Lindsay Schnell provides her thoughts on the results of recommendations made for NCAA basketball by Condoleezza Rice’s commission.
USA TODAY Sports
The NCAA established the independent Commission on College Basketball to recommend changes to a sport that is in serious trouble. I have led reform efforts across many disciplines, including corporations, government and academia. Meaningful reform can only happen if you get the incentives right – you must reward those who do the right thing; get the disincentives right – the sanctions must be strong enough to deter illicit activity and to punish it when it happens; and you must have a leadership that takes responsibility to lead and live under the reforms.
There is now a rare moment of consensus on what must be done. This week the Knight Commission updated their findings and expressed support for our Commission’s work – we welcome their updated recommendations and are pleased that we share agreement on the strategic direction. Here is what our Commission’s recommendations are intended to do.
First, provide incentives for universities to better support student-athletes by:
• Ending one and done in men’s basketball and the charade that it is. An athlete who is ready to go directly to the NBA or to the developmental league should do so. No one should be forced to go to college.
• Giving student-athletes who complete two years in good standing full funding to return to college and complete a degree
• Allowing student-athletes to “test” the NBA draft and retain eligibility if they do not sign a professional contract.
• Permitting student-athletes to consult agents or other professionals in order to better assess their prospects. This is happening under the table right now and should be brought above board.
• And as soon as the legal framework is clear, developing a new policy on name, image and likeness. NCAA policy is inconsistent on this matter. Olympians already enjoy an exemption and there are other case-by-case exceptions. It should be possible to develop a legally compliant approach that allows student athletes from all sports to benefit.
We have also recommended several steps to address the bad behavior that is undermining confidence in the sport by:
• Insisting on a system for compliance that would vest responsibility for investigation and adjudication in a new, independent body of professionals. The NCAA no longer has the credibility to carry out this function. Universities and their employees need to be compelled to cooperate by agreeing in advance to do so and they should be punished if they don’t.
• Strengthening penalties to include a five-year ban from postseason play and the tournament as well as a loss of associated revenue. We believe this will get people’s attention.
• Requiring youth basketball operators and apparel companies to be transparent about their finances. In time, the NCAA should develop its own tournaments with very strict standards of behavior.
Finally, the Commission addresses governance. The NCAA is a public trust. There is no organization of its importance and standing that does not have outside, independent directors. We agree with the Knight Commission’s long-standing recommendation that this must be done. But the real change must come from within the leadership of universities. Winning at all costs is simply wrong.
Some have said that the Commission failed to address the root cause of the corruption in the sport: Money. It goes without saying that college basketball is a “big money” sport. But I have never been fond of the argument that because there are temptations, it is OK to give in to them.
Others are disappointed that we do not recommend abandoning the collegiate model. We have focused instead on addressing abuse of it. Athletes who want to play professional sports should do so. But the decision to go to college should be at its core, a decision to pursue a college degree.
The mission of the university is to educate students. In the case of student-athletes, academic institutions have not always done so and have not punished those who have violated the trust. Fraudulent courses and degrees must be a thing of the past. And the student-athlete has responsibilities – to go to class, to take advantage of the tutoring services available – and to seek both academic and athletic success.
It is a privilege. The student down the hall in the dorm is spending whatever resources his or her parents may have, taking out loans and working 20 hours a week to pay for a college degree. And it is a valuable asset with earning power $1 million greater over a lifetime than that of a non-college graduate. There will also be relationships and mentors who can help the student-athlete to start a career.
Given that only 1.2% of college basketball players go to the NBA; given that there are only 60 draft positions and that 40% will go to international players; given that an NBA career averages 4.5 years – real security comes, as it always has, from getting that education. It is time for all to acknowledge that fact.
The NCAA has said that it is ready to enact these reforms. The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have said that they will “assess” their eligibility requirements – we hope in order to end the sham that is one and done. University presidents, athletic directors and coaches say they are anxious to step up. Apparel companies and others say they are ready to support greater transparency. We shall see.
The problem isn’t with the proposed reforms. The question is whether the stakeholders will suspend the circular firing squad – where it is always someone else’s fault. Will they act this time? If they do, we can reverse the decline of faith in college basketball. If they do not, the cynicism and skepticism that is so prevalent now will be rewarded with the sport’s collapse. It will indeed be time to try something new.
Condoleezza Rice, who chaired the Commission on College Basketball, was the 66th U.S. Secretary of State and former provost and professor at Stanford University.
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