In the aftermath of a probe by the FBI into corruption throughout several Division 1 men’s basketball programs, the NCAA announced Wednesday a long list of sweeping reforms, including rule changes that would allow high school and college basketball players deemed “elite” to hire agents to determine whether they should go pro and also allow college athletes who go undrafted to return to school.
“The NCAA Board of Governors and Division 1 Board of Directors adopted a series of significant policy and legislative changes, setting in motion actions to change the structure of the NCAA fundamentally,” read a joint statement on behalf of several NCAA leaders, including president Mark Emmert.
“These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interests of student-athletes over every other factor.”
College basketball has been plagued by scandal since last September, when the FBI and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced several arrests for fraud and corruption in the form of bribes from business managers in steering athletes to certain agents once they go pro as well as funneled payments from shoe companies to high school players in return for their allegiance to schools sponsored by the company.
Last fall, the NCAA Board of Governors formed the Commission on College Basketball, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which recommended ways to clean up the sport. In April, the commission released its proposal, which included ending the “one-and-done,” allowing athletes who enter the draft to maintain their college eligibility, creating a more transparent relationship between players and agents and harsher penalties for violations.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford released a statement Wednesday, saying, “I’m pleased the NCAA Board of Directors made the decision to implement the recommendations of Dr. Rice and the Commission on College Basketball beginning this fall. This is another step that is critical to the future success and integrity of college basketball.
“It’s important to be mindful that we won’t reach perfection; however, we can’t let that stand in the way of significant progress. I’m sure there will be unintended consequences as we move forward, and we’ll need to evaluate and perhaps make adjustments along the way, but these are necessary actions that should enhance the culture within the sport.”
The changes are designed to give players “more flexibility to decide their future,” the NCAA said, while minimizing “the leverage of outside influences on high school recruits and college athletes.”
They include increased official visits for high school athletes, the ability for high school and college players to hire agents, a requirement for agents to be certified by an NCAA program, the ability for athletes to declare for the draft and return to school if they go undrafted, and a requirement for schools to pay the tuition of men’s and women’s basketball players who leave school early and return late to finish their degree.
The NCAA also will implement stronger penalties to school and athletes for rules violations, including longer postseason bans, longer coach suspensions, increased recruiting restrictions, and harsher fines.
In cases considered to be “complex,” two independent groups will be appointed to oversee investigations to avoid conflicts of interest. The first group will be made up of NCAA enforcement staff as well as external investigators with no school or conference ties. The second group will be made up of 15 members with expertise in law, higher education, and sports, all unaffiliated with NCAA schools and conferences, who will then review the findings of the first group.
“Change doesn’t end here,” the NCAA statement read. “We will continue to work in all of these areas and continue to pursue collaboration with outside organizations, including the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, apparel companies and USA Basketball.
“If they are unwilling or unable to act, we will consider additional changes that will support the success of student-athletes. It’s on us to restore the integrity of college basketball and continue to improve the interests of all student-athletes. They deserve nothing less.”
Ivy League executive director Robin Harris issued a statement on the NCAA’s reforms.
“I appreciate the NCAA’s inclusive approach, which involved many individuals committed to improving the environment surrounding college basketball,” Harris said. “The Ivy League’s unique model for college athletics and core principles are grounded in emphasizing the appropriate role of sport in education. We look forward to assisting the NCAA address these complex issues.”
Boston College men’s basketball coach Jim Christian added: “I think it’s great. It doesn’t all have to be perfect right away, and I’m sure things will be amended and fixed or added. But if the goal is to sit down and try to make the product of college basketball better, why wouldn’t we want to do that?”