Have a problem that nobody in a position of power is actually interested in fixing? Then boy do I have the solution for you! Put together an independent task force to put together a bunch of non-binding recommendations! No matter if you’re Cal athletics and you’re looking to delay decisions about a massive structural deficit or you’re the Pac-12 looking to Do Something about multiple coaches getting arrested by G-men, the Task Force is the way to go! Heck, it might even distract from all of the many different people around the west coast calling for you to be fired for a day or two!
Anyway, the Pac-12’s Men’s Basketball Task Force, convened a few months back when USC and Arizona assistant coaches were arrested, has released a 60 page report with their findings. The committee featured (among others) Mike Montgomery, Steve Lavin, Brevin Knight, and the current ADs at UCLA and Utah.
The report includes, right near the beginning, a very important phrase:
The Task Force supports the collegiate model reflected in NCAA rules
My interpretation: The ‘student-athlete,’ nobody-can-make-money model is still the foundation upon which we are building our vision of a better future.
Back in October I wrote the following in response to the new of the FBI arrests:
. . . the NCAA has artificially barred players from selling their talents on the open market, and as a consequence an underground market has risen up to compensate. That black market will exist for as long as the NCAA artificially restricts their athletes.
This report does not make the slightest attempt to chip away at the artificial barriers that prevent collegiate athletes from profiting off of their own talent and work, which means that any and all reforms suggested afterwards are destined to be as many thumbs into a dyke with 10,000 leaks.
So, let’s look at each recommendation and rank them from least timid to most timid!
Please for the love of God, can the NBA repeal one-and-done?!?
timidity ranking: n/a
NCAA folks have been all but begging for this to happen for years. Adam Silver/NBAPA, you’re our only hope(s).
Athletes should be allowed to talk to agents!
Timidity ranking: 5/10
This is both a Big Deal and not a Big Deal at the same time. For eons the NCAA has viewed agents as the gateway to evil, but that stance has softened recently in baseball and hockey. But those sports have very different structures thanks to pro sports with thriving minor league systems, and it has long felt like the NCAA would attempt to keep their two biggest cash cows separate.
Still, this seems like a very obvious concession the NCAA can make to try to hold back the tide against amateurism, so I’d be surprised if this isn’t changes nationwide at some point in the near future.
Players can get drafted, decide not to sign a contract, and stay eligible
Timidity ranking: 7/10
This, presumably, would be more for the guy who declares thinking he’ll get picked, then doesn’t get picked, and decides he’d like to go back to school? In any case, basketball has been slowly moving in this direction of late by allowing prospects more time before they have to decide whether or not they officially declare, and it’s mimicking rules already in place for baseball, so this is hardly earth shattering, though sensible.
A bunch of slight changes to recruiting logistics and regulations
Timidity ranking: 9/10
- Recommending that the NCAA puts on recruiting events so that coaches/players don’t have to attend events run by shoe companies/various other potentially unscrupulous 3rd parties
- Don’t allow coaches to recruit during certain periods at non-NCAA events
- Allow more and earlier official visits.
- More compliance paperwork for families taking official visits.
Fine, whatever. This is all window dressing that won’t do anything to stop 3rd parties from offering players money. Like, AAU basketball is still going to exist, right folks?
A bunch of slight changes to NCAA enforcement practices
Timidity ranking: 10/10
- NCAA rules enforcement would be handled by an entity ‘largely independent’ of the NCAA
- “Invest in human resources through adequate training, experience, and compensation that the enforcement staff is equipped to engage with and respond to the highly skilled lawyers engaged by our universities” Apparently the NCAA is toothless because its member institutions have really good lawyers that find loopholes for everything their clients do?
- Find a way to create a penalty that’s scary enough that it actually discourages cheating
These recommendations are my favorites because they’re basically just insulting the NCAA in the nicest way possible. The NCAA: Biased, incompetent, inconsistent, and armed with meaningless/toothless compliance mandates!
They’re also the recommendations that probably get the least amount of detail. One suggestion is that monetary punishment for violations should be on the table, which is fascinating on multiple levels. Which university is the first to establish an if-we-get-caught slush fund with the massive profits created by amateur athletes? Hey, I guess it’s better than paying the salary of another assistant athletic director.
Any final thoughts?
So after nearly 1,000 words worth of classic blogger snark, let’s get serious for a second. The report was actually an interesting read and, at least for this layman, appeared to do well explaining the current landscape of college basketball. Hell, it felt like the task force was so close to actually making interesting reform proposals. Consider the following excerpts (emphasis mine):
Moreover, the significant number of black players participating in elite youth programs has led to the understandable view that it is being unfairly singled out for criticism as the result of racial bias. This perception of bias becomes layered on top of the perception that many individuals within the college basketball establishment other than the athletes - including head coaches, sponsors, equipment manufacturers, broadcasters, and others - are making significant amount of money. In addition to this economic disparity are perceptions, and sometimes explicit assertions, of racial bias.
GAH YOU WERE SO CLOSE! It’s not a perception! It is objective reality that many, many people DO profit off of college sports! One of the dudes on your task force was paid 1.5 million/year prior to his retirement and that was a middle-of-the-pack coaching salary in the Pac-12!
The reality, of course, is that the Pac-12 isn’t going to allow a task force to make recommendations that truly threaten the very structure of a sport that allows so many non-athletes to profit off of the actual athletes - even the relatively tame ones I suggested back in October.
Which means that we’ll all keep shuffling along, laughing at the programs that get caught, bemoaning the athletes who are unfairly punished, and wondering whether or not our favorite team is clean, all while wondering what exactly the value of being ‘clean’ is in the first place.