In late September, the FBI arrested ten individuals with connections to NCAA college basketball on bribery and corruption charges. These individuals included assistant basketball coaches at the University of Arizona, Auburn University, the University of Southern California, and Oklahoma State University, as well as an executive from Adidas. Recently, Yahoo! reported that the FBI investigation (some of which has been revealed during discovery in the criminal cases) implicates dozens of former and current players, as well as a variety of colleges not previously named in the initial indictments.  Needless to say, the scandal has rocked the NCAA basketball world.

There were two types of payments that formed the basis for the charges (which included wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering), 1) payments made by shoe companies to student-athletes, and 2) bribes to college coaches made to pressure their top players to sign with certain agents.

The first type of payments are only illegal because they were concealed and made in exchange for student athlete commitment to play for certain schools (that the shoe companies sponsored).

Of course, it is not illegal for a shoe company to pay a young athlete.  Red Gerard, the Olympic snowboarder, had a sponsorship with Burton at the age of 11. This then begs the question: Why wouldn’t the shoe companies just pay high school college basketball athletes to sponsor their goods? Why resort to cloak and dagger payments to attempt to drive student athletes to specific schools?

The answer of course, is the NCAA’s outlandish amateurism rules, which in part bar any college player from profiting off their own likeness. (NCAA Bylaw 12.5.2.1) . Under this rule, if a shoe company were to openly sponsor an athlete they would be declared ineligible for NCAA play.  For example, Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom was declared ineligible to play NCAA football in 2006 after he accepted endorsements to help fund his Olympic travels.

The second type of payments the FBI is investigating, those made by agents to coaches, were likewise done under the table because of NCAA amateurism rules, specifically the rule barring a player from “agree[ing] to be represented by an agent” (NCAA Bylaw 12.3.1). Arguably, this rule makes a lot more sense than the prohibition on athletes receiving money from sponsor– it is reasonable for the NCAA to want to bar lecherous agents from preying on teenage athletes. However, the argument that agents will take advantage of young players only supports the proposition that these kind of deals should be made in the public eye instead of behind closed doors. Thus, ban on players signing with agents is just as ridiculous as its ban on college athletes profiting off their own likeness.

It should be clear then, that the NCAA amateurism rules caused at least part of the bribery the FBI is investigating. Considering that the NCAA’s amateurism rules generally, and the prohibition on profiting off one’s own likeness specifically, are already patently unfair, and have always been considered a joke by big time players in revenue producing NCAA sports, the fact that this rule has now caused 10 arrests and an FBI investigation should be impetus enough for the NCAA to remove them.

The NCAA needs to do one thing: lift its amateurism rules.

 

Ian Joyce

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