Congressional Bill Could Accelerate Movement For NCAA Change

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 6th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The scent of change lingers thick in NCAA territory these days. Major conference athletic directors have spoken about the possible creation of a new “Division 4” that would allow a subset of larger Division I leagues to operate under a different governance structure than their small-school counterparts. The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit threatens to undercut the NCAA’s decades-old adherence to amateurism. Shady tactics and egregious errors in enforcement made during the NCAA’s high-profile investigation of the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami have been laid bare by various publications. Experienced enforcement staffers are leaving in droves. A new lawsuit alleging a lack of accountability for student-athlete concussions in contact sports has inspired a new strain of ethical debate. Put simply, the NCAA is beset on all sides by various philosophical and legal attacks; a breaking point feels imminent. Over the next year or so, something – whether a massive development in the O’Bannon case, a formal establishment of a new NCAA subdivision, or some other major change – is going to happen. The NCAA cannot exist in its current state. This is widely accepted and rarely denied.

Congress's involvement could force the NCAA's hand on a number of resisted structural revisions

Now Congress wants a say in the matter. Last Thursday, House members Charles Dent and Joyce Beatty introduced The National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act. The act contains a number of powerful regulations, but the main points can be pared down to the following four: 1) a guarantee of four-year scholarships in contact sports (which, per the legislation’s definition, include the following: boxing, field hockey, ice hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer, martial arts, wrestling and rodeo), eliminating the potential for schools to revoke one-year, renewable grants-in-aid on the basis of injury, skill, or sheer whim (i.e., no more runoffs) – a practice more than one third of the nation’s most powerful athletic programs have yet to abolish, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education; 2) permission for schools to extend cost-of-living stipends to student-athletes; 3) requiring concussion tests for all sports, both contact and limited-contact; 4) formalizing “due process” guidelines for schools and players found to have violated NCAA rules, including an appeals process and administrative hearings. A failure to meet any of these requirements would result in a loss of Title IX funding, which provides institutions with billions of dollars annually.

None of these proposed changes are anything the vast sea of NCAA-fire-breathing media haven’t raised at least once before. The NCAA has come under extreme scrutiny in recent years, and pretty much all of these points have been addressed in various forms. Coming from Congress – whose punitive powers far outweigh the NCAA’s toothless enforcement guidelines – the critiques carry more weight, and they also open the possibility for a broader discussion of NCAA injustice, waged daily by various columnists and legal professors, to take place within the highest level of government. Another possible repercussion, according to Sports Entertainment Law Institute Director Michael McCann, who spoke to Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News, could result in the federal government reconsidering the viability of athletic departments’ tax-exempt status, a byproduct of the amateur label the NCAA adopted decades ago as a veiled (but, in hindsight, blatantly obvious) expedient for tax evasion.

The two representatives that sponsored the bill have laid out their grievances in clear, convincing, legal type, but their opinions can’t be considered as anything more than a small subset of federal discontent. Not yet, at least. Dent and Beatty have both endured high-profile clashes with the NCAA in recent years; Dent (R – Pennsylvania) called on the organization to reinstate the 40 scholarships revoked as punishment for the Joe Paterno scandal at Penn State, while Beatty (D – Ohio) was serving as Ohio State’s vice president during the high-profile Terrelle Pryor impermissible benefits case. Which isn’t to say Dent and Beatty don’t raise legitimate grievances; they do. But to presume their critiques are shared by a vast majority of congressional representation, or that enough congresspeople are in favor of committing the financial and legal resources necessary to challenge the organization in court, are huge leaps one congressional bill doesn’t corroborate in the least. The rumblings of discontent and change are beginning to percolate at the highest levels of government, a development that only adds to the growing tide of NCAA resistance, but it’s too early to assume a wide-held consensus. In fact, according to Brad Wolverton of the Chronicle, Beatty and Dent indicated a companion bill in the Senate has not been introduced (the bill currently has six co-sponsors).

Even if the bill doesn’t ultimately pass in both houses, the notion of congressional leaders taking up arms against the NCAA is a huge development. The NCAA is already feeling serious heat from a number of different angles. Congress represents yet another powerful opponent for the beleaguered organization to fend off.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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