Sidelines with John Clay

With horse out of the barn, NCAA forms commission to consider closing the door

NCAA president Mark Emmert has formed a commission to study college basketball in response to the federal investigation into the sport.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has formed a commission to study college basketball in response to the federal investigation into the sport. Associated Press

Not to worry. While the federal investigation into college basketball recruiting threatens to rock the sport to its very core, the NCAA has come up with the consummate NCAA-like solution. It is forming a commission.

Not just any commission either. It’s a commission headed by Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State who will be in charge of convening a group of smart, studious, professional people to study the problems. The commission is to begin its work in November and issue a report in April. Expect meetings. And more meetings. And lots of talk. And if things go well, and matters turn serious, the commission may even form a sub-commission, or a sub-committee, or something.

Meanwhile, up in New York, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI is going about the business of actually getting things done. The Oklahoman has reported that a grand jury empaneled in New York has requested that Oklahoma State turn over evidence regarding “actual or potential NCAA rules violations” in its men’s basketball program.

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports writes, “Dated Sept. 27, one day after the arrests of college assistant coaches, sports agents, shoe company executives, an AAU coach and others, the subpoena essentially shows the FBI and the Department of Justice running a full-bore NCAA investigation, only with all the power of the federal government, not the hands-tied limitations of the NCAA enforcement staff.”

[Coach Cal makes $7.75 million per year. Here’s how he makes even more.]

Meanwhile, the University of Kansas’ student newspaper The Kansan reports the FBI has documents pertaining to the school’s relationship with Adidas but “cannot release them due to an ongoing legal investigation.” The FBI’s explanation was in response to an open records request made by The Kansan.

As the Kansan reports, the week before the scandal broke, the school announced a new 14-year, $191 million contract with Adidas, whose director of global sports marketing, James Gatto, was arrested and charged on Sept. 26 in the original criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The timing is similar to the University of Louisville’s announcement in August of a 10-year, $160-million contract extension of its deal with Adidas.

[Rick Pitino made out like a bandit ($$$) in Louisville’s Adidas deal]

One month later, Louisville was implicated by the federal criminal complaint. Soon after, U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave, the first step toward the termination of his contract. Athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on paid administrative leave. The school has since named former UK baseball pitcher Vince Tyra as its acting athletic director.

Meanwhile, now that federal authorities are in the business of exposing the “underbelly” of the sport, the NCAA has decided it must do something. It can’t really investigate. Not yet. It might be construed as interfering in a federal investigation. Plus, at this point there’s not a lot it can do but sit back and wait for more bombs to drop.

In the meantime, NCAA president Mark Emmert wants to give the illusion he’s doing something, anything. Thus the idea of a commission, the corporate go-to in matters of damage control. Enlisting the marquee name of Rice, who also serves on the College Football Playoff committee, as its head guarantees attention. If the commission gets some publicity, it probably won’t get much done, however.

The NCAA missed its chance. Or made the choice to miss its chance. No one who covers or follows college basketball closely has been surprised by the so-called revelations in the FBI’s investigation. That surely includes those inside the Indianapolis offices of the NCAA. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the body’s money-maker. Did it really want to mess with its golden goose?

“I think it’s shaken everyone to their core,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. “This is a system in bad need of repair and overhaul. Let’s get after it.”

The NCAA could have activated its “let’s get after it” mode long ago. It could have cleaned up the sport long ago. Now it’s too late. The horse is out of the barn. The sport is in peril. The institution has been embarrassed. The NCAA’s response: We’ll form a commission to talk about it.

Meanwhile, up in New York, the feds are going about the work of doing something about it.

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