By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Perhaps there’s a Tsunami coming…or perhaps when the confetti settles, college basketball won’t look that much different than it did last week. It’s too early to tell. What’s most likely to happen however – at the very least – after the FBI is done with what appears to be a very thorough and detailed investigation of coast-to-coast fraud and corruption in the sport, is that the business of NCAA hoops will be changed, in some fashion, forever. Off the court for sure. On the court? We’ve already had the dismissal of two-time National Champion coach Rick Pitino and Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich. More of the same at other schools could follow.
From what we know right now, the FBI is alleging that several schools/assistant coaches have been collecting cash payments from apparel companies, agents and financial advisers in return for directing selected future NBA players to said companies and agents. The government is also asserting that a representative from Addias provided the cash payments necessary to bribe high school players to choose certain schools to attend for that single year before turning pro and signing shoe endorsement deals. No one who follows the sport is surprised. We might be down the road, depending on who else is implicated and the depth of the probe, but the fact that the current system is apparently filled with fraud and corruption is not even a little bit of a shock.
The “clean up” is obviously good news to the vast majority of 300+ schools that play college basketball – and do so without cheating. The rule benders have had an upper hand. What form these changes will ultimately take is anyone’s guess. The hope of many is that at the very least, basketball’s stupid and ineffective “one and done” rule – a large part of the impetus for the cheating – is tossed out with the other garbage. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already said he doesn’t like the rule and believes it will be changed…sometime.
The rule that forces 18-year-old high school basketball players to go to college for a minimum of one season (NBA players must currently be at least 19 years old) was put into place just over a decade ago with good intentions. One objective was to “assist” players who were not mentally and/or physically ready for the rigors of the NBA coming directly out of high school. Having a minimum age limit is also good for the NBA’s quality of play.
Going to college before pursuing an NBA career was – and remains – a good idea. However, going for just one season – which includes just a single semester of actually going to class – has proven to be a waste of time for many and a means to cheat for some.
Doesn’t have to be like this. There’s an easy fix to this mess. The mechanisms are already in place.
College baseball already has a system that allows high school players to choose to pursue a professional career immediately after they graduate, OR choose to attend college for a minimum of three years (two if the player’s a little bit older) before becoming draft eligible again. It works.
Baseball players who are drafted out of high school and have no interest in higher education can start collecting a legitimate paycheck. They then get to spend four-to-six seasons in the minor leagues, learning and developing their skills. It’s much the same thing they’d do during three or four years as college players, minus the life lessons/growing up part, the school work and pursuit of a college degree.
You never hear complaints from college baseball players about not getting paid or about being held back from having a pro career. By having a system that offers those who want to get paid immediately and option to do so, college baseball also does not have any of these cheating scandals, either. Other than warm-weather schools having an obvious advantage, the college baseball playing field is pretty level. Most importantly, those who want to get a college education can do so legitimately while they learn and develop on the field AND in the classroom. Those who are in college are there for the right reasons.
So baseball offers the model. Add this to the fact that professional basketball already has a minor league system in place – the NBA Developmental League (now called “G” League for sponsor Gatorade) would just need to be expanded slightly and the rules of participation changed. The NBA minimum age limit rule would have to be altered to allow 18-year-olds to play in the G-League to begin their professional careers. The NBA could make the minimum age for the “big leagues” 20-years-old.
High school players would then have an option to skip college altogether if they wanted to get paid up front. The shoe companies could just sign them up after the high school season ended. No harm, no foul.
There’s downside to this for both the NBA and the top college programs: NBA teams would have to add more salary to their ledgers. The top college programs – in whatever form they still exist after the FBI is through with them – would be dragged back to the pack without being able to bring in the elite players that elect to turn pro instead. The playing court would be leveled, too.
Both the NBA and the NCAA could easily handle these changes. The fans – and the game itself – would benefit from a having a more enjoyable product to watch – at three different levels.
This is such and easy and available fix that it’s amazing no one has tried to implement it yet. Perhaps Silver will be the guy to pitch this reform. Perhaps the FBI will be giving everyone involved at the college level some added incentive to listen to him.