Commission offers recommendations for fixing college basketball

UNC's academic fraud scandal was front-and-center in a report issued Wednesday by a commission chaired by Condoleezza Rice

NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks during a press conference at the 2017 Final Four (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports)

 North Carolina’s recent academic fraud case was front-and-center among the subjects addressed in a report released Wednesday by the commission looking into problems plaguing college basketball.

  The 12-member Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, spent the past seven months looking into ways of cleaning up a sport whose reputation has been tarnished by a federal corruption investigation.

  Its report included numerous recommendations ranging from changes to the current one-and-done rule to stiffer penalties for coaches and programs caught breaking the rules. The commission also urged the NCAA to “revise and clarify its role in addressing academic fraud and misconduct,” a direct reference to the UNC scandal that took more than four years to resolve.

  The Tar Heels escaped punishment by successfully arguing that so-called “paper classes” in their school’s African and Afro American Studies department — described in the commission as “sham courses” — were not subject to the NCAA’s jurisdiction because they were available to all students, not just athletes.

  It’s a loophole Rice and the her fellow commission members said should be eliminated.

  “The NCAA must have jurisdiction to address academic fraud and misconduct to the extent that it affects student-athletes’ eligibility,” Rice said in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s report. “Member institutions can no longer be permitted to defend a fraud or misconduct case on the ground that all students, not just athletes, were permitted to ‘benefit’ from that fraud or misconduct.”

  Though UNC was not specifically mentioned in the body of the 60-page report, its case was included in a footnote providing context to the issue of academic governance and enforcement.

  The commission was equally critical of the NCAA for allowing shoe companies, sports agents and unscrupulous AAU coaches to turn the summer circuit to become a “toxic of perverse incentives to cheat.”

  Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code, along with sports agent Christian Dawkins are currently under indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, for making illegal payments to prospective recruits — including former NC State star Dennis Smith Jr.

  The case, which also involved the arrest of several college assistant coaches, was the impetus that led NCAA President Mark Emmert to appoint the commission as a means to “revive and strengthen the collegiate model and give young men the opportunity to pursue both athletic and academic success.”

  UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement that Wednesday’s report is a step in the right direction. But he added that there’s still more work to be done.

  “We appreciate the work of the commission and its commitment to doing what is best for student-athletes,” Cunningham said. “We recognize these are complex issues, and look forward to working out the details with the appropriate committees so that these recommendations will positively impact the student-athlete experience and the future of college basketball.”

  Among the recommendations made to address what the commission called “a crisis in college basketball” brought about by “failed accountability and lax responsibility” are:

  ◼ The formation of an “independent investigative and adjudicative arm” of the NCAA to handle the most complicated rules violation cases;

 ◼ Setting harsher penalties for rules violators, including postseason bans for up to five years and permanent banishments for coaches that are found guilty of cheating;

 ◼ Doing away with the one-and-done rule, a measure that would need the NBA’s cooperation to enact, while allowing players to return to school if they enter the draft and are not selected;

  ◼ Establishing a fund  to pay for degree completion for players that have completed at least two years toward a degree.

  One thing the commission did not endorse was paying the players a salary.

  “The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the report stated.

  Rice delivered the report to the NCAA’s Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors on Wednesday.

  The two groups will now consider the commission’s recommendations and eventually come up with a plan and timetable for implementing them. Emmert has said he wants the reforms to be in place before the start of the 2018-19 academic year this fall.

  “Like everyone, we as coaches are looking at the recommendations announced,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “We are participating in a (National Association of Basketball Coaches) conference call (Thursday) and should have more to share as an organization by the end of the week.

  “We have consistently said that we’d like to see substantive change in college athletics, particularly within our sport, and this appears to be a starting point for further discussion among the entities who touch basketball at all levels.”