NCAA forms special commission to examine college basketball in wake of federal bribery and fraud investigation

Citing the recent federal criminal complaints of fraud and bribery stemming from a FBI sting of several college basketball programs, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the formation of a new commission on Wednesday that would examine problems with the sport that had been unearthed by the federal investigation.

Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors announced a string of criminal fraud and corruption charges involving several men’s basketball programs, in which assistant coaches and recruits were allegedly part of a bribery scheme to direct players to specific universities, agents and apparel companies.

The University of Louisville men’s basketball team — already on probation due to its embarrassing escort scandal — was swept up in the sting and alleged to have landed a recruit with a $100,000 bribe, leading to head coach Rick Pitino, athletics director Tom Jurich and two assistant coaches being placed on administrative leave and replaced by interim hires.

In his statement announcing the formation of the new Commission on College Basketball, Emmert said that this federal investigation “made it very clear the NCAA needs to make substantive changes to the way we operate, and do so quickly.”

“Individuals who break the trust on which college sports is based have no place here,” stated Emmert. “While I believe the vast majority of coaches follow the rules, the culture of silence in college basketball enables bad actors, and we need them out of the game. We must take decisive action. This is not a time for half-measures or incremental change.”

Emmert stated that the new commission would be chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will “work with me in examining critical aspects of a system that clearly is not working.” The commission will focus on the intersection of apparel companies, AAU coaches, agents, advisers and the NBA with college basketball players, coaches and the NCAA national office.

Below are the specific areas that the commission will focus on:

1. The relationship of the NCAA national office, member institutions, student-athletes and coaches with outside entities, including:

  • Apparel companies and other commercial entities, to establish an environment where they can support programs in a transparent way, but not become an inappropriate or distorting influence on the game, recruits or their families.
  • Nonscholastic basketball, with a focus on the appropriate involvement of college coaches and others.
  • Agents or advisors, with an emphasis on how students and their families can get legitimate advice without being taken advantage of, defrauded or risk their NCAA eligibility.

2. The NCAA’s relationship with the NBA, and the challenging effect the NBA’s so-called “one and done” rule has had on college basketball, including how the NCAA can change its own eligibility rules to address that dynamic.

3. Creating the right relationship between the universities and colleges of the NCAA and its national office to promote transparency and accountability. The commission will be asked to evaluate whether the appropriate degree of authority is vested in the current enforcement and eligibility processes, and whether the collaborative model provides the investigative tools, cultural incentives and structures to ensure exploitation and corruption cannot hide in college sports.

The commission is made up 14 members, including former NCAA coaches Mike Montgomery and John Thompson III, and former star players David Robinson and Grant Hill. The commission is to begin work in November and meet at least four times by next spring, with its final recommendations on “legislative, policy and structural changes” set to be delivered in April to the NCAA board of governors and Division I board of directors.

“We need to do right by student-athletes,” added Emmert in his statement. “I believe we can — and we must — find a way to protect the integrity of college sports by addressing both sides of the coin: fairness and opportunity for college athletes, coupled with the enforcement capability to hold accountable those who undermine the standards of our community.”

Coach Pitino, who was given a formal notice last week by interim UofL President Greg Postel that he was being fired for cause, has insisted that he is not guilty of any wrongdoing and was unaware of any bribe scheme by his assistants. He will be given an opportunity to defend himself against such a firing at the board meeting of the UofL Athletic Association on Tuesday of next week.

The NCAA issued stiff penalties against the UofL men’s basketball program this summer due to its escort scandal — in which a former assistant provided escort services to players and recruits over a number of years — ruling that UofL must vacate its wins over that period and that Pitino would be suspended for the opening of conference play. The NCAA has not formally announced any specific actions targeting UofL since the federal corruption investigation was announced two weeks ago.