Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For college hoops, the Rice Report offers a way up and out


We stress that these are recommendations. There’s no assurance that all, or any, of them will become reality. But those among us who awaited the findings of the commission chaired by Condoleezza Rice with bated breath – and, it must be said, with more than a bit of skepticism – the report’s arrival early Wednesday offered the promise of a bright new morning. 

Rice’s remarks begun thusly: “The crisis in college basketball is first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility. The commission found that talking to the stakeholders was, at times, like watching a circular firing squad – the problem, the issue, and ultimately the fault was always that of someone else.” 

From the report: “Millions of dollars are now generated by television contracts and apparel sponsorship for the NCAA, universities and coaches. 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. Future stars and their families know their value – and can be tempted to monetize their worth as soon as possible since they will not be compensated in college. Some agents, summer coaches and other third parties act as intermediaries and facilitators. In other words, the environment surrounding college basketball is a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat.” 

If you’ve spent any time around the NCAA, you know such plain talk almost never heard. The NCAA is the governing body of collegiate sports. Many of its higher-ups speak in the stilted language of academe, which is too high-minded to bear much resemblance to cold reality. But here, from a former Secretary of State, was what amounted to a kick in the backside: “It is time for coaches, athletic directors, University presidents, boards of trustees, the NCAA leadership and staff, apparel companies, agents, pre-collegiate coaches – and yes, parents and athletes – to accept their culpability in getting us to where we are today.” 

Then came the committee’s recommendations, almost none of which bore the ivory-tower air of, “Let’s all just try to do better.” There’s a road map here, albeit one that runs through provinces over which the NCAA has no jurisdiction. The commission asks the NBA and its Players Association to do away with one-and-done: “The current situation is unacceptable.” And not, mind you, to replace one-and-done with the “baseball rule,” where an athlete entering college must stay two/three years. 

From Page 4 of the report: “The baseball rule increases the number of student-athletes who ultimately earn degrees. However, it would also keep collegiate players ready for the NBA in school against their will, where they will be potentially disgruntled magnets for corrupt money and the undermining of the collegiate model. Players with professional earning power should be able to choose a professional path.” 

The commission rejects the notion that college basketball players should be paid above receiving a scholarship and the newish full-cost-of-attendance stipend. It does not advocate turning college hoops into a de facto professional league. On the contrary: “The commission believes that the answer to many of college basketball’s problems lies in a renewed commitment to the college degree as the centerpiece of intercollegiate athletics. … College basketball, like college sports generally, is to be played by student-athletes who are members of the collegiate community, not paid professionals.” 

OK, that part did sound high-falutin’. What follows did not. What follows is frank assessment of why the commission came to be – the federal indictments brought by the Southern District of New York regarding the recruits, college coaches, shoe companies and the AAU. The letters “AAU” are mentioned in none of the report’s 53 pages, but any time the words “non-scholastic basketball” are broached, that’s what is meant. 

The commission’s advice is to all but put the AAU out of business as a recruiting pipeline: “The commission recommends that the NCAA take short- and long-term actions to reform non-scholastic basketball and disassociate the NCAA and its member institutions from the aspects of non-scholastic basketball where transparency and ethical behavior cannot be assured.” 

Then: “In order for the NCAA to certify a non-scholastic basketball event (meaning an AAU summer tournament), the owners, event operators, sponsors, and coaches for the event must agree to financial transparency about all events they run, including those that are not certified by the NCAA. This requirement includes agreement (i) to be subject to audit and to provide all required IRS and other tax filings upon request; (ii) to disclose all sources of financing and other payments and the recipients of all funds provided for or collected in relation to the event; and (iii) to disclose any financial relationship between the event sponsors and coaches with any administrator, coach or booster at any NCAA school. 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.” 

This is a big deal, especially the part about the IRS and shoe companies. The AAU is tax-exempt. That exemption is how AAU basketball became a convenient funnel of money: Nobody has to know its source or destination. That’s what intrigued the Feds. The commission advises the NCAA to establish its own summer tournaments, away from the AAU umbrella. (This will, the commission concedes, cost money.) It also advises the boards of shoe companies – which are, the report notes, publicly traded – to demand to know where the money goes. 

As for the other key point: The commission wants the NCAA to stop investigating major NCAA violations – because history shows the governing body is terrible at it. “The commission did not hear from a single stakeholder who supported the current system in addressing high-stakes infractions. … When the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the charges that prompted the NCAA to establish this commission, no one in the relevant community expressed surprise and many stated that ‘everyone knows’ that these kinds of payments occur. Where an entire community is aware of substantial rule-breaking and the governance body fails to act, the result is cynicism and contempt.” 

Recommendations: An outside investigative force with the power to assess harsher penalties; a five-year NCAA tournament ban for serious offenders, and the possibility of lifetime bans for offending coaches. 

There’s much more – 57 pages, plus Rice’s nine pages of remarks, makes for a lot of reading – but it’s worth your while. Never before has the NCAA been challenged to change its namby-pamby ways in such excruciating detail by such an august body. This wasn’t some newspaper guy penning another boilerplate jeremiad. This was a serious commission asking serious questions. And, for the first time, offering realistic solutions. 

To count on the NCAA to Do The Right Thing had become the height of folly. But this was a commission formed at the request of Mark Emmert, the NCAA president. For his association to have gone to the trouble of asking for advice and then ignore it would be untenable. To borrow from the commission, the current situation is unacceptable. Change is mandatory. Here’s the map. Get to it.


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.