The NCAA adopted a sweeping series of policy and rules changes Wednesday that it hopes will clean up college basketball, which has been engulfed by an FBI investigation and other corruption over the past two years.
Among the significant changes that were adopted by the NCAA's board of governors and Division I board of directors are allowing elite high school basketball recruits and college players to be represented by agents who are certified by the NCAA; allowing eligible underclassmen to enter the NBA draft and return to school if undrafted; introducing more rigorous certification requirements for summer amateur basketball events; and imposing longer postseason bans, suspensions and increased recruiting restrictions for coaches who break rules.
"These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interest of student-athletes over every other factor," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. "We remain committed to promoting fairness in college sports and creating an environment that will champion the success of student-athletes."
Among the most significant changes:
NBA draft: Since 2016, eligible underclassmen were able to enter the NBA draft, participate in the combine and then return to school as long as they withdrew from the draft no more than 10 days after the combine.
Pending anticipated approval from the NBA and National Basketball Players Association, the NCAA will now allow underclassmen to enter the draft, participate in the combine and then return to school if they go undrafted. The only requirements are that they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Council before deciding to enter the draft and then notify their school's athletics director of their intention to return by 5 p.m. on the Monday after the draft.
The players who return would be ineligible for the NBA draft until the end of the next college basketball season.
Enforcement: The NCAA is overhauling its process for investigating and adjudicating complex cases involving rules violations. Two independent groups will be appointed to oversee and resolve complex cases, which might involve academic misconduct, major penalties or adversarial behavior. Emmert said the enforcement rule changes will apply to all sports in Division I, and that the NCAA expected to have between three to five such cases every year, based on recent history. The new process will begin on Aug. 1, 2019.
School representatives, NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions members or NCAA enforcement staff can request that the independent groups review a complex case. An Infractions Referral Committee will then decide whether the request is granted.
The first independent group, called the Complex Case Unit, will include both external investigators with no school or conference affiliation and select NCAA enforcement staff. It will decide whether further investigation is needed.
A second group, called the Independent College Sports Adjudication Panel, which will comprise 15 people with backgrounds in law, higher education and sports and with no affiliations to NCAA schools or conferences, will review the findings of the first group, oversee the hearing and decide penalties, if applicable.
The NCAA said it is also holding school presidents and athletics staff more accountable for cooperating with investigators. They'll be contractually obligated to report violations in a timely manner and provide documentation and evidence when asked. The chair of the Division I Committee on Infractions or the Independent College Sports Adjudication Panel will have the power to impose immediate penalties when schools or individuals do not cooperate, including loss of revenue or postseason opportunities.
In another change that takes effect now, the people investigating NCAA cases will be allowed to accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law, government agency, accrediting body or a commission authorized by a school. For example, the NCAA would be able to accept evidence and findings from the federal government's investigation into bribes and other corruption in college basketball and punish those found guilty of wrongdoing, without investigating the allegations on its own.
The NCAA said coaches and staff members who break its rules will face more severe penalties, including longer postseason bans (up to five years), longer head coach suspensions (beyond one season) and longer employment limitations (potentially lifetime show-cause orders). Those changes also take effect immediately.
Agents: Effective immediately, the NCAA will allow college players to be represented by NBPA-certified agents (the agents must become NCAA-certified no later than Aug. 1, 2020) beginning after any season, as long as they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Agents will be permitted to pay for meals and transportation for players and their families during the agent selection process and for meetings with pro teams, if changes are made to existing agent acts and state laws.
If the NBA and National Basketball Players Association change their rules and make high school basketball players eligible for the draft at age 18, as expected, they'll be allowed to sign with an NCAA-certified agent starting July 1 before their senior year of high school, as long as they have been identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball.
A USA Basketball official told ESPN that his group hadn't yet approved some of the changes announced by the NCAA on Wednesday. Several NBA officials have also told ESPN that they didn't think the league's age requirement would be lowered to 18 until 2021 at the earliest.
The agent agreements must be in writing and will be terminated when the student enrolls or returns to college.
Recruiting: Beginning later this month, basketball prospects will now be allowed to take as many as 15 official visits, compared to only five before. The prospects can begin making trips on Aug. 1 before their junior year of high school. They'll be permitted to make five visits between Aug. 1 and the end of their junior year; five visits between the end of their junior year and Oct. 15 after high school graduation; and five more visits between Oct. 15 after high school graduation and the remainder of their college eligibility.
A student-athlete can visit a particular campus only once per year, and Division I schools will now be permitted to pay for 28 official visits over a rolling, two-year period (34 visits for service academies.) The previous totals were 24 official visits for Division I programs and 30 for service academies.
Academics: Starting in August 2019, Division I schools will be required to pay for tuition, books and fees for scholarship basketball players who leave school and return within 10 years to the same school to earn their first degree. Only players who attended school for at least two years before leaving are eligible. The NCAA is establishing a fund for schools that are financially unable to pay for the players' education when they return.
Summer basketball: Beginning in January, basketball-related events for high school students will be more scrutinized during certification to address concerns about corruption and third-party influence among high school players.
A new recruiting calendar in 2019 will allow college coaches to attend more high school-sponsored events, but will limit their access to events not sponsored by high schools. College coaches will be permitted to attend the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp in mid-June, as well as two more events at the end of that month, if the National Federation of State High School Associations has approved them. Four-day recruiting periods were added to April, as well.
The new calendar also allows coaches to attend NCAA youth development camps in late July, which are a new collaboration between the NCAA, USA Basketball, the NBA and NBPA. They can also still attend one weekend youth basketball event in early July; coaches could previously attend three weekends of youth basketball events in July.
Apparel companies: Effective immediately, college coaches and staff must now report to the university's president or chancellor their athletics-related income that exceeds more than $600 from any source outside their school, including endorsement or consultation contracts with apparel companies like Adidas, Nike and Under Armour.
The NCAA said it is pursuing agreements with the apparel companies on its expectations for more accountability and transparency regarding the companies' involvement in youth basketball, which it hopes to have in place within six months to a year. The NCAA board of governors hopes to develop agreements that require apparel companies to make annual disclosures, report NCAA violations and obtain NCAA certification for its youth basketball events.
"If they are unwilling or unable to act, we will consider additional changes that will support the success of student-athletes," Emmert said. "It's on us to restore the integrity of college basketball and continue to improve the interests of all student-athletes. They deserve nothing less."