This post was originally published as a "Town Talk" column by Lawrence Journal-World editor Chad Lawhorn. You can find more posts from this column, which features assorted business and city news and other observations from around the town, at LJWorld.com.
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The most visible industry in Lawrence just got a shot over its bow today. The report to the NCAA on college basketball is scathing in many regards.
If you were hoping for the Condoleezza Rice-led committee to issue a report saying all that is needed to fix college basketball is a system where the players can legally get paid, you will be disappointed. The report doesn’t take that tack — although it said some day the NCAA ought to look at how players are compensated for use of their likenesses.
Instead, the report questions the morals of the sport and raises the concern about whether “college basketball as we know it” can survive. Think about that for a moment: Kansas Athletics is a $100 million a year enterprise based in Lawrence. KU basketball is the undisputed engine of that enterprise. If you are a Lawrence leader — regardless of whether you are a basketball fan — this is worth keeping an eye on.
Here’s a look at some of the most scathing comments from just the executive summary of the 60-page report:
• “In brief, it is the overwhelming assessment of the Commission that the state of men’s college basketball is deeply troubled. 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.” Those were the second and third sentences of the report. They set the tone.
• The idea that college basketball players ought to be getting paid for their performances did not go over well with this commission. The report notes that the lifetime benefit of a college degree can approach $1 million, primarily via increased earning power compared to those without degrees. Simply put, if college athletes aren’t at the school for the degree, they’re at school for the wrong reason. “The Commission believes that the answer to many of college basketball’s problems lies in a renewed commitment to the college degree as the centerpiece of intercollegiate athletics. Intercollegiate athletics is a trust based on a promise: Athletes play for the schools and receive a realistic chance to complete a college degree in return. Any policy or action that violates that trust is morally wrong.” In case you missed it, I think the commission is saying there have been several immoral actors in college basketball.
• Schools themselves aren’t even afraid of the NCAA and penalties, the report suggests. “The NCAA’s investigative and enforcement functions were designed for a simpler time, when rule violations did not put so much at stake. As a result, the NCAA, as an enforcement entity, has little credibility with the public and its members, and what it has continues to dwindle.”
• There was no ambiguity about what the committee thinks of the one-and-done rule, which allows college basketball players to go to the NBA after a year in college. “The one-and-done regime may have provided some benefits for the NBA and the NCAA in the past, but all stakeholders agree that the downsides now outweigh any benefits.” Some people have said that's nice and all, but the NBA controls the criteria for when players can be drafted into the NBA. In other words, the one-and-done rule isn’t the NCAA’s to change. True enough, but the report also provides a glimpse at the leverage the NCAA does have. It could go back to an old rule that makes freshmen ineligible to play in varsity competition. If needed, it also could make a rule that once you give a scholarship to a player, that scholarship is going to be tied up for four years, regardless of whether the player stays on the team for that long. In other words, if you have a one-and-done player, you lose that scholarship for three more years. That may give coaches pause in offering scholarships to players who they believe will only be around for a season.
• Everybody knows people are cheating. “Many informed us that when the U.S Attorney’s Office announced the charges that led to this Commission, the reaction was that ‘everyone knows’ that these payments occur. That state of affairs — where the entire community knows of significant rule breaking and yet the governance body lacks the power or will to investigate and act — breeds cynicism and contempt.”
• Don’t just point fingers at coaches. Blame should go higher up the ladder. “Coaches are the public focus of blame for the NCAA violations. For too long, college presidents and administrators have not been viewed as accountable for the conduct of their athletic programs. That will have to change. College presidents and high-level administrators cannot be permitted to turn a blind eye to the infractions of those programs.”
• Don’t blame the “NCAA.” This sounds a little self-serving given that the report was commissioned by the NCAA. But the point is that the NCAA is nothing more than a collection of schools, the report argues. It is not some entity based in Indianapolis that is causing the problems, but rather it is the action of a whole lot of schools that a whole lot of us root for. “But the NCAA is not really Indianapolis: It is the sum total of its member institutions. When those institutions and those responsible for leading them short-circuit rules, ethics and norms in order to achieve on-court success, they alone are responsible. Too often, these individuals hide behind the NCAA when they are the ones most responsible for the degraded state of intercollegiate athletics, in general, and college basketball in particular.”