Charboneau: Rice report dodges critical issue of player compensation

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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The Independent Commission on College Basketball released its report on the state of the game Wednesday.

The Independent Commission on College Basketball released its report on the state of the game Wednesday morning and it was clear in the first couple of sentences where things stand.

“…the state of men’s college basketball is deeply troubled,” it read in the second paragraph of the 60-page report. “The levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it.”

No kidding.

From there, the report detailed recommendations from the Commission – led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – in response to last fall’s federal corruption investigation that sent shock waves through the game. That ongoing investigation has led to 10 people being charged and has been connected to programs like Arizona, Kansas and Louisville, which dismissed Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino before the 2017-18 season began.

Where it ends is anyone’s guess, but the Commission was formed as the NCAA’s response to what it hopes can be a turning point in the game.

It made plenty of recommendations, the first being a move to eliminate the one-and-done rule and allow players to enter the NBA directly from high school. The Commission also said players who declare for the NBA should be allowed to return to school if they go undrafted, that players should be able to engage with approved agents beginning in high school, and that there should be tougher penalties for coaches who commit major violations.

The Commission also hopes for shoe and apparel companies to have greater transparency in their dealings with universities and said an independent body should handle investigation and enforcement instead of the NCAA.

It all sounds great. Every one of those recommendations has merit, and in some way, has played a role in the issues that face the game today.

The one-and-done rule has drawn plenty of attention, but, of course, it isn’t an NCAA rule and the Commission hopes the NBA and the Players Association is on board. There are indications they are, but how quickly that rule would change is unclear. The report stated the Commission did consider the “baseball rule,” which allows players to turn pro out of high school but if the player decides to attend college, he is locked in for three years.

One other note on this subject: The report stated that if the NBA and the Players Association didn’t change the rule, the NCAA could consider freshman ineligibility.

The fact this was included in the report is remarkable. No, check that. It’s absurd. That move would not only hurt the players, it would hurt the NCAA. It will never happen. Plain and simple.

But while we can nitpick at all the recommendations – as good of an idea as it is to allow players not drafted to return to school, what sort of stress does that put on coaches wondering how many available scholarships they’ll have? – the report avoids what is the true issue here.

That, of course, is compensating players.

Let’s be honest, if there was a way for players to make money off a nearly $1 billion industry, would we have so many of the problems we do now?

The report dodged that subject, as Rice stated that since there are several ongoing legal battles concerning the matter, the commission wouldn’t address compensating players.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The NCAA has been clinging to its idea of amateurism for some time now as the NCAA Tournament brings in nearly $1 billion a year. It doesn’t sit well with many folks who follow college basketball, including ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas.

He told the Washington Post that many of the recommendations were good but the Commission failed in addressing the issue of compensating players by casting it as “morally wrong.”

“There are a lot of positive things, and if the NCAA adopts these recommendations, things can get better,” Bilas told The Post. “But we’re still operating from a flawed premise. The Rice Commission doubled-down on this idea that there is something called the college (amateur) model, and there isn’t one.”

Whether that ever changes is hard to predict, but it doesn’t sound like it’s coming anytime soon.

“We need to put the college back in college basketball," Rice said. “Our focus has been to strengthen the collegiate model – not to move toward one that brings aspects of professionalism into the game.”

So, while the recommendations made Wednesday are necessary steps, the idea that they were bold is silly.

The game as we know it has changed, and the NCAA needs to change with it.

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