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NCAA institutes major college basketball reforms in wake of FBI scandal

New policies include allowing players to be represented by agents

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas A&M vs Providence Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As schools like Louisville and Arizona claw their way back up from the taint of scandal that hit with the FBI’s arrest of assistant coaches last year, the NCAA has put in place new policies aimed at restoring fans’ confidence in college basketball.

The crux of the scandal was the lengths agents would go to to secure clients, usually in violation of the NCAA rules in force at the time. Now the NCAA rules will allow rising high school seniors to sign with agents if the player is identified as “elite” by USA Basketball. On top of that, college players seeking to go pro can sign with an agent after any season if the player requests an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which tells players what their expected draft position would be.

The new rules also allow basketball players to come back to school after declaring for the draft AND going through the draft combine. Previously, players had to pull out of the draft pool at least ten days before the draft itself.

This could allow a player like De’Andre Hunter or Mamadi Diakite to fully explore their NBA draft potential in the off-season without sacrificing their final year or two of eligibility.

While the agent-signing rule for college players takes effect immediately, the draft flexibility rule requires matching rule changes by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. The rule change for high school seniors will take effect if and when the NBA allows high schoolers to be eligible for the draft.

In a conference call explaining some of the new rules, the NCAA said that a player who returns to school after hiring an agent for the draft process must terminate that relationship once they go back to school.

The new rules do come with some purported protections for players. The NCAA will stand up a body to certify prospective agents and all agents will have to be certified by that body to represent high school or college basketball players.

There are also new rules regulating youth basketball events (such as AAU tournaments and showcase competitions) and how apparel companies can interact with programs.

In addition to the rules for players and programs, the NCAA is implementing new procedures for investigation of potential infractions and enforcement of any resulting sanctions. The highlight seems to be allowing NCAA investigators to use facts determined by outside bodies, including courts of law. This eliminates the problem that came up in the investigation of Miami football and Nevin Shapiro, when NCAA investigators piggy-backed on subpoenas that carried the coercive power of the courts.

What’s the bottom line? All of these rules are designed to keep serious money out of the hands of college basketball players. But new rules mean new loopholes. There is still a multi-million dollar industry that will press to find and exploit every loophole that exists. Agents will still cross lines and under-compensated players will still try to get paid what they’re worth. The NCAA will pocket more than a billion dollars a year just in TV rights for March Madness, while the players in those games will be told to be happy with a dorm room, cafeteria food, and—for many of them—about a third of a college degree (although at least now, Division I schools will be required to cover tuition, fees and books for players who leave and return later to finish their degree).

But something’s better than nothing. And looking like you’re doing something is better than looking like you’re doing nothing.