Commentary: Cleaning up college basketball


The indictment and arrests of four assistant college basketball coaches, a shoe company executive and other periphery individuals are a shock to the system of college sports. One Hall of Fame coach was terminated. Other coaches are lawyering up. Institutions, shoe companies and even families of high caliber prospects are circling their legal wagons.

The pro-social value of college sports and its education mission renders it worthy of protection by the courts. The corruption of college sports has caught the eye of the Department of Justice. The potential remedies should now draw the attention of Congress.

Thus, the most critical reform measure needed is an NCAA antitrust exemption.

Conditioning that exemption on a number of necessary reforms will tip the scales in favor of college athlete health, safety and education benefits. Failure by the NCAA to make measurable progress implementing those improvements should result in the loss of the exemption and the consequential death by a thousand litigation cuts the NCAA currently experiences.

Under the exemption, enforce limits on capital expenditures for facilities and athletic department administrative spending, thereby reducing runaway commercialism needs. University administrations must negotiate and control shoe company agreements, not athletic departments.

NCAA enforcement needs teeth, as in subpoena power. With subpoena power, the NCAA can regulate agent and participant conduct through conclusive investigation. The current scandal involves agent and financial services that young athletes as professionals will need from those already serving current pros.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the NBA and its union, the NBPA, to join the NCAA in action. Initially, eliminate the troublesome one-and-done rule. In the real world, we prosecute both the givers and takers of bribes. With NCAA subpoena power and law enforcement interest, every player-agent relationship can be effectively investigated. If the jointly approved sanction of losing even a year’s draft eligibility or sitting out a season for violations were a reality, what prospect would assume that risk?

If enforced earnestly and vigorously, current NCAA rules and state laws can shield athletes and their families from the slick-talking agent, runner, coach or financial adviser. Removing those protections simply broadens the playing field for the exploiters. A significant number of victims would result, as they currently do on the pro level, where shady representatives exploit even the brightest professional athletes.

Greed is the only snake that cannot be charmed. If any of the parties involved possess the propensity for breaking the rules, human nature dictates that enough is never really enough. Agents should never enter the process until a college athlete’s eligibility has expired.

Eradication of rules designed to protect college athletes will not make the greedy less so. No amount of money paid to college athletes can halt the slither of greed.

Proponents of “pay for play” use this sad chapter to somehow justify paying college athletes, as if that would end the shenanigans. There is no statutory or natural right to play college sports. Options exist for those who would rather not comport with NCAA rules and have no inclination to advance their academic opportunities.

In the advocacy for payment of college basketball players, usually not one word is spoken regarding the value of education. Playing experience should be a dynamic part of leadership development, the No. 1 purpose of higher education.

Notwithstanding the need for greater improvement, in the 15 years of NCAA measured graduation rates, the rate for black basketball players has risen from 46 percent to a high last year of 77 percent. This progress occurred without paying athletes a dime of compensation.

Some have nonsensically equated unpaid labor or slavery and the provision of an education opportunity in exchange for playing a sport. To illustrate the absurdity of that argument, we need only recall there was a time and place when teaching slaves to read was a capital crime.

Education is resistance against an environment that otherwise renders aspects of success unattainable without education, particularly for young black men. Value education fairly, and then quantify that value and the current benefits received. It adds up significantly.

Other reforms can increase the benefit of the bargain for college athletes. Enforce the practice hour limits imposed under NCAA supervision. Support individual athlete advocacy for their field of study choices and end involuntary academic tracking for athletes.

When the Wild West needed cleanup, an entity was empowered to do what was necessary. It is time government stepped in and deputized a newly committed NCAA to clean up the college game.



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