EDGEWATER, Md. — In its recent report on college basketball, the special commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made several long overdue recommendations aimed at dealing with the sport’s “crisis of accountability.” But, wisely, it stopped short of suggesting that players be paid.
In largely keeping intact the NCAA’s core rule of amateurism, the 14-member commission reaffirmed the notion that while compensating players might sound attractive in this era of huge professional contracts, it would only lead to ever more problems down the road.
The commission’s focus was on basketball, but its findings could apply to college football as well. The report has been criticized by some, but it is at least a sincere and concerted effort to improve the troubled landscape of college athletics.
While few would deny that money is playing too large a role in collegiate sports today, it’s difficult to see how the situation could be made better by introducing even more money in the form of payments to players. And if amateurism breaks down at the college level, what’s to stop money from flowing to athletes even younger than college age?
It’s not as though today’s scholarship athlete is not getting something for his or her services rendered. A year at college today can be worth $50,000 or more. Add to that apparel and a host of other freebies that college athletes receive and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
Much of the current clamor for athlete compensation has sprung from the incredible popularity of college football and basketball on television, and the revenues these sports produce. But most of that revenue goes back to the universities where it’s used to support a long list of sports and academic pursuits.
Yes, the football or basketball coach is very well paid at many major universities. But everything from the campus library to the chemistry department to classroom construction benefits from the money generated by the sport. In effect, televised college sports are a product, and that product is in wide demand today.
The Rice commission made many recommendations, but three stand out among the others:
—The NBA needs to scrap its so-called one-and-done rule. This would enable elite players to enter the NBA draft out of high school. The current rule requires players to be 19 years old or a year out of high school, and has made programs like Kentucky and Duke a one-year stopover for players on their way to the NBA.
—The NCAA should create an independent investigative arm for handling major rules-infractions cases. For too long the NCAA has been too slow and basically toothless in its adjudications. That needs to stop.
—Make the punishments severe enough to discourage cheating. “Currently, the rewards for violating the rules far outweigh the risks,” Rice said.
All of the changes will have to be adopted by the NCAA membership in order to take effect.
The commission was formed in response to allegations by federal prosecutors last year of a scheme involving agents, financial advisers and shoe company executives to bribe the families of top high school players to sign with certain college programs. The allegations have already had the effect of forcing out Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino.
It’s doubtful that the Rice commission recommendations will clean up all that ails college athletics.
The NCAA has a long history of moving with glacial slowness. But it’s at least a start.
In not recommending that athletes be paid, the commission affirmed the values of amateurism and an education for the nearly 99 percent of college basketball players who don’t go on to the NBA.
William H. Noack played basketball at Michigan State in the 1960s and is currently a business consultant in the Washington, D.C., area. Readers may write him at his office, 3168 Braverton Street, 4th Floor, Edgewater, MD, 21037.