The NCAA's big reveal on its rule changes, recruiting-calendar amendments and general attempt to clean up college basketball brought about rampant reaction -- and a lot of questions.
On Wednesday night, I spoke with Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president of basketball, about a number of topics in an effort to bring more clarity to the myriad questions that sprouted after the NCAA touted its reforms. On its surface, the legislation seems game-changing. Kids can have agents! College players can return to school if they go undrafted! The NBA, USA Basketball and NCAA are working together!
Look closer and you'll see why some of these alterations don't tangibly affect the sport in an acute way. And for all the new bylaws that are effective immediately, there's still so much to sort out. Fortunately, below, you'll find some clarification. What is and isn't known yet, and what wasn't detailed in Wednesday's release.
In the aftermath of skepticism and criticism from the media, college coaches and the general public, Gavitt stressed the NCAA's flexibility and eventual tweaks to some of the new rules. It's likely that within the next two-to-four years, the NCAA will adopt amendments on some of these new bylaws because of the new territory it's striding into. Wednesday's big announcement isn't etched in tablets.
"If people are concerned right now that this is not right, they should be optimistic that if it's not right, if it proves not to be right, we'll adjust accordingly," Gavitt said. "But if it proves to be right, then we won't. Some of these changes are going to be good and we're not going to mess with them. This is going to evolve over the next few years. Some things still need to be determined, and then even once they are determined and we live with a rule for a year or two or three, we'll learn from it. It may be that things have to be adjusted over time."
By the way, the one thing Gavitt couldn't speak to -- the beefed up enforcement model; it's not an area of his involvement -- is the element that potentially stands to have more impact than anything else unveiled on Wednesday. What's gone overlooked is how the NCAA finally got to that point. This kind of mega model for enforcement has been batted around in the past, but it never reached the proposal stage. The FBI investigation changed that. It changed a lot of things in Indianapolis. And it was nothing but university presidents who voted the laws into effect on Wednesday, putting themselves (theoretically) in the crosshairs in the process.
Let's get to the waterwheel of questions that Wednesday's news put into a spin.
Who, specifically, will be identifying "elite" prospects and what methods or rankings will be used to determine that? What about elite prospects from outside the United States, guys who would not be a part of USA Basketball?
From the onset, the NBA and USA Basketball, separately, expressed concern with being the group that would have to designate those players. So the NCAA is going to respect that and make sure the group ultimately responsible for the "elite" tag is broader in scope. On this specific issue, a lot is still not settled.
The agent issue on the whole presents myriad questions. College players, after the end of each season, will be allowed to engage in official business relationships with agents per clearance from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. High school seniors who get the "elite" tag will eventually be allowed this as well ... only if-and-when the NBA reverts back to its previous age-minimum rule of 18.
"I think it's important to note, for clarity, the current situation allows for underclassmen that are are in college and testing the waters to engage with an agent once the season is over -- and after they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee," Gavitt said. "Those are the only prospects that can access an agent currently. That working group did do some work on what the eventuality would be if the NBA and the Players Association decided to change the draft eligibility rule. But the qualifications for ineligibility for who that pool of players is is not finalized. It is not going to be just the prospects who are Junior National Team players for USA Basketball. It's going to be more than that. How that's going to be determined, and how large a pool, is to be determined. That could be years away. We don't know the timeline on that, but it won't take effect unless the NBA and the NBPA change the draft eligibility rule. There's work that needs to be done there."
If you have this potential situation in play, if it's four years away, why was this adopted as part of the legislation when so many details are yet to be hashed out?
"That's a good question," Gavitt said. "I think the working groups and the Division I Council wanted to be respectful of the Commission's recommendations and try to make as many decisions as could be made, reasonably, in the timeline that was presented. However, this is one example, and there are several others, of details that are still to be determined."
With players having agents in the pre-draft process, how will the costs/benefits agents provide prospects be monitored? Will they be required to file paperwork on all transactions, a la providing taxes to the IRS or submitting an expense report?
This isn't known, Gavitt said. It's more of a compliance issue than anything at this stage. Again: for better or worse, this legislation was pushed through with particulars still to be sorted out.
How will the NCAA rulebook and its arbiters delineate between what's allowable and not from a cost and logistical standpoint?
Because surely these lines of "minor costs" are begging to be flirted with -- and crossed -- right? Obviously the intent is not to put any player, their family or a school in a predicament where eligibility is in jeopardy over some fluff expenses. But this seems like a situation bound to get sticky in years down the road.
"The sense I got from the Commission, for example when the Yahoo story broke (in February) and so many of those expenses were in the few hundred dollars to a thousand-dollar ranges, they were uncomfortable with that putting a kid in trouble," Gavitt said. "But how do you define that in such a way so that there are parameters and it doesn't get out of hand? And yet, you allow things that most everyone would consider reasonable."
There's another factor to this that's still complicating. There's something called the Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA). That currently has rules in place that violate the proposals put forth Wednesday by the NCAA. So the NCAA can't officially change its rules about agents providing benefits to prospects until the UAAA updates its own books.
"Currently, many if not most of all the UAAA laws do not allow for several of the things that we would like this agent relationship to allow for," Gavitt said. "Currently, I believe, agents cannot provide meals and transportation and things like that to a prospect and their family -- not based on our rules, but UAAA. So we have been in touch with the association that oversees the UAAA laws and working with them to get the appropriate changes made to those laws. But some of these expenses that will be permissible at some point won't but until those laws are changed."
If these are the parameters around agent certification, and what they can provide players, then why put a cap on who can establish a formal business relationship? Why would the NCAA resist letting the free market decide who can have an agent and who can't?
Gavitt said this specific area was the business of the autonomy conferences (read: the power leagues). So, ultimately, it's up to the presidents in the autonomy leagues to decide who can and can't have an agent. And with that, the fallout of effects on other sports were taken into account. Once this is operational, the power conferences are going to know it's coming with football. They want to put harsh guidelines on players going the agent route. They don't want chaos with hundreds if not thousands of players on the hunt, looking for representation at the end of each season.
And, obviously, it seems unrealistic to expect agents and college players to actually cut ties even though the relationship must be "terminated" if a player opts to return to college. But that's a whole different issue and problem that is unavoidable.
Were any NBA agents invited to be part of this discussion at any point over the past four months?
"The Commission definitely talked to some," Gavitt said. "I don't know definitively, but I would suspect that the working group talked with some agents as well."
If there were instances where a player returned to school, only to discover there were no scholarships left at that school, would he be free to transfer elsewhere and have immediate eligibility?
As of now, no. The transfer rules would still be in effect. The player could transfer but would have to sit a year. So could the rule change? That's not known. It is possible that this situation could happen, though, and if so, would deter players who declared for the draft from returning. It's a virtual guarantee that any fringe NBA player would not return to college if they had to sit.
"I think there's enough concern about transfers to begin with," Gavitt said. "What that group is trying to avoid is unintended consequences, if you make that pool too large and you provide for other things to trigger with that opportunity, such as being immediately eligible to transfer, there's a lot of unintended consequences with that."
In the past three years, 22 players who received combine invites went undrafted.
Why can't players who don't get combine invites have the same opportunity to return to school if undrafted?
The NCAA cites certain data on this. First, in the past three years -- since players were afforded an extended window to decide whether or not to stay in the draft pool -- every underclassman American college player who has been drafted received a combine invite.
"The working group and the NABC and others in the game feel like the current pre-draft process, in many cases, is working very effectively," Gavitt said. "The new process over the last three years, where players have five or six weeks to test the waters, to attend the combine. If they don't get invited to the combine, they can work out for all 30 teams still and have that time period, 10 days after the combine concludes, to make a decision to stay in school or go into the draft. I think the group wanted to be sensitive to the roster uncertainty that comes with making that much more broad an opportunity than it is considered to be right now.
"The intent is that players who should have any reasonable expectation that they are a potential draft pick, even unreasonable expectation that they are a draft pick, should be included in that opportunity. But at some point you have to draw the line. Because otherwise you could have, literally, hundreds of players who would take advantage. What do they have to lose? And then the chaos that would ensue with roster uncertainty. And not just that, but the potential negative impact of the academic eligibility of all those players and their missing summer school and waiting until late June to decide whether you're staying in school or not is very complicated."
College coaches -- like Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Mark Few and Jay Wright, among others -- have deep ties with USA Basketball. With USA Basketball's heightened role and official involvement in the recruiting calendar, would this not give those coaches even more of an advantage in recruiting?
As noted above, the details around the late-July youth development camps are still being worked out. The benefits are undeniable, but mitigating factors will probably be taken into consideration.
"We are all going to be, the NCAA at the forefront, hypersensitive about fairness and equity and things of that nature," Gavitt said. "I'm not concerned about that, long-term."
Do we know where the four regional camps will be held at the end of July? Will one of those four be for the best of the best?
Gavitt said there will be a bid process similar to the NCAA Tournament for colleges to try and win the right to host the end-of-July camps. College campuses, using college facilities, will be the exclusive venues for the final recruiting weekend of the summer. As noted in this story, it's expected that approximately 2,500 high schoolers will be invited. Who goes where is not yet fleshed out.
The NCAA will also pay the expenses of one parent or guardian of each prospect to attend.
"That's probably the extent of what we're definitely set on," Gavitt said. "There's going to be educational components to it as well, and I don't mean just A's and B's and C's education. Life skills, education about their recruitment and the eligibility process. I would imagine education about the pre-draft process, so that prospects and their families get complete information about every level of the game so they can make informed decisions. There's going to be academic eligibility to qualify as well. The first layer is going to be that each prospect has to have registered with the NCAA clearinghouse. That's the first year, the only requirement. Any Division I or II prospect has to go through the process anyway, so the sooner they get registered the sooner they can get information to be eligible and receive a scholarship. Further down the road we may try to determine more academic requirements."
So what's happening at the end of June with these high school camps and how are they different from July?
"There's an appetite for this," Gavitt said of what's the most maligned portion of the recruiting calendar overhaul.
These camps will be held pending approval from the National Federation of State High School Associations. But there is a lot of skepticism, if not cynicism, from college coaches and high school coaches alike about the logistics of all this. In short: there is an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it attitude among coaches over how many kids will attend these camps, how efficiently they will be run, and how they'll be paid for and organized.
The NCAA is not paying a dime for these June camps to be held. The finances will fall on the states and their high school associations. Some states will wind up being much bigger destination spots than many others because of how well their events are run. But Gavitt noted that there's not a prohibition on states joining forces. So if Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts wanted to team up and have one camp in the northeast, they could in theory do that. These events can happen at any venue except Division I schools, and the NCAA doesn't expect this June experiment to really find its footing for a few years.
"This was an NABC recommendation, the intent of which from the NABC and the Commission is to re-engage high school coaches in the recruiting process," Gavitt saids. "Not just in June, but in the April mid-week opportunities. We understand from the National Federation of State High School Association that the vast majority of states permit this kind of opportunities in their states currently. There's a very few that don't and are encouraged to reconsider that in the future. So it is a broad opportunity across the country -- not all 50 states, but the vast majority of them -- and that's important because it does provide for opportunities. We've heard concerns about evaluations at every level of the game in a team atmosphere. These will be team camps, you'll have to participate as a high school team, so it does provide that opportunity coaches want from an evaluative standpoint. We're optimistic this will grow into a viable opportunity for evaluation for a lot of kids across the country and Division I, II and III programs, frankly."
So will the first live week of July mean Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all put their biggest events up against each other?
"The working groups were in communication with the shoe companies, and the general feedback we received is that if we were to maintain one or more certified event weekends in July, that the shoe companies would adjust their schedules to take advantages of that opportunity," Gavitt said. "They seem comfortable and appreciative to have that opportunity, not that they're beholden to us."
It seems especially plausible that we'll have an ultra competitive first weekend in July.
How much did feedback in July change the plans for the recruiting calendar?
Gavitt said pushback on the Commission's recommendation to completely end non-scholastic tournaments in July was evident in June.
"When we were doing those meetings, that's when we started to hear consistently, 'Hey, guys, we're uncomfortable with this recommendation of no certified weekends,'" Gavitt said.
As discussions went into deeper into June, the NCAA, the NABC and the working groups heard more from shoe companies, and so certain powers-that-be began to deliberate on what to do. The Commission allowed for some flexibility with its recommendations. By the time the first July period of 2018 was over, it was clear that keeping some of those evaluations were seen as critical by the coaching community.
And then the Commission cleared it one last time.
"It was the Commission that decided, it wasn't us,' Gavitt said. "Ultimately I called in late July, because some Commission members brought this up. They decided if this is in the best interest overall of collaborating with organizations, shoe companies and trying to make some comprises that is a better fit, you have our blessing to do that."
The one thing that Wednesday's news did not address is the principles of amateurism and any tangible updates to that model. When the Commission released its report, it made mention of the ongoing debates around athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness -- but did not put forth any recommendations. At this point, that conversation inside the hall of NCAA headquarters remains unknown.
You might be asking: Why were all these changes put forth with so many details still to be determined? It was the accelerated timeline. Mark Emmert charged the Commission with recommendations by the springtime. The Commission knew its recommendations would need to be voted into action by Aug. 8. That made some things problematic. It's led to criticism-as-usual with some what the NCAA's put on the table.
And because these rules were pushed through, some needed/extended debate got shut out. But change was always going to come in a hurry, no matter how it was facilitated. Given the concerns that have been amplified, the real work here is yet to come.