Meet the voice of student-athletes as Noah Knight prepares to help shape the NCAA
The former UMKC guard is the incoming chairman of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Noah Knight knew his career was over when a 6-foot-8 teammate grabbed a rebound in practice, whirled and unintentionally cracked the 6-1 guard in the head.
The blow resulted in the latest in a series of ongoing concussions. "Sensitivity to everything," is how Knight described the end of his basketball-playing career at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
That was a couple of years ago. Knight enters this pivotal month in NCAA history as the incoming chairman of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
There are some huge issues in the works. Monday, the SAAC wraps up two days of meetings with the Transfer Working Group. Out of that meeting may come recommendations that change college sports forever. Also this month, there are two potentially landmark lawsuits in the balance. Meanwhile, on April 25 the College Basketball Commission hopes to clean up not just basketball but all of college sports.
Knight is well positioned for the experience. His coach at UMKC, Kareem Richardson, is a former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville. Richardson was never implicated in Louisville's NCAA investigation or the FBI scandal. After the concussions -- his last games came in the 2014-15 season -- Knight, a senior business major, served as a team manager and student-assistant for Richardson.
The varied experiences put him in good position to lead.
There was a time when the 32-member SAAC was an afterthought. NCAA athletes were viewed as "pass-throughs" -- a temporary labor force that didn't have a unified voice. It wasn't until the 2014 NCAA Convention that athlete empowerment was manifested.
Former Duke women's lacrosse athlete Maddie Salamone told that convention, "How can anyone truly know how student-athletes are being affected by rules without actually talking to student-athletes? ... Therefore, any body that is going to make and pass legislation related to student-athletes must have a student-athlete on that body with a voting or advisory role at every single level."
The SAAC passes its input directly up to the NCAA Council. If it's all about athlete welfare -- as the NCAA increasingly contends -- conditions must get better. In a previous life, Knight was a 6-1 guard for the Kangaroos. In this one, he lifts back the veil on some of the NCAA's inner workings in an interview with CBS Sports.
The SAAC met with the Transfer Working Group on Sunday and Monday hoping to finalize recommendations for the Council.
At issue is how much schools, coaches and NCAA can limit the movement of players. Forty percent of recently incoming freshmen in Division I basketball have found to transfer by the end of their sophomore season. Smack dab in the middle is the contentious year-in-residence requirement for transferring players.
"What we talk about at SAAC is student-athlete accountability in all this," Knight said. "We know what we're doing. We're 18- to 22-year-olds. We have to realize the grass isn't always greener."
What's almost sure to change is putting power back in athletes' hands. In the future they will simply notify coaches of their intention to transfer instead of seeking permission.
"Essentially they're like playing with your life," Knight said of schools. "As long as I've been interacting with the Transfer Working Group, everybody in that group is thinking about really changing this and giving power to the student-athlete."
Alabama coach Nicks Saban doesn't view notification vs. permission as "a significant issue." Let 'em go if they want. However …
"They all want to play in the NFL some day," he said. "They have to learn how to win a job. You don't have a choice. You can't leave. You're under contract.
"Coaches are trying to help players be successful. If you don't make a commitment and work through some issues and overcome some adversity, you've got to be able to overcome 'hard' in just about everything you do."
Complicating matters, the NCAA Committee on Academics has recommended an academic benchmark (3.0-3.3 GPA) for athletes to be able to transfer without restriction.
While that looks fair on its face, there are possible racial implications. In the Power Five, black athletes' graduation rates lag behind those of the general student population.
Also, do such a rule that impact athletes more at Stanford -- where there are more 3.0 GPAs -- than, say, Arizona State?
"I think it's nuts," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson told USA Today. "Is it in [a school's] best interests to make sure all your guys are under 3.3?"
Knight pointed out that with a 3.0 GPA, there is at least a 70 percent chance of graduating within the five-year eligibility window allowed by the NCAA. The Big 12 is against an academic benchmark. The Pac-12 and Big Ten did not have a stance as yet when contacted by CBS Sports.
Then there is the issue of the rank-and-file student. They can transfer any time to enhance their education, social life and professional prospects. Why can't athletes?
The Commission on College Basketball is being given room to possibly change the entire amateur model.
In the wake of the FBI scandal, there are rumblings of allowing athletes more contact with agents. There have been renewed calls for players to be able to capitalize on endorsements. Anything to relieve the pressure of a black market paying players and their families under the table.
"If [further compensation] were to happen, I believe it should be on the back end," Knight said. "[While playing] some would be responsible but some would blow it all on shoes and food. By the time you're 21 or 22 when you graduate, you're much more responsible."
What Knight is describing is what judge Claudia Wilken proposed in her O'Bannon case decision -- $5,000 per year for players in trust fund to be accessed the end of eligibility. The monetary portion of that decision against the NCAA was struck down on appeal.
The commission, "is not going to please everybody," Knight said. "I think it's possible they make meaningful change. I think they're going to do it too."
Meanwhile, there are those two significant trials this month that could impact the way the NCAA does business.
Former USC assistant coach Todd McNair has sued the NCAA for defamation. His professional career basically has been ruined after being charged with unethical conduct in the controversial Reggie Bush case in 2010.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has been deposed in the case, which critics say was botched. The Big 12, Big East and Pac-12 have called for third-party adjudication of cases in the future, basically taking such major cases out of the hands of the NCAA.
On April 30 the NCAA goes to court in the Greg Ploetz case. The former Texas football player (1968-72) was found to have Stage 4 CTE upon his death in 2015, the worst form of the disease.
Ploetz' wife contends the NCAA knew or should have known about the risks of repeated blows to the head. Ploetz never played pro football.
Neither did Knight. That's where the irony of being a non-student-athlete on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee is obvious. (Rules allow for members to serve beyond their athletic eligibility.) Part of being a student-athlete is being healthy enough to be a student-athlete.
"I've noticed some changes since the concussions," Knight said. "Concentration, I'll notice isn't as good as it was. For the most part (it's better)."
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