Everyone in compliance has bad days. There are the run of the mill bad days, when a waiver falls through or you deal with a difficult coach or student-athlete. Then there are the real bad days, the ones that make you question how long you want to stay in this business.
So far I’ve had few soul-crushing days. But one in particular sticks out. Really more of a depressing hour and a half. It was during the 2010 NAAC Convention at a session titled “Assessing the Climate and Hot Topics within Men’s Basketball.” Gene Marsh might have given the keynote, but this was highlight of the two days. A superstar panel that included Julie Cromer, then Director of Academic and Membership Affairs; LuAnn Humphrey, head of the Basketball Focus Group; Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon; Long Beach State Head Coach Dan Monson; and Pitt Athletics Director Steve Pederson.
The panel was a frank and honest how the NCAA had come to think about basketball regulation and what basketball coaches thought about the NCAA. And like all frank and honest discussions, it wasn’t pretty. I left the session with a couple of lasting impressions. Most important was the impact of the following points:
- The vast majority of men’s basketball prospects select a school based on the head coach;
- Head coaching turnover in Division I is roughly 20% per year.
- 40% of men’s basketball student-athletes transfer before their junior year;
- The urge to quickly prepare for professional basketball influences even the smallest decisions prospects make; and
- The carrot, rather than the stick, is most effective in regulating men’s basketball
Those five bullets were laid out as the boundaries of what can be done to solve the recruiting and academic problems in men’s basketball. It was discouraging to see it accepted as gospel since the implications for programs like the APR and Basketball Focus Group reforms were omnious.
But I got over it. I didn’t agree entirely with the NCAA’s strategy, but I understood it. It was based on a lot of research and careful thought out. It also defined a clear direction and made a lot of the tactical choices more palatable, chief among them Proposal 2010-58, the basketball summer school legislation.
All that hard work is now in jeopardy with a new, sweeping review of the recruiting legislation by the Leadership Council. And instead of seeing some of the above issues as constraints, the Leadership Council sees them as targets:
“We’re not here for the grooming of athletes. We’re here for the grooming of students,” [Missouri AD Mike] Alden said. “Our hope would be at the end of this to come up with a process that aligns more with the values we hold true in higher education.”
Rolling back the clock on the rise of AAU basketball for talent development and identification and the attitude of taking the next step as quickly as possible are now back on the table when previously it seemed like they weren’t. The greatest danger is not that the NCAA members might be attempting an impossible task though.
It’s that developing a whole new strategy is going to take time, and time is not on the NCAA’s side. Every year that passes without a consistent direction in men’s basketball recruiting reform is a year that the NCAA loses ground to the people they are combating. As the NCAA reviews the landscape, nefarious third-parties think up new ways to control the college decisions of prospects and profit from that control.
Without spending enough time, perhaps years getting the membership on board, the legislation that comes out of this review as early as next August will suffer the same fate as the legislation proposed by the Board of Directors last year. A cohesive plan is picked apart by the membership who adopts the proposals it likes and discards the rest.
There’s precedent for a better way though. The “agent” part of the Agents, Gambling and Amateurism staff made headlines this summer in part because the membership has never seriously considered an alternative. While it’s easy to disagree with the NCAA’s unmoving stance, it gave the AGA staff the freedom to catch up with the agents by never changing their goal. Taking the gap literally, the AGA staff was only six months behind the agents, and closing.
The model for the regulation of basketball recruiting that was presented at NAAC wasn’t perfect. It was unsatisfying and made some tough compromises. But it was also practical and realistic. In short, it was good enough. The Leadership Council has lofty goals for this review. Most of it could be achieved even if you accepted the constraints above. The recruiting model needs be rethought, but practically, not philosophically. Then hand it to the Basketball Focus Group so they can build the knowledge and connections needed to bear fruit.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.