At the zenith of his popularity, which was enormous across the country during the 2010-11 college basketball season, Jimmer Fredette brought in huge sums of money and publicity for BYU.
Beyond the usual college scholarship, NCAA rules prevented Fredette from cashing in on his epic celebrity, which was greater than any athlete in the history of BYU sports. But the eventual college basketball player of the year, who led BYU to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years, had to wait until turning professional to profit even as his family could have used the money.
The system, as it still is, failed Fredette. By now, after abuse of the regulations for years, the NCAA desperately needs to overhaul the rules that govern college athletics.
“There has to be reform,” said Weber State coach Randy Rahe. “It’s an ugly situation out there right now. It’s a big black eye for college basketball, and it’s not good.”
The strong comments Rahe made during an interview on 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone might be an understatement. Each day, it seems, the situation grows nastier.
Less the one month before March Madness, when the game takes center stage in the sports world, college basketball has sunk to embarrassing levels. In a 24-hour period last week, reports surfaced that allegedly players from numerous programs received money from agents and Arizona coach Sean Miller discussed offering $100,000 to get a recruit to sign.
Former Utah player Kyle Kuzma, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, was listed on a Yahoo! Sports report as receiving $9,500. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak denied knowledge of any wrongdoing, as does Miller and typically every coach in these situations, but he admitted the game has a bigger problem.
“There’s nothing NCAA-wise illegal within our program,” he said. “But with the system, if there’s ever time for a fix it’s now.”
To put it simply, the NCAA needs to create a way in which college athletes can receive financial compensation beyond the current scholarship and the accompanying cost of attendance figures. It is time to change the archaic rules that forbid players from making money off their likeness or through marketing opportunities.
Universities and coaches, the argument goes, can literally rake in millions of dollars, but the players get shortchanged beyond the cost of a free education. As a result, apparently, players or their associates go outside the rules to get money.
“There’s a definite argument that these guys should be able to reap some gains from their likeness and people using it,” said Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham. “I think that’s something that going to be a hotly debated topic in the near future and even more than it already is and we’ll just have to see what happens. I think there’s a lot of money being made off these guys, and I think they deserve something.”
The seedy side of college basketball actually begins long before players are in college. The AAU summer circuit often draws those interested in establishing connections with elite prospects in return for cashing in when they turn professional.
Once in college, potential NBA players can get besieged by agents and their representatives. The exchange of money is an obvious lure. Krystkowiak, a longtime college coach and former NBA player, has seen it happen many times over the years.
“I don’t have an agent,” he said. “Can’t stand them. No need for them.”
Possible remedies include the NCAA allowing players and their families to make above-board contact with agents, who could provide money in the form of loans. Higher-profile players also could make money off their likeness or jersey sales while still in college.
An easy solution for basketball is to eliminate the rule that essentially forces players to attend college for one season. In an effort to help the college game, which basically serves as a professional farm system, the NBA can revert back to the time when high school players were eligible to be drafted.
“I hope whatever they do, it happens quickly,” Rahe said, “and we can get this stuff all cleaned up so everybody’s on a level playing field and everybody doing it the way it’s supposed to be done. That’s what the NCAA is all about and what college basketball is supposed to be all about.
As it stands, college football and basketball are corrupt and broken. The integrity of both sports is at stake.
“These institutions and a lot of other third-party people, including the NCAA, are making a lot of money at the expense of these young people, many of them playing only one or two years,” said former BYU and Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland. “They need to be compensated.”