Time is now for NCAA to deregulate its amateurism and agent rules

Yahoo Sports
The NCAA is facing a monumental task in confronting the issue of how a young player’s free-market value runs counter to its current amateurism model. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
The NCAA is facing a monumental task in confronting the issue of how a young player’s free-market value runs counter to its current amateurism model. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

It is but one line (with receipt attached) among many lines (with receipts attached). It is contained in one expense report of one agent working for one agency in all of basketball.

It sits in the middle of a mountain of evidence collected by the FBI during its three-year investigation into college basketball, which has resulted in 10 men being arrested for fraud and an entire sport rocked and seeking, perhaps, meaningful reform.

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It also isn’t even true.

Agent Stephen Pina submitted an expense report to ASM Sports that on the night of June 19, 2015, he dined at The Melting Pot in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is part of thousands of pages of documents seized by the FBI. It was viewed by Yahoo Sports. In the notes section, where Pina generally listed attendees for meals, were two names – Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, a then-standout 17-year-old basketball star and now a rookie for the Miami Heat, and Eric Peartree, who was dubbed in media accounts as Adebayo’s “mentor” or “guardian.”

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Adebayo wasn’t there though. It was never certain he was – an expense report is just an expense report and can say whatever it says. In Adebayo’s case, it’s clear he wasn’t though. In town to compete in the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp, he was playing at that time in a game – 22 points, seven rebounds in a 68-67 victory – about a mile away at the University of Virginia. Adebayo, through his agent, denied attending the dinner to Yahoo Sports earlier this week when the information was first revealed. Regardless, he never signed with ASM.

All of which points to a larger issue, and perhaps motivation for the NCAA to deregulate, and deregulate as soon as possible, on the issues of amateurism and agent representation. As the FBI evidence is slowly revealed over the next couple of years through court proceedings and actual trials, hundreds and hundreds of names, dinners, incidents and potential NCAA violations will be uncovered.

Some may be big. Many more will be ridiculously small. An agent with a corporate card hanging around a basketball camp is easy to find after all. Even at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, the tightest-run,  best-organized and most professional of any event on the grassroots circuit, where players are closely monitored and protected.

And maybe most problematic, some may be wrong, confusing, impossible to prove or just unnecessarily negative. Other schools have investigated allegations that are in the FBI evidence and found them invalid. Figuring out what’s what will be a challenge.

The issue is the NCAA rules, which pointlessly make behavior that is both widespread and otherwise harmless into cases that require an enforcement staff and defense tactics. Is the NCAA going to stick to these rules when a flood of potential, but by no means certain violations come out on schools and players everywhere?

How would the NCAA even handle the pending case load?

“It could be a situation where there could be a dump of information that gets out there that the NCAA can investigate and do internal reviews but still not develop enough of a body of information or verifiable fact to take substantive action,” said Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based lawyer with extensive experience in NCAA issues. “It’s going to be difficult for them.”

The most obvious question is why would it even matter if a player, or their parents, or anyone else, did get some free fondue from an agent or shoe executive or financial planner that wants to do business with them? What’s the real harm? Who cares?

No one, really, except for the NCAA because of its rule book.

If anything, it would benefit a top prospect to have a registered sports agent who offers advice and advocates for them out in the open as he traverses the delicate days of going from promising prospect to multimillionaire. It might be a little tough for coaches to adjust, but so what? They get paid big money.

Even the most old-school of coaches sees the need for dramatic change.

“I’m all for letting them get an agent, talk to an agent and do some deals,” said Jim Boeheim, who’s coached Syracuse for 42 years. “Let them do it and come out [to the draft] when they want to.”

Instead, the NCAA cares if they even get a dinner. And there are a lot of dinners in the FBI evidence.

The NCAA can rewrite its rules on the fly, though. It can effectively grant clemency and move on. Maybe it’s more practical than fair, but these are uncertain times. Doing so might even decimate the federal case because much of the basis for the fraud charges is predicated on the argument that schools are hurt by violations of NCAA rules.

Well, what if the rules are no longer the rules?

All of this has been painfully evident to anyone paying attention for decades. The NCAA was using its rule book to hoard money and avoid taxes. Now the cost may outweigh the benefit – a sport set to grind to a stop. No one can afford to claim ignorance anymore. Even NCAA president Mark Emmert has expressed openness to significant reform. A blue-ribbon committee headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present a report on its findings and potential solutions in the spring.

This much is clear: The FBI investigation is a scandal that will disrupt college sports in ways big and small, from Hall of Fame coaches being fired to players and parents trying to prove some simple, silly meal didn’t happen.

At the center are the rules. Always. Change those, and almost all of this goes away.

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