athletes a modest post-graduation trust fund based on licensing of names, images and likenesses,” the commission wrote.
“None of the contemplated payments would be sufficient to reduce the corrupt incentives of third parties who pay certain uniquely talented players in the hope of latching onto their professional futures, of coaches and boosters seeking to secure the success of their programs, or of colleges willing to undermine their education mission to ensure the eligibility of players.”