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Fixing college athletics doesn’t have to be so complicated

My committee of one has some takes.

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NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Rice Commission on College Basketball finally announced their recommendations to “save college basketball” and to the surprise of Syracuse Orange critics, banning the 2-3 zone wasn’t one of them.

John recapped how ridiculous most of them were. Now that I’m back from a week-long retreat, I’m happy to release my own recommendations. Just like the Rice Commission, I consulted with zero student-athletes or faculty members because why would we care what input they might have? Unlike that group, I did all of this with a non-existent expense account, it didn’t take me months to pull these together, and my recommendations are going to be applicable for all college sports.

Allow all college athletes to return if they aren’t happy with their draft standing

This was one of the few positive recommendations to come from the commission, but I’m not sure why they feel the need to limit this to undrafted athletes, or put additional qualifiers on the rule. Any college athlete in any sport should be able to be drafted by a professional league without that ending their collegiate eligibility. As long as they don’t sign a contract and have eligibility remaining, they should be allowed to return to their school and compete. It’s really that simple.

The NCAA needs to stop deflecting the responsibility to the pro leagues when it comes to collegiate eligibility. As it stands now, numerous college football players have been selected in the MLB draft and even been allowed to get paid for baseball while being eligible to play football (or another sport).

The NHL Draft selects from a pool based upon eligible age. Players don’t declare for the draft. They are allowed to use agents to consult in their decision making process and if they choose to go to college they aren’t forced to stay for a certain length of time. This should be the standard across the board for all sports.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina
Hayden Hurst got a 400k bonus after being a MLB draft pick
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Give all athletes five years of eligibility

The NCAA loves to brag about graduation rates and the academic progress of student-athletes. There’s nothing wrong with that so I say let’s help those numbers rise even higher. If you give each athlete five years, it allows greater academic flexibility for the athletes. More will be able to pursue majors that aren’t simply convenient to their athletic obligations.

From an athletic standpoint, this can allow schools to give athletes the appropriate time to recover from injuries. There will be no concern over conforming to the medical redshirt threshold, or inserting a freshman into action with only a few contests remaining in the season. For football, this can mean more players seeing the field and reducing the number of plays of others.

I believe this will also help in the area of competitive balance. There is always talk of “leveling the playing field” and one way to achieve some success in that area is to allow more experienced athletes. A team that has played together for a long time will stand a better chance against a talented, but inexperienced opponent. While this won’t mean that the P5 schools won’t still hold an advantage, but it is a step towards closing the gap.

A one-time transfer exception for all athletes

Any athlete can transfer one time during their five-year window. This allows for coaching changes, family or personal issues, or just simply a desire to go somewhere else. No blocking schools, no conference restrictions and no specific graduate transfer rule. NCAA schools and administrators are stuck when it comes to transfer regulations. They want some consistency but the fear of “free agency” and the paranoia of losing players to future opponents keeps them from seeing the big picture. Yesterday the AFCA proposed that players who transfer could earn their lost year back if they graduate in four years. Why create these barriers if you agree that students shouldn’t be penalized for a one-time transfer?

Athletes should have the same opportunity as other students. Situations change so let them decide to pursue academic or athletic interests without having to overcome numerous obstacles. It won’t upset the competitive balance and we’ll probably see more successful student-athletes as a result of letting them enjoy this freedom.

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Allow all athletes the opportunity to profit from their likeness

Will this cost the schools money in lost business? Yes. Will it be a big hit? Not likely. Let’s be honest, paying players directly doesn’t seem likely in the near future so this is a much simpler place to start. Yes there will be athletes who are more marketable than others, but if you open this up it gives everyone a chance to benefit.

We know that video game companies are willing to pay athletes to use their likeness and it doesn’t matter if it’s $400 -- it’s more than nothing. Let schools go back to selling items with the player’s number or name and let a percentage of the profits go to the athlete. Let athletes start a business or market their talents and skills to earn money.

If you think that this is unfair to women’s sports, then I’d present to you two current student-athletes who might be among the most marketable current athletes: Arike Ogunbowele from the women’s basketball national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Kentucky Wildcats track & field star Sydney McLaughlin. There’s also former Stanford Cardinal swimmer Katie Ledecky who forfeited her remaining eligibility to turn pro and cash in on endorsement opportunities. There is no reason why athletes can’t do both even if the details of the payments (immediate payments or placed in trust to be paid upon end of college career?) need to be ironed out.

Track and Field: NCAA Indoor Championships
Sydney McLaughlin is a Freshman and has already made an Olympic team
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

These are some very common sense solutions which can be implemented pretty quickly. Yes, the likeness issue will need to have some stipulations, but the rest of them can ultimately contribute to a core value of the NCAA: The pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics.

What do you think? I’m sure there are other ideas so share yours in the comments.