Ababiy: The NCAA’s shallow solutions to college basketball’s deep problems

A new NCAA Commission, headed by Condoleezza Rice, fails to address the real issue haunting college basketball.

Jonathan Ababiy

The NCAA decided it was going to get serious about college basketball’s slow moral collapse. It created a commission, headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to propose solutions to college basketball’s ills. While the FBI announced investigations into colleges and apparel companies, the commission met and developed a series of recommendations.

This week, the commission finally released the report, and although it has some good suggestions, it’s disappointing.

Some of the more positive recommendations — the ending of the one-and-done rule, preservation of eligibility for undrafted players, licensed agents, degree completion programs, lifetime bans for cheating coaches — are all good. They would improve college basketball and better serve players.

But these recommendations, if enacted, still don’t deal with the central issue corrupting college basketball and many other college sports: amateurism cannot stay.

As one sportswriter described it, “There are no surprises here. The only thing that would’ve been surprising is also the only thing that would solve college basketball’s problems.”

This is perhaps shown best in the commission’s recommendation that players should be allowed to use agents. Currently, a player becomes ineligible if they use an agent for help navigating the complex world of sports or seek guidance on how to maximize their value. However, the NCAA’s current policy hasn’t stopped parents and players from consulting agents.

So the result is a plethora of athletically successful teenagers using the services of a black market of agents. It’s hush-hush world of shady agents, who are not certified or compelled to act ethically by a governing body. There is big money in college basketball, whether it be in actual play or recruiting. Legions of sketchy agents and investment advisers are all trying to cash in.

The commission’s recommendation would try to reign in this black market. Players would finally utilize the agents and career guidance they need. The recommendation, if accepted by the NCAA, would help players and their families.

But, the recommendation is evocative of the commission’s willful ignorance because the labor of college students remains exploited. Someone profits from the work of the players, and it is not the players. Despite the fact that schools receive millions of dollars in athletic funding — $106 million at the University of Minnesota in 2014 — players capture little of that revenue, according to data from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One study by a University of San Francisco economist found that players receive roughly 10 percent of the revenue generated by Division 1 men’s college basketball and football teams. On the other hand, NBA and NFL players receive roughly 50 percent of the revenue they generate.

Players will try to capture some of this revenue and — even if the NCAA prohibits it — administrators, coaches and executives will help players do this because they want access to their talent. People will accept money from boosters and take payouts from apparel companies in the black market created by the NCAA’s insistence on amateurism. Small changes won’t fix problems jeopardizing the American jewel of college basketball. The NCAA commission’s report knowingly fails to address the primary fault line of college sports. The corruption plaguing college sports will continue.