In a reaction to a federal investigation's revelations last year of widespread corruption in college basketball recruiting, the Pacific-12 Conference announced Tuesday that it was putting its weight behind several reforms that would fundamentally change the sport. The proposals include new eligibility standards and limiting the presence of shoe companies — a bold statement from a league that counts the so-called University of Nike among its members.
"I think the time is well past for incremental tweaks or cosmetic reactions to what we've seen over the last year," Larry Scott, the PAC-12 commissioner, said Monday.
The PAC-12 task force's recommendations could prove to be a preview of the findings of an NCAA commission, led by the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, formed last fall to investigate potential changes for college basketball.
The PAC-12 group advocated encouraging the NBA and its players' association to end its so-called one-and-done rule requiring players to be a year removed from high school before entering the league, as well as new rules like those in college baseball, in which players may sign with teams straight after high school but, if they enter college, must stay three years. It would also relax regulations barring contact with agents.
The college sports establishment does not control the one-and-done rule. But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA Players' Association, have both met with Rice's group, which plans to release its findings late next month. Scott said he had also spoken to Silver and Roberts. The NBA is planning to become more involved with high school basketball and may also work with the players' union to end the one-and-done rule, ESPN reported this month.
Last year, federal prosecutors filed complaints from a yearslong investigation in which, the prosecutors said, four Division I assistant coaches were bribed to steer players toward would-be agents and financial advisers, and in which an Adidas executive helped use the company's money to try to steer high school prospects to college programs sponsored by Adidas.
Documents associated with the cases have implicated dozens of current and future players on prominent programs, casting something of a pall over the annual Division I men's basketball tournament, the NCAA's marquee event that tips off this week.
Scott pointed to the remarks of high-profile players like LeBron James, who argued that the NBA had a mission to clean up the sport of basketball and suggested it would be in the NBA's best interest to help college basketball put its house in order.
"It's not good for the NBA to have some of their next-generation stars embroiled in controversies and having their reputations besmirched for integrity issues," Scott said.
He added: "There's been a bit of a wake-up call, that this is the NBA and NBA players' association forcing young men that don't want to go to college to go to college for a year."
The PAC-12 report, endorsed unanimously by the presidents and chancellors of the conference's members, also recommended removing summer basketball programs from the purview of the apparel giants, three of whom — Nike, Adidas and Under Armour — currently administer vast leagues that are ground zero for college recruiting, even as those companies also funnel billions of dollars in gear and cash to the college programs they sponsor. The report also advocated full transparency of apparel deals with coaches and universities.
The PAC-12 includes two prime examples of the power that apparel companies can exert in college sports. Two years ago, UCLA and Under Armour signed the richest apparel deal in college sports, worth $280 million over 15 years. And the University of Oregon has become known as the University of Nike for the hundreds of millions that Nike's founder, Phil Knight, an Oregon alumnus, has bestowed upon the university's athletic program, playing a major role in making the Ducks national contenders in football and men's basketball.
"We're not proposing radical change in the relationship between shoe companies and our schools," Scott said. "They play an important and helpful role in many respects."
"However," he added, "there is a perception that there can be unhealthy relationships."