Roughly a week before I sat to take the Florida Bar Exam, a flood began. It started with an NCAA investigation into potential rules violations by players, agents, and even university employees at the University of North Carolina. It quickly spread to NCAA investigations at the University of South Carolina, University of Florida, University of Alabama, and University of Georgia. The states of North Carolina and Florida got involved. And soon the federal government may take action. There may be more ongoing investigations that have not been made public. They may not only be focused on the sport of football.
We got lost in the craziness. Every day, there was news of another school under the magnifying glass, but we forgot to ask a few questions in each circumstance:
- Why are the rules there in the first place?
- Why are these particular players and schools unreasonably being singled out when this type of activity is commonplace across collegiate athletics?
- Why are we only focusing on the sport of football?
Let’s focus on #3 in this post. Many of my colleagues would agree that football has its problems. The barrier to entry is high, especially if you want to play against the people who have financial backing and are willing to spend. But many of those same people would also say that recruiting in basketball is just as dirty, if not worse. Here are Pat Forde’s words:
It’s not just a football epidemic. It’s even worse — a pandemic, really — in men’s basketball.
Part of the problem is that in basketball, there are less players who truly stand out from the pack and are NBA ready (even though every person who has picked up a basketball thinks he can go toe-to-toe with Carmello Anthony). The other factor is that there are less spots on an NBA team and more wealth accumulated by those who actually make it on the roster. Usually, when the reward increases, people will take more risks. Sometimes that means ignoring NCAA, state, and federal rules and regulations.
Instead of waiting for the media to start truly inspecting the sport of basketball the way it recently did with football, my hope is that the NCAA and other regulatory bodies will be proactive and begin to start looking into college basketball programs without any unnecessary prodding. The writing is already on the wall. Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com recently asked aloud – What’s wrong with college basketball? When she asked 20 high-profile head coaches, What is the biggest problem facing college basketball?, with 100% consensus the answer was: agents and runners. And I don’t think it’s because coaches naturally hate agents. In fact, most of them hire a non-agent attorney, at a minimum, to negotiate and structure their contracts.
When there is no paper trail, the agents who are violating rules are hard to catch. And just because some might be violating the rules/laws, doesn’t make them stupid. Here’s the kicker:
All but three coaches thought the NCAA was at least trying to get a handle on the problems of college basketball. The catch? No one thought it could succeed.
The coaches pointed to a variety of reasons, including too few NCAA investigators, conflicts of interest, and the need to hire more competent men investigators. Not many people have faith that the current NCAA’s Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities staff has what it takes to enforce the rules that the body has created and modified over the years. And I put almost no trust that there is any chance that the NCAA allows student-athletes to sign agency contracts with athlete agents. Dan Beebe would like those contracts to have mandatory liquidated damages clauses where it would cost the agent $1 million or $2 million if they did anything that made the player ineligible. Slight problem – the NCAA would have to first have all states and the federal government alter their laws to allow any type of student-athlete agency contract, because while the NCAA rules may permit those contracts in the future, most states and the federal government still have laws that deem such activity illegal and punishable. And how exactly will the liquidated damages clauses become mandatory? The NCAA doesn’t have subpoena power. Now all of a sudden it has the power to tell two contracting parties that they must include a $1 million+ liquidated damages clause?
The answer is not getting rid of the NCAA’s rules. The answer is to continue educating athletes, ramp up enforcement of existing rules and laws, and modify the current state/federal/nothing hybrid into a comprehensive federal program. Believe me, most agents will be happy with stronger penalties that are actually slapped on the agents who ignore the law if it means that they will only have to submit one licensing filing fee instead of having to navigate the disgustingly unstructured system of state licensing that currently exists.