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As the Adidas Trial Wraps Up, A Fateful Moment For College Basketball Is About To Arrive

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NCAA Men’s Final Four - Practice Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Adidas trial is winding down and closing arguments came on Thursday with one attorney arguing that Kansas’s Bill Self knew about the $20,000 payment to Silvio DeSousa.

And back in Lawrence, Self may or may not have the full confidence of Chancellor Douglas Girod.

The jury will start deliberating Monday and no one really knows what to expect. It’s been a weird trial because when you get down to it, no one was truly defrauded. Payers got paid, coaches got players and universities got money. None of this was okay by the NCAA but those are rules that govern an association, not laws that govern a nation.

No matter what the jury decides, the NCAA has a lot to deal with and the reforms that were introduced recently are not going to be enough.

So it’s interesting that the NBA took this week to reveal that it will begin paying top prospects, aka one-and-dones, $125,000 per year.

This is intended for players who are not yet eligible for the NBA draft. There are some concerns though and from both sides.

For the NBA, will that be enough? We’ve learned that some college players did very well indeed. You can argue that the money is good but the development and the fringe benefits, if you will, may be better in college. It could also turn out that being around your peers for a year or two or four is a better way to mature than being around older, more ruthless people who have their own agendas when you’re 17 or 18. It’s not an exact analogy in many ways but look at what’s happened in youth hockey and gymnastics. The abuse of young people in both was absolutely revolting.

Moving to the G-League will be a very individual choice but we remember hearing about Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett as rookies and how socially isolated they were. And keep in mind they’re trying to take people’s jobs. Not everyone is going to be helpful and who can blame them?

Being a professional athlete gives young people a chance at great material success, but it certainly doesn’t buy maturity or the ability to fend off predators.

On the other hand, for guys who only want to have a career in basketball, it may be the right path.

Our guess is that the NCAA sees this as unwelcome competition, possibly even poaching in a sense. It doesn’t have to be like that though.

There’s no reason why the two sides shouldn’t cooperate. If you can have two-way contracts with the G-League, there’s no particular reason why players can’t move back and forth, certainly not for a season or two.

There’s also no reason at all why NCAA players can’t benefit from their own likenesses or from selling their own autographs or having endorsements.

And for that matter, if education is the big deal it’s supposed to be, there’s no reason why the NBA and the NCAA can’t find a way to help guys who wash out of the G-League get an education if they so choose.

The last time the NCAA had meaningful competition was when the AAU was still a force (it was briefly competition for professional basketball as well).

This was obviously not the AAU as we understand it now. Back then oil companies and the like sponsored teams. The Phillips 66ers for instance put multiple players in the Hall of Fame. In the early days of the NBA, some guys had to choose between an AAU gig, which usually came with a full-time job, or the risks of a young professional league that had no guarantees of success.

The AAU had considerable power in basketball and most amateur sports up to the early 1970’s.

Anyway, we digress.

The point is that the NCAA and the NBA don’t have to be in competition. They can cooperate, people can move back and forth, and most importantly, people can be honest about money. Telling young men, some of whom come from families which have real and pressing needs that they can’t use their talents to help them is fundamentally cruel.

The Adidas trial and the NBA’s move give the college game a chance and motivation to restructure. And the best way to do it is to institute an idea Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has pushed for years and that’s to have a commissioner of college basketball.

If the NCAA could make just one move to streamline things and to get ready for the new world that is coming, that should be it. Get rid of the committees and the commissions, the reports and the bureaucracy and find someone who is widely respected to start the transition to a better game.

Education must be at the center of college sports but cut the Gordian knot. Allow players to profit from their gifts. Allow them to move back and forth between college and professional basketball. And most of all, give them a path to come back and finish their education after they, for whatever reason and however long it takes, are no longer willing or able to continue to play the game so many of us love.

In other words, put the players first.

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