No one knew quite what to expect when Condoleezza Rice took the stage at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis on Wednesday morning.
The NCAA charged the former Secretary of State with addressing a litany of scandals that rocked the sport in 2017. The FBI arrested multiple coaches as part of the cases. On Wednesday, her Commission on College Basketball finally revealed its recommendations.
Several are great ideas that could help student-athletes significantly. However, the most important issue of the day remains unanswered: player compensation.
Granted, Rice did address the topic, and sounded optimistic. She specifically pointed to the Olympics and Dancing with the Stars. Student-athletes earn money from both. Rice struggled to see a difference between that and endorsements.
But while the laws surrounding the situation head through the court system, Rice doesn’t believe the issue can be correctly resolved.
“We don’t believe that the NCAA can legislate in this area until the legal parameters become clearer,” Rice said. “That said, most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established.”
That does seem to imply that more definitive recommendations could be coming soon. But still, it’s disappointing that the commission went to the NCAA before figuring it out.
Schools directly paying players does not seem to be on the table.
“Personally, I hope that there will be more room in the college model today for this kind of benefit to students without endangering the college model itself,” Rice said.
Outside of punting on the compensation issue, the recommendations were good.
The commission suggested dismantling the one-and-done rule, and called on the NBA to do the same. It also proposed increasing feedback for prospective NBA players and allowing them to interact with agents.
Rice also suggested players who aren’t selected in the NBA draft should be allowed to return to school with eligibility, and that players who play at least two seasons at a school and leave in good standing should be guaranteed the chance to finish their degree.
“Erroneously entering the NBA draft is not the kind of judgement that should deprive students of the valuable opportunity to enter or continue college while playing basketball,” Rice said.
The commission also recommended far more stringent punishments for cheating. If adopted, programs could receive postseason bans up to five years, and forfeit postseason revenue sharing for Level I violations. For major conference teams, that adds up to tens of millions.
Individual coaches could also receive lifetime bans for cheating. Show-causes will also be much more punitive. With these punishments in place, enforcement has more teeth.
“Currently, the rewards for violating the rules far outweigh the risks,” Rice said. “We recommend significant increases in the penalties imposed on institutions and individuals for violations of NCAA rules to reverse this calculation.”
Work to do
Some are criticizing the committee for being too bland. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman specifically complained that the committee’s work could have taken 6 hours instead of six months. But ultimately, these recommendations are significant shifts in the sport, and quite different from what we’ve seen in recent years.
The commission did make a half-hearted attempt to address surrounding issues. They asked for shoe companies to be more transparent about their financial relationships with schools. Rice also called for non-scholastic leagues — think EYBL and AAU — to have more regulation by the NCAA.
Good luck with those. The NCAA is never going to attack the cash cow that is apparel companies. They’re too important to university revenues. NCAA president Mark Emmert reportedly hopes to implement most of the recommendations; chances are these won’t be on the list.
The recommendations on Wednesday were just that – recommendations. The NCAA has plenty of work left to do to flesh things out. Rice’s list neglects many key facts.
It’s not just one-and-done players who are falling victim to shoe companies and agents. The reality is there’s untapped money in the ecosystem that companies want to pay players. Until that inefficacy is addressed, that problem will linger.
Even if the NCAA adopts every detail of the Rice Commission report, the presence of money won’t change significantly. That likely won’t happen until compensation is addressed.
But regardless, the recommendations are a good start. As long as the NCAA uses this report as a building block instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, Wednesday was an encouraging start.