As we attended all these caravan events that Iowa’s state universities held in the Quad-Cities over the past week or so to promote their sports programs, you would think everything was just hunky dory in the world of college athletics.
The coaches and administrators spoke glowingly about the virtues of their programs. You could see large posters of each school’s athletes, extolling their value to their respective universities. Everyone wore happy, smiling faces while glad-handing fans and subtly urging them to make monetary donations and buy tickets.
The truth is things might not be all that hunky or dory in college sports.
There are all sorts of hot-button issues being debated right now.
There is talk of compensating athletes with something more than just a free education. Discussions have been held about altering the transfer rules at the Division I level. There are debates about the role of agents. Some are pushing for harsher punishments for coaches who cheat.
And the U.S. Supreme Court threw one more wiggly worm into the open can this week by ruling that sports gambling is now permissible in all states.
No sport is under more intense scrutiny than men’s college basketball, which has been riddled with recruiting scandals in recent years.
That situation led to the formation of the Commission on College Basketball, headed by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, which produced a lengthy list of recommendations last week.
Rice’s commission issued a 60-page report that includes some good things, some bad things and some thoroughly inconsequential things.
Rice said the intent was to "put the college back in college basketball." That sounds good. It’s debatable whether all the measures the commission recommended will accomplish that.
The best thing the commission did was to recommend that the NBA do away with its one-and-done rule. High school players who feel they are ready to play in the NBA currently are forced to play at least one season in college before they are draft-eligible.
It’s ludicrous. You have all these kids who have no interest in receiving an education who are required to attend classes for a year — really, just one semester in many cases — so they can turn pro. It’s a sham that needs to go away.
If the NBA refuses to change its stance, the commission indicated that alternative measures might include making freshmen ineligible or locking up scholarships for three or four years if the recipient leaves the program after one year.
Good luck getting either of those things approved.
The commission also recommended that players who are not drafted be allowed to return to college and that basketball players be permitted to speak to agents even before they get to college.
The commission also has some recommendations for possibly banning coaches for life if they are caught cheating and also having consequences for the athletic directors and even the presidents of the schools involved.
So, we’re going to stiffen penalties for cheating coaches but also make it more difficult for them to operate clean programs by allowing the involvement of sometimes unscrupulous agents? Does that seem counter-productive to anyone else?
Most coaches currently are tiptoeing around the recommendations without saying what they really think. You can include Iowa coach Fran McCaffery in that group.
"I think we have to wait and see where it goes from there," McCaffery said at last week’s caravan event in Bettendorf. "Some of what they talked about we already knew, but I think they identified some specific areas where there has to be change. I think that’s really good. I really have a lot of respect for that commission as an independent commission. …
"I think they will have some teeth and make changes that in the long run will benefit the student-athletes."
It remains to be seen how much teeth the commission has. Since it was not sanctioned by the NCAA, its recommendations could very well fall on deaf ears.
One thing the commission did not address is the issue of compensation for the vast majority of college basketball players, the ones who aren’t ever going to sniff the millions that come with an NBA contract but who are being used by the schools to promote their programs.
This is an topic that spans all sports.
At the Iowa caravan event there were all these huge posters of Jordan Bohannon, Noah Fant, Nate Stanley, Megan Gustafson and Spencer Lee, all there to stimulate school spirit and indirectly reach into the pockets of boosters.
The athletes involved get nothing more than a free education, but the university is free to use their likenesses for whatever purpose they desire.
There’s obviously an inequity there. But it’s going to take several commissions several years, maybe decades, to sort out how to address that issue.