Over the past six months, NCAA leaders have worked to implement critical improvements for college basketball. Their efforts tackle many of the recommendations from the Commission on College Basketball, formed last year to study influences on the Division I men’s game, provide more flexibility to student-athletes and make NCAA members more accountable to the rules. A collection of working groups and committees were tasked with determining how to put those recommendations into action.
Already, much of their work has been translated into legislation that will be effective for the 2018-19 men’s basketball season. They’re not done yet: Some recommendations involve working with other stakeholders to make necessary changes, while others require approval from member schools at the NCAA Convention in January. Here, leaders of the working groups reflect on the work done so far and the road that lies ahead. — Kelsey Boyd
The Agents and Advisors Working Group’s focus at the beginning stages of the process was understanding our purpose — to determine the most effective way to implement the Commission on College Basketball’s proposed recommendations of allowing student-athletes to openly sign with a certified agent without affecting eligibility.
Loosening restrictions provides student-athletes with the best opportunities to make informed decisions. Choosing whether to enter the NBA draft, remain in the draft, follow another professional athletic path or return to college is a significant decision. Now some college basketball players will be able to benefit from an agent’s more active involvement.
Our conversations revolved around creating a realistic framework, matching how the agent world works. We considered all reasonable elements of the relationship between agents and athletes, including the common practice of agents covering meal and transportation expenses for NBA prospects, and wanted to approach legislation in a way that would not create eligibility traps for student-athletes. We prioritized striking a balance between mitigating the inherent challenges of agent-athlete relationships and providing the best opportunity for students to get the information they need.
High school students deciding not to enroll at a member school to play college basketball did not drive our discussions; our aim is to allow the prospective student-athlete more options. Contingent on discussions surrounding draft eligibility between the NBA and National Basketball Players Association and subsequent rule changes, elite high school basketball players will be able to consult NCAA-certified agents to choose the best route. Collaboration with the NBA and USA Basketball will be critical as we develop regulations for high school student-athletes, including how we define an elite high school player.
The number of men’s basketball players who make it to the NBA is smaller than the number who think they have a chance. As a result, the working group proposed a requirement that enrolled student-athletes must seek an opinion from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee before being eligible to sign with an agent. It is hoped this requirement will yield more accurate and realistic information about a player’s potential.
The NCAA has more work to do, including the important task of building a rigorous agent certification program to ensure individuals sign only with agents who have been certified by the NCAA. While the registration process will not guarantee integrity, I am proud of the progress we have made on a subject that has historically been a difficult topic to regulate and monitor.
As part of the higher education community, the NCAA is committed to providing students engaged in college sports with the freedom and flexibility to earn a degree even after their athletics eligibility is completed.
A selection of members of the Division I Committee on Academics, acting as the Student Support/Degree-Completion Working Group, wants to ensure student-athletes who leave school before graduating can choose to complete their education with the help and support of their former schools.
The group recommended expansion of the excellent work many Division I schools — including those with limited resources — already are doing to provide financial aid and degree-completion programs for former student-athletes. Starting in academic year 2019-20, a new rule will allow former college basketball players from all Division I member schools to access funding to complete their degrees.
The rule is just a first step and applies only to former students, both male and female, who played Division I basketball and meet specific criteria, including good academic standing after two years in school. The Committee on Academics will continue this work by developing accountability measures for schools and returning students to promote commitment and academic preparedness. The committee also will monitor and assess the rule to determine whether it accomplishes its goals.
The committee understands some schools will find it difficult to sustain the costs of this new rule. To address that issue, the group recommended that an NCAA-sponsored fund be created to assist returning students from limited-resource schools.
The Division I Board of Directors agreed, and the fund will be available by the time the new rule is in effect. The Division I school students choose to attend should not impact their access to financial support to complete their education, should they leave early without receiving a degree.
A college education can be transformative and life-changing — for those who earn the degree as well as their families, friends and community. We recommended these changes to support the NCAA’s mission as a higher education association and demonstrate its commitment to developing student-athletes even after their participation in college sports is complete.
The NBA-Related Issues Working Group was delegated some issues within the NCAA’s control and others that require cooperation from the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. Two members of the group previously worked for the NBA and helped navigate how to advocate for changes that are in the hands of others.
The Commission on College Basketball called for the NBA and the NBPA to restore their prior draft eligibility rule allowing high school players to declare immediately for the NBA draft. Experts advising the commission noted that intense interest from third parties in elite high school athletes has proven corrosive to college basketball. Opening the opportunity for high school students to play professionally may alleviate some problems these outsiders have caused in college recruiting. The NBA and NBPA have the final say on the eligibility rule, and changes are not likely in the foreseeable future.
The group spent most of its time formulating recommendations about another NBA-related recommendation: how to effectively provide undergraduate student-athletes more flexibility in the draft. We proposed student-athletes who meet certain criteria be permitted to enter the NBA draft process until completion and maintain athletic eligibility if they go undrafted. Because a player who is undrafted is classified under current NBA rules as an unrestricted free agent, we recommended that before the undergraduate rule goes into effect, the NBA and NBPA change their free-agent policy so an undrafted player who chooses to go back to school would forgo his free agency rights for that academic year. We also recommended student-athletes with the ability to fully test the draft waters be limited to those who receive an invitation to the NBA’s predraft combine.
Time will tell what impact these changes will have. Our hope is student-athletes will benefit from the increased flexibility, and the ones who remain in college will recognize the dual benefits of the college basketball experience and a degree.
The Apparel Companies Working Group focused on two things. First and foremost, we set out to determine what financial transparency measures apparel companies would be willing to implement as we strengthen event certification standards. Another priority for us was to work toward increasing individual accountability for school athletics personnel.
Outside influences on recruiting have increasingly become an issue in the college basketball landscape. As the Commission on College Basketball determined, youth basketball events are typically ungoverned, allowing for money and benefits to exchange among coaches, players, families, agents and sponsors. As an association rooted in educationally sound fair play, we looked for cooperation from the apparel companies to address the current environmental challenges.
In the process, we discussed including other components, such as drafting legislation that would require member schools to impose financial reporting requirements on their apparel company partners. Instead, the working group, knowing the importance of beginning change from within, focused on campus athletics staff member accountability. Effective immediately, all athletics personnel must report all athletically related income from outside sources to their school for annual review by the president or chancellor.
The reforms certainly encourage adherence to NCAA rules. We hope the NCAA and apparel companies can build a consensus to improve the integrity of college basketball. Although some apparel companies have expressed support for industrywide measures and recognize the need to address related problems in the youth basketball space, their agreement and public support is imperative. We hope to reach further agreement with those organizations on this issue in the near future.
Our goals as the group assigned to examine Commission on College Basketball recommendations related to youth basketball were clear: Reduce the harmful outside influences on high school-aged basketball players and provide as much education and good information about participating in college as possible. We believe that by strengthening certification standards and adjusting the recruiting calendar, we take enormous steps toward those goals.
An NCAA governance body will now oversee event certification criteria. Their expertise in the sport and in the environment they now regulate will improve the events that allow high school students to interact with peers across the country. Additionally, the group will be able to provide guidance to the Enforcement Certification and Approvals Group, which administers the certification program.
The changes in certification oversight proved simpler than tackling the recruiting calendar. Our legislative process is designed to allow for give-and-take within the membership on specific ideas, and even in the brief time we had to explain our ideas and hear different perspectives, we received membership feedback that played a vital role in our final recommendations.
Coaches now can recruit two periods in July — one early in the month, for grassroots nonscholastic events, often with travel teams, and a second at the end of the month for NCAA youth development camps.
The NCAA-sponsored camps will be aimed at developing all potential Division I men’s basketball players — not just in the sport but academically and as young men. The camps will include educational programming and resources to expose the participants to information that will help them be successful in college. Because education will be a key component of anything we do, we will require registration with the NCAA Eligibility Center for participation in these camps. Once a student is registered, we have the chance to be engaged in the decision-making process earlier and provide information about the value of college sports. Additional recruiting opportunities in April and two three-day periods in late June tied to high schools’ scholastic events round out the changes.
We learned during our tough examination of the recruiting environment that providing student-athletes with real information about their future is vital. We believe these changes will promote the roles of the high school and college coach and reduce harmful influences that can impact a student’s life.
Our working group began by seeking a model that would be fair, transparent and acceptable to NCAA members across all divisions. We believed, like the Commission on College Basketball, that adding five independent members who have the characteristics of “experience, stature and objectivity” to the NCAA Board of Governors would enhance the board and be consistent with the principles of good governance used by almost all nonprofit and corporate boards.
I learned in my earlier life as a member of Congress that developing a consensus is not always easy. So our working group — composed of Division II Presidents Council chair Glen Jones, Division III Presidents Council chair Jeff Docking and me — sought to ensure members in all divisions would agree with our proposal because it is fair, transparent and benefits all NCAA constituents.
We focused on the commission’s language as the touchstone for how we should judge the prospective independent nominees. Those words merit repeating: The nominees should have “experience, stature and objectivity.” This description ensures we select the right individuals and creates a standard that avoids even the appearance of conflicts of interest. To ensure an expansive pool of qualified nominees, we opened the process to allow nominations from all NCAA constituents. We also recommended that the Board of Governors Executive Committee review all nominations and recommend nominees to the full board. A lead director also would be selected to serve on the Executive Committee.
The second Association-wide recommendation from the commission’s report was to create a model for an annual “certification of compliance.” This recommendation will be valuable to establish trust and ensure compliance. The commission recommended all presidents or chancellors, athletics directors and head coaches attest to compliance. We further proposed each member of the athletics staff attest to compliance. This reform is critical to ensuring responsibility extends throughout NCAA colleges and universities.
Glen, Jeff and I worked together collegially and were able to achieve complete consensus on each of these proposals. We hope our members feel likewise in January.
The Commission on College Basketball report served as the starting point for the Enforcement and Infractions Working Group. In our focus areas, we set out to create an independent adjudication model for complex cases, strengthen our current enforcement toolkit and increase penalties within our matrix.
Often, it takes a crisis to get people to push for changes in the enforcement and infractions space. Recent FBI investigations brought a lot of attention to areas where our practices have lacked, such as more serious penalties. Before the events of fall 2017, I supported these improvements, and I continue to believe they will make a real difference.
In creating the external process opportunities, our conversation was centered on examining how other organizations address their adjudicative process. We looked at Olympic governing bodies, international sports organizations, corporations and government processes, then put together four basic models to present to the membership for feedback.
The time spent focused on strengthening our enforcement practices also was very collaborative. NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Jon Duncan and his staff were helpful, sharing many suggestions for ways to improve enforcement’s effectiveness. From that list we were able to modify and narrow down the key concepts we proposed.
The Commission on College Basketball was prescriptive on increased penalties, and that conversation was much more abbreviated. We simply discussed how to fit the recommendations into the penalty matrix.
One of the most important aspects of this process was engaging with the membership and the Division I Council for feedback on our ideas. Like any collaborative process, the ability for a group to coalesce around ideas and retrieve feedback was a key component. The feedback informed our discussions and allowed everyone to believe more strongly in the end result.
I’m pleased with the pace at which we and all the working groups accomplished our goals. The quick action is unusual for college athletics; however, I’m not naive enough to think there will not be any unintended consequences of our immediate action. The changes made may prove to be a work in progress, but when we look at the future of college sports, the benefits of moving with speed outweigh the negatives of not following our normal process.
I've participated in the NCAA committee structure for many years, and being involved on a national level has been an important part of my commitment to student-athletes and college sports. It is my pleasure to work to put the Commission on College Basketball’s recommendations into action.
Watching the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee, NCAA national office staff, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the working groups and so many others from the membership put in countless hours to initiate change in the culture of men’s basketball and make it a better experience for student-athletes was a unique opportunity for all involved. This time is certainly monumental in the history of the NCAA. Collectively, we are initiating significant change that will directly benefit current student-athletes, future student-athletes and NCAA basketball.
Through our work, college athletics programs no longer will provide unofficial visits for students in ninth grade and below. Most important, student-athletes now will be able to take earlier and more official visits and will have the opportunity to visit the same school more than once.
We believe it’s in the best interest of the student-athlete and the school, athletics program and coaching staff to have additional opportunities for face-to-face interaction on campus. It will provide the recruits and their families the opportunity to get a better feel for the coaching staff, current student-athletes and the university community.
It’s vital to give every incoming student-athlete the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the school and the coaching staff. Anything we can do to enhance the prospective student-athlete’s opportunity to see if a school is the right fit is imperative. This legislative change also will be important for the coaching staff, academic support staff and others who work with college athletes to determine whether that student-athlete fits into their expectations as well. It’s a mutually beneficial change that hopefully will reduce the number of transfers in men’s basketball in future years.
Two recommendations from the NABC that were supported by the Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee and the Commission on College Basketball were referred back to the oversight committee by the Division I Board of Directors for additional review. One would allow noncoaching staff members professional development opportunities through coaching duties at practice, and another would increase the number of hours for skill instruction during the offseason. We will seek and review additional input from the Division I Council and the membership to further discuss these recommendations, which are intended to provide professional development, help diversify the coaching ranks, and further strengthen relationships between coaches and players through additional interaction on the court.
Our work, along with that of the working groups, will set a course for change in the culture of men’s basketball in the immediate future. However, we all need to understand this is just the beginning of a process that will require constant monitoring, tweaking and enhancement in future years. I think it’s safe to say that all involved in the process are excited and proud of their work.