Fixing NCAA Basketball
As a Seton Hall fan, I see the team embroiled in the latest NCAA Men’s Basketball Scandal. Like many of these scandals, this one involves team’s illegally paying players, and all the hot takes have ensued. We have seen all the usual from paying players all the way to just scrapping the entire system and starting over. Really, all of these takes and suggestions stem from one guiding principle – the system is broken.
Overall, when making suggestions, the one guiding principle needs to be these are student-athletes. The NCAA has always wanted to at least create this allusion, and as such, they need to put rules in place to treat the athletes like other students whenever possible. There are other legal and economic realities that need to be addressed as well. With those in mind, here are some suggestions and realities when trying to fix NCAA basketball:
You Can’t Pay Players
Look, time and again, we have seen record revenues for the NCAA Tournament, and we have see calls for schools to pay players. While, it sounds good, it’s just not possible.
First and foremost, while private universities like Duke and Stanford can do this, there is a real question about the ability for all of college basketball to do this. There is a real question whether smaller schools like SUNY Binghamton could pay their players. If pressed to pay their players, it is eminently possible we will see smaller schools shut down their basketball programs thereby creating fewer chances for players to receive an education. That should not be the goal of college athletics.
There is also the Title IX issue. With Title IX, you can certainly argue college programs which pay their men’s players will also have to pay their women’s players. For programs like UConn and Notre Dame, that may not be such a big deal. However, when you look at mid majors or even lower tier major conference schools like Providence, this could be a deal breaker. Ultimately, it may lead to the reduction of varsity sports offered on campus, and once again, we are back to limiting opportunities for students. That should never be the goal.
All Basketball Players Should Be on Scholarship
Personally, I have always found the measure to pay the athletes disingenuous. When this point is raised, people mostly want to pay the top athletes for a school who are real revenue generators. Essentially, people are okay with the leading scorer getting paid, but are nowhere near as concerned as the last guy on the bench. As per rules, remember that last guy on the bench puts in the same amount of time off the court as the star.
Also, in what is constantly a point of contention, players are already compensated with a scholarship plus reasonable expenses.
If you go to USC, that is compensation of roughly $60,000 per year. It could be more. We can dicker over whether this is fair market value or not. What cannot be argued is that’s a fairly large compensation for a 18 year old student. The only problem is you’re only getting it if you’re deemed one of the top players/recruits.
This is an inane decision designed to create competitive balance among schools. If you’re an organization who maintains these are student-athletes, why would you create an impediment for a student to select the school they want to attend? Let them decided if they want to sit for a year or two while going to the school they want to attend. Don’t take away their chance to go to Kentucky because Calipari has already handed out all of his scholarships.
Ultimately, each player on the team contributes to the school and the team. They are due compensation. In NCAA basketball, that is in the form of a scholarship.
As an aside, this would also end the shameful practice of dangling a scholarship to a student, and revoking it when a better player comes along, the student doesn’t produce on the field, or when the student suffers an injury.
Allow Players to Profit from Their Likeness
As part of a goal to promote amateurism, there have been many roadblocks for players to earn a living. For some players who live in poorer areas, they do need more than the scholarship. They need actual money. However, they are prevented from doing so, which in turn, creates the corruption the NCAA wants to avoid.
Really, by not allowing players to earn any money, you create an environment in which boosters or agents can slip money under the table to help entice students to attend their university. By permitting students to earn some money and by giving everyone a scholarship, you eliminate some of this.
Certainly, there should be some reasonable guidelines. For example, student-athletes should only be permitted to do these activities when they are not in-season. As we know, there are only so many hours of the day. These students do need to practice and study. Adding shooting a local commercial takes away time from both. However, there is an open window over the summer.
This would give the student a possibility to get money they need to not only take a girl out, but more importantly, to improve their standard of living. Ultimately, that’s the goal of attending college in the first place.
Allow Players to Have Agents
Let’s admit student-athletes are not normal students, and they really have more on their plate than the average student. Regardless of background, it’s a lot for an 18 year old to handle, and they need all the help they can get.
Sure, you can argue that’s the job of the head coach or the Athletic Director. However, it is fair to question whether they have adequate enough time to address all the needs a player has. That goes double when you place restrictions on how frequently a player and coach can interact.
A player having an agent would be helpful. The agent could effectively communicate with a player what their realistic draft stock is. Considering this would be an ongoing relationship, there may not be the same push to get that player to declare.
If there are family issues where someone needs money or the player runs into trouble, there is someone else to help handle the situation. If a player gets hurt, there is someone there to protect the player from both himself and a myopic school looking for an Elite 8 appearance.
There’s room for reasonable restrictions here. The NCAA can certify those agents themselves, and they can also set down contact and recruiting periods for agents to contact students. Maybe you limit a student to just one agent during his four years in college. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the student with both someone who will look out for them as well as another buffer against the corrupt boosters who look to take advantage of the players.
Students Should Be Allowed to Transfer When a Coach Leaves
It’s flat out dumb when a coach leaves, he can go to a new school the next day. However, if a player left behind by that coach wants to leave too, he has to sit out a year. The NCAA can come up with a number of reasons why this is a good rule, but it’s not.
The NCAA came up with a system where the coaching staff is supposed to be the ones who recruit a player to come to the school. As a result, the deciding factor why a student opted to attend that school was the coach. With the coach gone, the student should be permitted to re-assess their decision. If they decided they don’t like the new coach or new direction, they should be permitted to transfer once the season is over.
Students with a High GPA Should Be Allowed to Transfer without Sitting Out
Absent a coach leaving, there are very good reasons why you don’t want to see students being able to switch schools year to year. Mostly, it’s a constant distraction which would impede a student’s ability to concentrate in school or on the court. With that said, this is supposed to be about education.
While basketball players are a bit different, all students are just looking for the best opportunity they can get. Typically speaking, that comes with getting better grades. To that end, why not incentivize student-athletes to get better grades. The NCAA should set a floor, and if a student-athlete clears that GPA, they could then transfer without waiting out a year.
No More One and Done
This is an area where the NCAA has to work with the NBA because the one and done rule is an NBA and not an NCAA rule. We can debate the intentions of the rule, but what we do know is it is having an undesired effect on the quality of play and level of interest in college basketball.
There are a few options the NCAA and NBA could investigate to replace the one and done rule.
There is the MLB model where a player can declare for the draft out of high school. If they do not like their draft position or the bonus offered, they are then given the option to go to school. The caveat there is that student is not draft eligible again until after their Junior year.
Another idea is the old Larry Bird rule. No, not the salary cap rule. Back in 1978, Larry Bird was drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics. In lieu of signing with them, Bird went back to Indiana State for his senior year. He then played Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the Championship Game which elevated both the NCAA Tournament and NBA.
The caveat with Bird was the Celtics had to sign him before the 1979 Draft was held. Had they not, Bird would have re-entered the Draft. Really, there is no reason why that rule couldn’t be put back in place. Let teams draft and follow a player. There can be a signing period both before and after the NCAA basketball season. This can be tinkered with as the NBA and NCAA see fit, but there are good reasons to implement this.
The NCAA is currently in the state they are in because they are trying to maintain a 1940s idea of amateurism. They are seeking to maintain their level of revenues without incurring additional costs. That’s all well and good as it does help to pump money into colleges and universities. However, it should not come at the cost of helping student-athletes.
At the end of the day, if you give them all scholarships, incentivize learning, and allow them to earn money in the offseason, there is no reason why the NCAA cannot be put in a much healthier situation.