To speed reform, Knight Commission calls for more transparency in college basketball

For Public Release
May 22, 2019

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Agenda and list of meeting participants available here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics today discussed a series of recent reforms made in response to the men’s college basketball scandal and urged the NCAA to continue efforts to clean up the sport.

At its spring meeting, the Commission heard from the NCAA, NBA, and other important stakeholders and experts, who described both the considerable progress made to date and the persistent challenges still facing college basketball.

Today’s meeting comes roughly one year after the Commission on College Basketball, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made a series of recommendations that the NCAA adopted. Those reforms included giving more freedom and flexibility to college basketball players as they consider their professional pathways; ensuring financial support for degree completion; strengthening penalties for school officials who break rules; and adding independent members to the NCAA’s Board of Governors, a longtime Knight Commission priority.

“Today’s discussion offered a good assessment of reform to date, and additional reforms that could help preserve Division I men’s basketball,” said Commission Co-Chair Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education. “We recognize and applaud the steps the NCAA has taken, but NCAA member institutions must go further to provide transparency and protect financial integrity in deals with shoe and apparel companies.”

The NCAA recently took an important step by adopting a Knight Commission recommendation to reinstate annual, internal reporting of all athletically-related income received by athletics personnel from outside sources, including shoe and apparel companies, to their school. But the Knight Commission believes these disclosures must be made public.

Carol Cartwright, co-chair, Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

“We are pressing for these types of public disclosures because of our firm belief that transparency is a key to cleaning up big-time college sports,” said the Commission’s other co-chair, Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University. “Much of the recent basketball scandal centered on shoe and apparel executives bribing prospects’ families to attend certain schools. It’s critical to make the funds provided by these companies to schools and coaches transparent.”

Cartwright added, “Academic reform hit a tipping point when graduation rates were publicly disclosed. Being more transparent with outside income and financial data is essential to ensuring financial integrity of college sports.”

Pressed by Knight Commission member Walter Harrison as to why the NCAA doesn’t require public disclosure of outside income from shoe and apparel companies, Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance, replied, “Your point is well-taken. We can certainly have the board [of directors] examine that.”

Earlier this year, the Knight Commission revamped its College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) Database to improve transparency of Division I college sports financial data. The database offers unprecedented access to athletics revenues, expenses, and debt at more than 220 public NCAA Division I colleges and universities dating back to 2005. The database currently combines all forms of compensation provided to coaches, but beginning January 2020, the database will provide additional reporting on the income and bonuses received by coaches and administrative personnel from third parties that are guaranteed by the school, such as outside income from shoe and apparel companies.

In today’s meeting, the Commission heard an important discussion about whether student-athletes should be able to receive compensation for the use of their non-game related name, image, and likeness (NIL) as proposed in legislation introduced at the federal and state levels.

Scott Bearby, NCAA vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, discussed the timeline for a working group, named by the NCAA last week, to examine NIL compensation. The working group is slated to issue its report by October of this year. Bearby called NIL and the right of publicity a “very complicated area of law.”

Gabe Feldman (left), Amadou Kilkenny Diaw

Gabe Feldman, associate professor of law and director, Sports Law Program, Tulane University, discussed how restrictions on amateurism have evolved in recent years without harming the popularity of the collegiate model. At the Knight Commission’s 2016 meeting, Feldman proposed a new model to permit a regulated market for non-game related NILs.

Feldman reiterated that point today, telling the Knight Commission that allowing student-athletes to be compensated for non-game activities like endorsements and autographs would not harm the amateur model for college sports.

Tom McMillen, president of LEAD1, which represents athletics directors and programs of the 130 member universities of the Football Bowl Subdivision, said that some of his members think that allowing student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL is a good thing, while others have concerns, including a “slippery slope argument that this could lead to full-scale employment classification for student-athletes.”

NBA executives David Krichavsky and Garth Glissman reviewed several NBA initiatives that will impact elite men’s basketball players, including the NBA’s proposal to the National Basketball Players Association to change the draft eligibility rules by allowing 18-year-old players to enter the NBA draft. That potential change to the current “one-and-done” rule is part of the collective bargaining process between the league and the players’ association.  Elite players currently have the option to play in the NBA G-League. This year is the first time “select contracts” at a salary of $125,000 will be available to elite 18-year old prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA

“We have heard loud and clear from the college basketball community – including from the Commission on College Basketball chaired by Dr. Rice – that the NBA should enhance its professional offerings to create options, create alternate pathways for elite players who are 18 years old” who don’t want to take the college route, Krichavsky said.

NBA and NCAA leaders also detailed the sweeping efforts that both organizations are making to better inform players about their pathways to college and to the pros.

The Knight Commission also heard a report on an education and coaching credentialing program that the NCAA will be launching this summer for men’s and women’s basketball coaches. This program aligns with a prior Knight Commission recommendation urging the NCAA to develop minimal professional standards to ensure that coaches are prepared for their roles in educating and developing student-athletes.

Cari Van Senus, vice president of policy and chief of staff, NCAA

“Coaches are uniquely positioned to influence a young person’s life,” said Cari Van Senus, vice president of policy and chief of staff at the NCAA.

The Commission also heard from expert Eric Chenowith, a former University of Kansas basketball player, on permanent total disability and loss-of-value insurance; Amadou Kilkenny Diaw, an attorney at Ruyak Cherian LLP and former basketball player at Georgetown University; Mike Brey, head men’s basketball coach, University of Notre Dame and president, Board of Directors, National Association of Basketball Coaches; and Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, NCAA

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About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 to promote reforms that support and strengthen the educational mission of college sports. Over the years, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Commission’s recommendations, including the rule that requires teams to be on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The Commission’s College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) database provides financial data for more than 220 public Division I institutions, creating greater financial transparency for where the money comes from and where the money goes in college sports.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.