Will the real Committee to Reform College Basketball please stand up?

The Knight Commission, that is. 

Two weeks ago, Condoleeza Rice’s institutionally-sponsored “independent” Committee to Reform College Basketball submitted its recommendations to the NCAA. The “Rice Commission’s” suggestions were a predictably corporate and uninspiring regurgitation of the NCAA’s company line: the system is fine, it’s the other bad guys–the NBA, the apparel companies, the AAU, the agents, the head coaches, the assistant coaches, and the college presidents–who are to blame because they (not us!) have refused to police their people.

While the Commission’s “findings” rekindled the heated debate over student-athlete compensation in the Twittersphere (see, e.g., Patrick Hurby: “Condoleezza Rice and the Commission on College Basketball have a laundry list of tepid, status quo-reinforcing recommendations for improving the sport and getting the NCAA out of FBI hot water. I have one, and it’s much better), the Commission’s reports really weren’t surprising. At the time I wrote: “[i]f you’re looking for reform, don’t expect the NCAA to do it. They have doubled down on their system because they believe themselves to be untouchable. In the end, this commission turned out to be a PR stunt to save face, when in the end–Hey, NCAA, This is Your Fault.” I stand by my statements.

And then on Monday, the Knight Commission–the real Commission to Reform the NCAA (not just basektball)–spoke. The Commission called for sweeping changes across NCAA governance in three major areas as quoted in the Knight Commission’s press release:

  1. Governance. As a first step, add at least six independent directors to the 24-member Division I Board of Directors, now comprised solely of institutional representatives, with an ultimate goal of a majority of independent directors.
  2. Integrity and Financial Transparency. Adopt new and more stringent approvals, terms and conditions, and financial disclosures for income that NCAA institutions and their employees—particularly coaches—receive from shoe, equipment, and apparel companies.
  3. Student-Athlete Education and Development. Develop minimal professional standards that NCAA coaches will be required to meet to ensure they are prepared for their roles as educators and leaders in the development of student-athletes.

Furthermore, the Knight Commission spoke about the importance of reforming the transfer rule process–an issue currently on appeal in the 7th Circuit in Deppe v. NCAA. Where the Rice Commission suggested setting minimum GPA standards, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Division Chair and current student-athlete Noah Knight, a guard at UKMC, disagreed with these recommendations, arguing it would keep student-athletes in bad situations, rather than help their academics. This is the first time a student-athlete’s voice has been heard on these transfer issues since discussion to reform them first began at this year’s NCAA Convention.

Beyond the recommendations, the panelists proceeded to spell out the current positives and negatives of the system. Rice Commission member David Robinson defended the college system because he believed it could bring value to so many student-athletes: “[t]his should be a win-win situation for these kids, For the vast majority of athletes, I do think this system can be a good system.” Jay Bilas criticized the Rice Commission for completely balking at the opportunity to address student-athlete compensation: “[a]mateurism should [be] thoroughly examined, not just accepted.” He continued: “[n]o amateurism, no more federal crimes … let everybody participate in the multibillion-dollar industry we’ve created.”

But the star of the Commission was Kylia Carter, the mother of Duke basketball standout Wendell Carter and a former student-athlete at the University of Mississippi. Carter pulled no punches in her criticism of the NCAA, likening the NCAA to a prison system: “the problem that I see is not with the student-athletes, it’s not with the coaches or the institutions of higher learning but it’s with a system … where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do while those in charge receive mighty compensation,” she said. “The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place are slavery and the prison system. And now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that. So it’s difficult for me to sit here and not say that there is a problem that is sickening.”

Carter, who was added to the program Friday after another scheduled speaker had to cancel, went on: “I think the covers should be pulled back so everyone can see the truth and be aware of what’s really happening to the student-athlete and their families because once these students are recruited to these institutions of higher learning … at the end of the day, the talent is being purchased, but the talented are not receiving any of the benefit. The colleges are only recruiting the talented kids for their talent. They’re not recruiting them because they will excel academically at their institution. So (what) is the benefit of them going to that institution?

“I want them to go, but I want them to go for two years. … Why can’t they go to college and get a two-year certificate in this professional sport that they are pursuing if they are that talented, so that they are aware and educated on the business of the sport. … Why is there not something to protect these kids that look like my son and me — protect them as they pursue what their talent has allowed them to pursue.”

****

Kylia Carter might be the first mother in the national limelight to criticize the NCAA–she will not be the last. Her honest assessment from a mother’s perspective of the exploitations of the current system will only add to the arsenal of arguments plaintiffs’ attorneys have in the current case for student-athlete compensation sitting before Judge Claudia Wilken in the Northern District of California.

For years now, NCAA talking heads have told us its system is rock solid. So long as the organization can control the discussion, their version of amateurism is here to stay. However, the conversation that took place at this year’s Knight Commission was the first true exchange of ideas on the current state of the NCAA on a national stage. In a time when so many members of the media, the courts, the national dialogue, and now the student-athletes and their parents are turning against the NCAA, the organization must understand that the writing is on the wall and that time is almost up.

The Rice Commission’s recommendations demonstrate the NCAA is unwavering in its commitment to its form of amateurism. So, reform must come from either Congress or the courts, at which point the organization will have no control over the inevitable: student-athlete compensation.

The Rice Committee told the NCAA what it wanted to hear. The Knight Commission spoke about what the NCAA needed to hear. Now, more than ever, is the time to listen.

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