High-level AAU basketball events are being held all over the country this spring and summer, including right here in our metro. Depending on whom you listen to, those showcases are either invaluable recruiting spaces, breeding grounds for corruption because of archaic NCAA rules or the root of all evil.
The answer doesn’t fit neatly in one box.
An ongoing FBI investigation has exposed college basketball’s underbelly, revealing a system spinning out of control. Nefarious business dealings between shoe companies, recruits, agents, AAU operators and college coaches create an image of the Wild West.
These aren’t new problems, and they can’t be solved solely on recommendations unveiled last week by the Commission on College Basketball. The commission hit the mark in some areas, but it failed to address an overarching issue confronting college athletics: the need for changes in NCAA amateurism rules.
Therein lies a fundamental divide in opinion over what is truly necessary to fix the sport. We can debate AAU pros and cons, shoe company influence and NCAA eligibility rules, but the roots of the sport’s trouble run deeper.
AAU basketball — or nonscholastic basketball as labeled by the commission — is an environment ripe for shenanigans, but it also gives top players exposure to better competition and visibility with college coaches they don’t all find in high school.
And it’s hypocritical to cast apparel companies as the boogeyman without acknowledging that those companies have deals with athletic departments that pay hundreds of millions of dollars. UCLA has a 15-year, $280 million apparel deal with Under Armour. Ohio State signed a $252 million contract with Nike. Kansas landed a $191 million contract with Adidas.
The commission’s woe-is-me tone regarding apparel companies rings hollow.
The commission was on point in other recommendations: eliminate the one-and-done approach; issue stiffer penalties for cheaters; allow undrafted players to remain in college; demand greater transparency from apparel companies; and grant high school players access to agents. Smart proposals, if they get put to practice.
The one-and-done rule grabs the most attention, but that is an NBA directive, not something controlled by the NCAA. Assuming the NBA does lower its age minimum to 18, players who have no interest in college won’t be forced to spend a year on campus as if it’s nothing more than an airport layover.
The one-and-done trend has changed college basketball, but allowing a handful of elite high school players to jump directly to the NBA every year won’t eliminate the temptation to cheat for other recruits. Problems run deeper than one-and-done.
College basketball is big business, and the interconnection of different parties looking to take advantage of opportunity and talent often inspires unscrupulous behavior. Everyone has skin in the game.
The latest scandals have spurred increased calls for athletes to be treated as semiprofessional and receive compensation. This is where I’m torn.
A pay-for-play model involving salaries in addition to scholarships would present far too many challenges to make it equitable. Which athletes get paid and how much?
The idea that makes the most sense is moving to an Olympic model, allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. Athletes could sign endorsement deals or earn outside income based off their own individual success. That’s a reasonable compromise that would protect amateurism ideals the NCAA covets.
Would that model prevent or eliminate the kind of improper business that has infiltrated college basketball? Probably not. Cheaters will always look for ways to exploit the system. But allowing athletes freedom to profit off their talents independently would move the needle in the right direction.
Any idea should be up for discussion after the commission concluded that “the levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it.”
The entire system created this monster. Let’s see how serious they are about fixing it.