Ten months after federal prosecutors announced wide-ranging investigation into corruption in college basketball, the NCAA announced policy changes related to the sport, including allowing top players to sign with agents while in school and players who enter the NBA draft but are not chosen to retain their college eligibility.
The reforms also call for more transparency around amateur events and hold university presidents and chancellors accountable for noncompliance within the athletic department.
The changes are “in general aimed at eliminating some of the corrosive influences that we’ve seen in college basketball that the federal investigation highlighted,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said during a conference call Wednesday. “We try to strengthen the integrity of the game and strengthen the accountability of all of us that work inside the games, and at the same time, do that in a way that provides student-athletes with much more flexibility and freedom about their decisions.”
In October 2017, the NCAA created a commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to explore the issues surrounding college basketball. In April, Rice’s commission announced its finding and recommendations.
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The changes include more flexibility for athletes deciding whether to pursue professional opportunities in the sport. Previously, athletes who declared for the NBA draft and attended the NBA combine could return to school only if they withdrew within 10 days following the combine. Now, players will be able to return to school if they are not drafted.
However, for these changes to take place, the NCAA is requiring the NBA and the NBA Players Association to agree to lower the eligibility age to enter the draft to 18 and to modify its rules around free agency if a player goes undrafted. The NBA’s current rules require U.S. players to be 19 years old and one year removed from high school, which has led to many elite high school players using college basketball as a one-year waypoint before turning pro.
Emmert said the NBA and the NBPA have “expressed a keen interest in working with us” on this issue.
“‘One-and-done’ has played a significant role in corrupting and destabilizing college basketball, restricting the freedom of choice of players, and undermining the relationship of college basketball to the mission of higher education,” the commission’s report said.
For players to take advantage of this change, they would need to declare for the draft, request an undergraduate advisory committee evaluation from the NBA and be invited to participate in the NBA combine. Players will have five days following the draft to declare that they are returning to school.
College players also will be allowed to form relationships with NCAA-certified agents if they request an evaluation from the undergraduate advisory committee. The agents can cover minimal costs, such as meals and travel expenses related to gauging interest in professional opportunities. There would not be a financial relationship between the student-athlete and the agent.
High schoolers identified by USA Basketball as elite prospects will be allowed to have an agent starting July 1 before their senior year. This change is also dependent on the NBA and the NBPA modifying their rules regarding age eligibility, which puts the timetable out of the NCAA’s hands.
Last month in Las Vegas, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change, [but] that it won’t come immediately.”
The belief in NBA circles is that the earliest such a change would go into effect is for the 2021 draft.
The changes did not address several logistical issues. Among them: The players most in need of representation and having to go back to school would be ones who weren’t selected for the combine, and in some situations, players seeking to return to school will find their scholarship slots filled by someone else.
Additionally, the NCAA will require more transparency about the financial relationships between apparel companies and their clients, including universities, amateur teams and events the companies sponsor.
Universities are required to report athletics-related income from outside sources. Events for high schoolers, which are sometimes sponsored by apparel companies, now will need to meet stricter certification requirements related to financial transparency. Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball, said event operators will have to “meet a much higher bar in order to be able to run those events.”
The NCAA also adopted changes to enforcement policies, including the creation of an independent adjudicative body to handle complex cases that involve significant violations. NCAA cases now can draw upon information obtained through other entities, such as government agencies, which will speed up the process of investigating issues.
University presidents and chancellors must contractually agree to cooperate with investigations and infractions process.
“The intent here is to just try to reinforce that fact that university presidents are ultimately responsible for the behavior of the people involved in their athletics programs, just as they are with any other group of employees and they have to step up and take responsibilities,” said Bud Peterson, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and the president of Georgia Tech.
Division I schools are now required to pay for tuition, fees and books for men’s and women’s basketball player who return to their school to finish their degree. The NCAA will also add public members to its Board of Governors.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do still as part of the process,” Peterson said. “I think the changes we’ve adopted . . . will have a positive impact on college basketball and more importantly perhaps on the student-athletes that compete in collegiate basketball.”
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The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.