The NCAA deserves credit for at least trying to improve the landscape of college basketball recruiting and reduce rules violations by coaches while giving an opportunity to players who make rash decisions to enter the NBA Draft to return to school.
Yet it all seems so self-serving, as if the intent of the changes was to benefit the institution itself and not the student-athlete.
Now, it’s easy — too easy, in fact — to criticize anything the NCAA does because it has become such an antiquated organization that offers a disproportionate amount of benefits to coaches and schools and meager compensation for players.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced several changes to the basketball structure “to promote integrity, strengthen accountability, and prioritize the interests of student-athletes.” But nothing the NCAA says can be taken completely at face value. The NCAA will serve the athletes on its terms, and in many cases, without input from those athletes.
The most significant rule passed — and remember, this came without consultation from USA Basketball or the NBA — will allow early-entry players who go undrafted to return to school.
Yes, in some cases, that will benefit the athlete, especially those who are unsure about their decisions. This change is significant because 30 early-entry players from Division 1 schools went undrafted this past June, leaving many of them scrambling to play in the G-League or overseas.
Yet many of those athletes had no desire to stay in school anyway and just wanted to start their professional careers. Tyler Davis, a teammate of Celtics rookie Robert Williams at Texas A&M, told the Globe that he had no intention of returning to school even though he knew he would likely go undrafted, which he was. It was the same case for undrafted Duke freshman Trevon Duval, who said on Twitter Wednesday that he wouldn’t have returned to school, either.
The rule also benefits college coaches who can now pad their rosters with talent, with perhaps an unexpected addition in late June. The reason this rule wasn’t enacted before was because powerful college coaches did not want to disturb their already-completed rosters and recruiting classes by having to make room for a returning player.
Basically, the NCAA bowed to the inconvenienced coach.
But credit the NCAA with finally giving these young athletes additional options. Yes, some are ready to bolt and start a pro career, even if it is in Rio Grande Valley or Dubai, while others will have buyer’s remorse and want to return to school.
Now, inasmuch as the NCAA did help the interests of the athlete, it also is going to allow certified agents to represent “elite” high school seniors with immediate NBA aspirations. The agent can help pay for the draft process, and the relationship would cease if the prospect decides to enter college. The only catch is that the NBA hasn’t changed its one-and-done rule, and although that is expected to happen, it could take up to four more years.
Also, agents can officially represent college players who want to explore the early-entry process. Prior to this change, players would essentially hire agents as “advisers” and get fronted the money to take care of predraft expenses. The NCAA is basically going to oversee this process and wants to certify these agents instead of having prospects perhaps represented by unsavory types.
And finally, college coaches and staff have to report any income more than $600 that is outside of school income, and that includes shoe companies. The NCAA says this “promotes increased transparency between NCAA schools and outside entities.” This may be true, but it also allows the NCAA more control over the actions of shoe companies and their connection with youth basketball. That may be a good thing.
The NCAA will also mandate that schools in some cases pay for tuition, fees, and books for basketball players who are less than 10 years removed from college who want to return for their degree. However, the student-athlete would need to have attended the school for at least two years, meaning a former one-and-done isn’t eligible.
And if you want to complete your degree, you “must have exhausted all other funding options to be eligible,” according to the NCAA. Does that mean you have to be destitute? Submit some type of financial aid form with your current earnings? Once again, the NCAA makes this appear to be an impactful rule, but how many athletes will it actually affect?
That seems to be the underlying question for all these changes. On the surface, it sounds as if NCAA president Mark Emmert and his organization are trying to eradicate the demons that have descended on college basketball, and instead of ripping the institution already, let’s take a wait-and-see approach on whether these changes are effective and benefit the student-athlete, not the school, not the coach, and not the agent.
Because we all know those latter three have been cashing in on the talents of the student-athlete. And the system is so flawed that it could never be truly equitable, only less exploitive.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.