Phil Martelli knew change was coming. The veteran St. Joseph’s basketball coach wasn’t arguing about the need for it, not with the FBI investigating his profession. He seethed at times about all those headlines over the past year.
“Labeled by it,’’ Martelli said over the phone Thursday. “Because it wasn’t just those four guys [who were charged] that bothered me. But all the brave souls who went to the national media and anonymously said, ‘Oh, I knew about these things.’ ”
Martelli’s point: “Speak up. Own it.”
NCAA changes announced Wednesday include the possibility of some players getting agents — if NBA rules are changed in a few years allowing high school players to go pro — and also the possibility of players returning to school if they’re undrafted, if they had been invited to the NBA combine. Martelli had a voice in some of the other recommendations as one of the coaches on an NCAA oversight committee. Others, including Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, also were involved.
“From the moment the FBI got interjected into college basketball, it would be naive to think there wasn’t going to be change,’’ Martelli said.
As for alterations to the recruiting landscape, some coaches aren’t happy with it all, but Martelli said, “To me, it’s changing from the 35-second shot clock to the 30-second clock. There’s still a game, still recruiting, still NCAA bylaws to follow.”
You can argue whether a new NCAA requirement that all school presidents and athletics staff must contractually comply with any and all future investigations will give NCAA enforcement legitimate investigative teeth. Some already argue whether that’s a good or bad thing. Basically that’s an argument about the college system as a whole, about all the hypocrisies baked in. If you can’t strong-arm your own university presidents into telling the truth, then you’ve got no chance.
As for removing sneaker-company influences in the game, let’s go back to when Sonny Vaccaro, who invented the summer sneaker circuit when he was at Nike, was once asked by Penn State president emeritus Bryce Jordan, “Why should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
Vaccaro’s reply: “They shouldn’t, sir. You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. … You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”
In other words, the schools make millions from the sneaker companies already — this isn’t just about the coaches and their sneaker deals. Sneaker companies will still be involved, by the way. Martelli makes the point that you need sponsors to be involved in the event business, to help pay for what will continue to be an expensive proposition. There will be few sneaker-sponsored non-scholastic events, but there will be at least one weekend of them in July.
Bottom line: You don’t form a Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, if you’re not going to make changes.
“The status quo wasn’t going to be good enough for them,’’ Martelli said, adding that the Rice Commission made it clear it wanted high school coaches more involved again. That will happen with the recruiting calendar’s calling for college coaches to recruit only at high school events in June, plus an NBA Players Association top-100 camp.
“One man’s opinion, they stopped short,’’ Martelli said of changing the calendar to incorporate high school events. “They did not incorporate open gyms. They weren’t ready to approve that yet,’’ in terms of going to the open gyms in June. Open gyms at times of the year have become an important part of the recruiting landscape.
“The glass-half-empty guys are going to say, ‘How many good players will be there?’ ” Martelli said of the high school events. “So we’ve got to work harder — we’ve got to go places and find where those players play.”
As for worries about who is selecting players for the new USA Basketball showcases to go in July, Martelli thinks that’s overblown, since there will be more spots than available Division I scholarships, and he’s guessing some players might pass on the camp if they’ve committed to a college, opening up more spots.
You could argue this will cause players at smaller high schools to head for powerhouses to get seen more, except such things are already happening. You could also argue that your average AAU program take heat which deserves to go further up the food chain, that the Rice Commission isn’t getting to the heart of the problems in college sports.
Martelli calls all this a first step, “which will need to be improved on. But it’s here. … Let’s start off good and make it great.”
Maybe a bigger bottom line — “None of it dramatically affects me,’’ the Hawks coach said.