NCAA keeps playing victim, pointing fingers instead of facing biggest issue in college sports

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

If there is one thing that the NCAA has gladly embraced since a federal corruption case rocked its world last September, it’s its role as the victim.

Victim. Victim. Victim. Poor old college sports, just a sad-sap victim.

In order for the fraud case to work, the U.S. Attorney’s office needed someone to be a victim of fraud. That meant labeling the colleges as victims of fraud based on the breaking of NCAA rules.

It’s tenuous. Earlier this month Kansas was deemed a victim of Adidas even as Kansas continued to finalize a nearly $200 million contract extension with Adidas. As a general rule, victims of fraud don’t look to extend business relationships with the perpetrator of said fraud.

But victims. Yes, everyone is a victim.

Well, the NCAA’s “independent” commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, certainly went all in on this concept when crafting its 60-page report that was released Wednesday morning. Empowered with trying to clean up a sport that hasn’t been able to operate within the NCAA’s framework of amateurism since, well, ever, the Rice Commission saw the demons everywhere but where they actually exist … in that rulebook that’s causing all the trouble.

“Some agents, summer coaches, and other third parties act as intermediaries and facilitators,” the report states. “In other words, the environment surrounding college basketball is a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat.”

Condoleezza Rice’s commission on college basketball reform surely meant well, but it didn’t address the real problem facing the sport. (AP file photo)

It’s all the environment, not the coaches and schools.

The report was like compliance office bingo. It went on and on, tagging all the bad guys. Shoe and apparel companies. Non-scholastic event organizers. AAU coaches. Agents. Intermediaries. It’s a good thing the commission had 12 people on it, they needed that many fingers to point.

Remember when this all used to be the fault of (insert inner city) high school coaches? Or Sonny Vaccaro? Or George Raveling? Or Myron Piggie? Or Worldwide Wes? Or whatever boogeyman they could sell to the public as tarnishing their pristine (and quite pretend) world. Well, all of the aforementioned aren’t involved here and the band is somehow still playing.

The commission’s centerpiece proposal is the abolishment of the NBA’s one-and-done. Getting rid of it is a good idea, but let’s not get carried away with the impact. Does anyone want to claim, with a straight face, that there was no “corruption” in college basketball pre-2005, when high school kids could go straight to the pros?

Almost nothing has changed between then and now, including the NCAA saying it’s all the fault of AAU coaches, agents and shoe companies.

Quite incredibly, the report dubs amateurism and the current college model as “a promise” and some kind of “trust.”

“Any policy or action that violates this trust is morally wrong,” the commission stated.

Someone wrote that? It suggests amateurism is a core principal of right or wrong (thou shalt not kill) rather than a concept invented in 1800s England so rich guys could rig the system and prevent the working class from beating them in sailing or polo.

With that as a guiding principle, it’s little surprise this report does nothing and will do nothing because it doesn’t address the basic issue – our nation engages in capitalism and NCAA rules are the papier-mache dam trying to stop its flood waters. Rather than look at about 100 years of failure and agree this is pointless, the commission wants to add more paper and then lots of investigators to punish the water.

There is little doubt the commission spent lots of time listening and debating. These are good people, but they come from the same establishment background. There are modest and well-meaning efforts at cracking NCAA entrenchment – namely allowing players greater access to agents, letting undrafted players maintain college eligibility and professionally diversifying key NCAA boards.

Other than that, it’s a tripling down on the enforcement of amateurism even though it is amateurism that is the only thing deeming otherwise reasonable behavior as “troubled.”

The commission wants stricter penalties for rule breakers – we’ve heard that one before. It wants an independent enforcement staff with as close to subpoena power as possible – yeah, good luck with that. It wants faster adjudication of cases – justice in complex situations doesn’t work on an expedited schedule.

Mainly though, it wants everyone else to “save” college basketball because … well, college basketball is fun. March Madness, and all. (None of the enjoyment would change without amateurism, but whatever.)

Everything in the report comes from the perspective that father knows best. Any time a player or his family or any of these “third parties” go against the wishes of the head coach or school, then corruption must be involved, usually based on future earnings. We can trust the coaches, of course, because it’s not like they renegotiate their deals each year or jump schools at the first sign of a pay bump. Nope, not them.

Consider this example from a long list of ill-conceived items in the report. It centers on the supposed evils of players transferring from one school to another: “Third parties often influence transfer decisions for their own purposes and without thought to the impact of transfer on the student-athlete.”

Who are these “third parties”? What is “often”? Who made the assessment on “influence” or that any opinion offered to a player is “for their own purposes” and “without thought”? This is nonsense.

Mostly though, it has nothing to do with the task at hand. Nebulous “third parties” are being blamed for mediocre players (who actually want to stay in college) seeking more playing time or a change of scenery? It’s also possible that a 20-year-old adult came up with the idea and should be allowed the freedom to make his own decisions even if the coach thinks it’s a bad course. This is America.

But, hey, it’s much more fun to play the victim.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during a news conference at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis on Wednesday. The Commission on College Basketball led by Rice, released a detailed 60-page report Wednesday, seven months after the NCAA formed the group to respond to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. (AP)

Literally everyone is to blame here, with only cursory mention to the fact that, say, for summer league or grassroots coaches to sell a player, someone (such as the college coaches themselves) has to be the buyer. Or that the reason these evil shoe companies have such huge stakes in college basketball is because the colleges accept hundreds of millions of dollars from them, which all but requires them to get involved.

In the indictments, Adidas is alleged to pay recruits to attend its schools at the request of the coaches of those very schools. And most of the players Adidas allegedly paid weren’t likely one-and-dones or future NBA endorsers. They were good but not great recruits who could help the college team win. Adidas was willing to do it because college basketball is its own massive industry that is worth Adidas not just paying money to the schools, but trying to assure that investment pays off.

The NBA has nothing to do with any of that.

Then there is the commission demanding “the money flowing from apparel companies and other third parties into non-scholastic basketball must be disclosed and accounted for in order to address the corruption arising from non-scholastic basketball.”

Again, the problem is “arising” from everyone else. Even so, is this a solution? Not based upon reality. In the federal charges, one Adidas executive is allegedly found hiding payouts to his players from his own company. He allegedly wired money to AAU coaches under bogus headings such as “tournament fees” and it was then secretly handed over in the form of cash to player’s families during clandestine meetings in hotel rooms.

This was only uncovered by a three-year FBI investigation that included computers, wiretaps, a Las Vegas sting operation, flipped witnesses, subpoena power and the weight of hundreds of years in prison.

Yet, because the commission asks, this will suddenly stop? Sure.

Look, until the NCAA grants each player the right to their name and likeness and deregulates, nothing will change. Everything expressed here has been expressed forever.

The rules are the problem. The white-knuckle grip on amateurism is the issue. The commission seemed to realize this, but they sheepishly noted that they wanted to punt on the subject because of “pending litigation.”

Hey, blame the defense attorneys. One more victim card.

So be it. College sports didn’t like getting humiliated by the FBI, didn’t like how some of its people got indicted and how many more sleep nervously each night wondering what’s on those wiretapped calls.

The NCAA formed a committee but mostly it just concluded that the NCAA is a victim here.

Soldier on college basketball, soldier on.

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