Subpoenas, college basketball commissions prove NCAA is further than ever from the end of amateurism
I thought that this would finally be the breaking point, the moment that changed everything.
The allegations detailed in the FBI complaints that were unveiled on September 26th were indisputable proof that college basketball players had massive value on the open market. If building a business relationship with an athlete that had the potential to sell millions of sneakers and generate a fortune in agent fees wasn’t enough for you to believe it, direct evidence of an apparel company funneling six figure payouts to players that were anything-but a lock to be one-and-dones in an effort to protect their biggest brands - and biggest investments - at the collegiate level should have been.
I thought that this would be the tipping point, the watershed moment that eliminated the term ‘amateurism’ from the NCAA’s rulebook.
This would be what led college athletics to adopt the Olympic model, I thought.
The truth is that we couldn’t be further away from seeing that change happen.
On Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that he would be forming a Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, to look into the corruption this FBI investigation exposed. The goal of the commission is to examine the relationship that shoes companies, agents/advisors and AAU programs have with college programs, coaching staffs and players; the status of the relationship between the NCAA and the NBA; and to evaluate whether the rules as written, which are so routinely broken and borderline unenforceable by the NCAA, need to be changed.
That might be good news if the release announcing the commission, which includes, at most, two former coaches that could have an actual understanding of how cheating in college basketball happens, didn’t include language like, “The culture of silence in college basketball enables bad actors, and we need them out of the game;" or, “We must take decisive action. This is not a time for half-measures or incremental change;" or, “ensure exploitation and corruption cannot hide in college sports.”
This commission isn’t being formed because the NCAA truly wants to evaluate whether or not going to the Olympic Model is something that would actually work. This commission is precisely the kind of committee that gets formed by multi-billion dollar corporations when they want to pretend like they’re taking a problem seriously.
Emmert’s statement might as well have read, “we take this issue so seriously that we’re forming a committee with a bunch of out-of-touch administrators that won’t issue any findings for six months, enough time to, hopefully, allow the speed of the 2017 news cycle will to erase this story from your
memory FaceBook and Twitter feeds because your faux-trage will be focused somewhere else by then.”
The NCAA has absolutely no incentive to consider anything other than enforcing the status quo in regards to amateurism.
The way the current rules are written, they are the ones that make all the profits when it comes to advertising and sponsorships. Under Armour just invested $280 million into an apparel deal with UCLA. Louisville and Adidas have an $160 million deal. If Under Armour could pay, say, Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball 1 percent of that figure to wear and promote their brand, isn’t that something that would be more appealing than spending roughly $19 million a year to outfit an entire athletic department?
Would Adidas - who was caught by the FBI investing $100,000 into what amounted to an under-the-table sponsorship of Brian Bowen and attempting to invest another $150,000 into a 2018 prospect assumed to be Nassir Little to get him to go to an Adidas school - rather spend a couple of million on reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson or send 98 percent of their money straight to Rick Pitino?
It works on a smaller scale as well. Would a car dealership rather spend their advertising dollars promoting their product with in-stadium advertisements or by paying the all-american running back or point guard directly to be on billboards, sign autographs in the lobby and drive around town in a new Dodge Challenger, telling anyone that will listen they got a great deal on it from Bob’s Discount Motors?
I don’t know the answer to that. The schools probably do, but if they don’t I’m guessing they don’t want to find out. They don’t want to risk that revenue stream drying up.
And if the schools don’t want to make those changes, the NCAA is never going to make those changes. Because the NCAA is made up of those universities and colleges.
They’re not going to implement a rule that hurts themselves.
And they’re certainly not going to change that rule when the FBI has become their enforcement arm.
On Wednesday, The Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma State had received a subpoena from a grand jury in New York requesting any documents or communications from the last three years that show “actual or potential NCAA rules violations.” An attorney that has worked for a prosecutor and as a defender in the state of New York told NBC Sports that it is “unlikely” Oklahoma State was the only school to receive a subpoena of this nature.
Couple that nugget with this: One of the charges levied at the four assistant coaches arrested last month was conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Those charges were leveled because the coaches, in “concealing bribe payments to prospective and current student-athletes” caused their schools to “provide athletic scholarship to student-athletes who, in truth and in fact, were ineligible to compete as a result of the bribe payments.”
Think about that for a second.
Knowingly making a college athlete ineligible is now a federal crime.
I repeat: The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York and the FBI went and made breaking NCAA rules a federal crime.
The reason cheating was so rampant and so open in college basketball was because the NCAA’s enforcement arm was toothless. They can’t file subpoenas. They can’t wiretap phones. They don’t go undercover or have the ability to turn criminal financial advisors into snitches with the threat of SEC violations. Hell, NCAA officials lost their jobs over the investigation into Miami and Nevin Shapiro in part because they sat in on a bankruptcy proceeding they were not allowed to have access to.
The only threat the NCAA really has in a case like this is to say, “If you lie to us and we catch you, you’re banned.”
That threat might hold some weight if the NCAA could actually catch people.
But the FBI, quite clearly, can.
And now that they’re involved, the NCAA has no reason to change their stance on amateurism.
By making it a federal crime to break NCAA rules, the most powerful prosecutor in the United States of America guaranteed that college athletes will never get paid their worth.