With a 'sense of crisis,' how college basketball could change in the next few months

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott offered hints on some specific changes we could see in college basketball. (AP)
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott offered hints on some specific changes we could see in college basketball. (AP)

These are unprecedented times in college basketball. The confluence of a federal investigation into the sport and a decline in both the level of play and public interest has thrust the sport to a crossroads. The specter of wholesale change within the next few months looms over the sport, as the traditional avenues for recruiting, agent involvement, compensation and player eligibility are all being examined for change.

The NCAA Commission on College Basketball, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been tasked to make “substantive changes to the way we operate” college basketball. The recommendations are slated to be made in April. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up desire for this extent of reform,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “We haven’t seen it in the past. I think there’s some quiet optimism. I sense there’s enough of a sense of crisis and need that we’ll get meaningful things done now.”

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With change inevitable, Scott offered hints on some of the specifics we may see in the next few months. Yahoo Sports reviewed a copy of the 51-page findings, which came from a task force that included former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery and former NBA point guard Brevin Knight.

The Pac-12’s recommendations for reform include:

  • A recommendation of the elimination of the so-called “One-and-Done” rule. (This is ultimately up to the NBA Players Association.)

  • Preserving the eligibility of athletes who declare for the NBA draft but don’t sign with agents.

  • Creating a new enforcement unit completely separate from the NCAA. (There’s lingering ill will toward the NCAA enforcement process in the Pac-12 because of the USC case that centered around Reggie Bush’s activity with agents.)

  • Further regulation of the recruiting process, which includes shifting the focus away from tournaments run by sneaker companies and toward those involving the NCAA and “other organizations.”

  • Further transparency on payment for campus visits by recruits to “reduce the incentive for improper payments by third parties.”

  • Full disclosure of shoe and apparel deals between apparel companies and universities.

  • Access to professional agents for career advice, which Scott told Yahoo Sports would be similar to the baseball model of agents. (Players can receive advice but don’t necessarily sign with the agent.)

  • Better education for athletes in regards to both the recruiting process and agent process.

Scott said he shared a preview of the findings in person with Rice two weeks ago. He was also invited to attend one of the commission’s meetings, and Montgomery has served on both the Pac-12 Task Force and the NCAA Commission. “Based on the feedback,” Scott said, “we certainly get the sense these are many of the areas they’re considering.”

Scott said the tenor of the environment is much different in the wake of the federal investigation. He’s noticed a “sense of urgency and bias for action.” He added that there’s a sense there’s a “fast track to reform” that’s “bold rather than incremental.”

A few divisive issues remain. One is a key nuance that’s going be a pillar of Rice’s Commission. The Pac-12’s Task Force called for basketball to end up with a similar model to baseball in which players can either be drafted out of high school or “those players who do choose college [wait] until three years after their high school graduation.” Scott acknowledged this will likely be a point of contention – and perhaps a non-starter – with both the NBA and National Basketball Players Association. It would eliminate key earning years for players who blossom during their first year of college and have the optics that they’d be held in college for two extra years. Scott acknowledged there was debate in the room as to “whether there was any realistic chance the NBA or [players association] would go that far.” But Scott said they stuck with the recommendation because it fit best in the model of higher education “even if people out there view it as way too extreme.”

As the federal investigation has roiled college basketball the past six months, resulting in the arrest of 10 men, the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino and shaking the sport, the public outcry has been to begin paying the players. No method of doing that – either directly or through the Olympic model – was addressed. Scott told Yahoo Sports that the task force “didn’t include the examination of the collegiate model.”

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