Prosecutors said that an Adidas executive and several others with ties to the sneaker giant were central to schemes to bribe players’ families and college basketball coaches in order to coax top prospects to commit to schools that Adidas sponsored, like Louisville, Miami and Kansas, and later sign with Adidas.
The commission included former players (Grant Hill, David Robinson), former coaches, university presidents, the heads of the Association of American Universities and U.S.A. Basketball, and others — stopped short of taking on the so-called collegiate model, instead tacitly endorsing the status quo, in which athletes are “students first” who are barred from all kinds of compensation, even as college basketball has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry.
“Our focus has been to strengthen the collegiate model — not to move toward one that brings aspects of professionalism into the game,” said Rice, the former secretary of state, who was chairwoman of the commission and who delivered a prepared statement at N.C.A.A. headquarters Wednesday morning.
Yet the commission also acknowledged that the very corruption it sought to eliminate arose in part because of the substantial sums players can generate for high school teams, agents, money managers, college teams, coaches and shoe companies, and how this collides with N.C.A.A. rules prohibiting players from taking money beyond a scholarship and related costs of attending school.
“Millions of dollars are now generated by television contracts and apparel sponsorship for the N.C.A.A., universities and coaches,” the report said. “The financial stake in success has grown exponentially; and thus, there is an arms race to recruit the best talent – and if you are a coach – to keep your job.”
For this reason, Rice expressed tacit report for providing athletes with a cut of the commercial use of their names, images and likenesses, which is currently before courts.
“Most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established,” she said. “It is hard for the public, and frankly for me, to understand what can be allowed with the college model — for the life of me I don’t understand the difference between Olympic payments and participation in ‘Dancing With The Stars’ — and what can’t be allowed without opening the door to professionalizing college basketball.”
Rice was referring to the ABC show on which Arike Ogunbowale, a current Notre Dame women’s basketball player who sunk two dramatic shots in the most recent Final Four, will be permitted to compete while maintaining her college eligibility.
The committee also proposed regulating summer basketball, the primary locus of recruiting, so that by 2019 new programs administered by the N.C.A.A. are the only ones college coaches are permitted to attend.
Noting that the corruption scheme outlined by federal prosecutors included the use of phony purchase orders to use Adidas money to pay players’ families illicitly, Rice said: “These public companies should be concerned about how their money is being used. I have served on quite a few public boards, and I can tell you, this should be an area of concern.”
It suggested allowing limited, regulated contact with agents, starting in high school, in order to help prospects make decisions about the N.B.A.
The commission also recommended upping the severity of penalties to five-year postseason bans; overhaulling the sanctions process to include outsiders; and appointing several outsiders to the N.C.A.A.’s board.
The association-wide Board of Governors and the Division I board of directors were expected to review the recommendations. Legislation designed to implement them could then be written and passed as soon as August. N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert has said he is aiming for results “by tip-off 2018.”
Last October, Emmert all but declared a state of emergency a few weeks after federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York filed three complaints detailing various schemes, including one in which top high school prospects’ families were bribed and another in which assistant coaches accepted money to steer their players toward a specific agent or money manager. The allegations, Emmert said then, “strike at the fundamental integrity of college sports.”
The last time a scandal of this nature and scope hit college basketball may have been in the early 1950s, when revelations of point-shaving by several top teams knocked the sport on its back.
The federal charges, which were followed by indictments, introduced the risk of criminal prosecution into a well-known part of college basketball. In the past, players, coaches and others have only missed out on games, awards and cash. The allegations made a mockery of N.C.A.A. amateurism rules and painted a black mark on several of the most prominent basketball programs. Documents obtained by Yahoo Sports in February seemed to implicate players at a dozen other blue-chip programs.
The commission had pledged substantive change, not tinkering, with Rice, a former Stanford provost who served as national security adviser and then secretary of state to President George W. Bush, calling for “lasting solutions.”
There are numerous potential changes to amateurism short of permitting universities to pay salaries to players: stipends; rights to money generated from their names, images and likenesses; and the ability to sign endorsement deals, as Olympic athletes do.
A pending federal antitrust lawsuit seeks to eliminate N.C.A.A. restrictions on payments to players, freeing individual schools, or perhaps conferences, to set far higher monetary caps in the lucrative sports of men’s basketball and football. It is being brought in California, where two years ago a federal appeals court ruled that those N.C.A.A. rules are not above antitrust considerations.
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