WASHINGTON, D.C. –
Amidst the dust created in our nation’s capital by the political stampede surrounding the troubles in Iraq, sports can still compete with other policy issues for time on the national agenda.
Representatives from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA and the Knight Foundation testified before Congress on Tuesday afternoon in the Rayburn House office building in an effort to hash out a nationally unified vision of NCAA reform. Congressman Clifford B. Sterns (R-Florida), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, held a hearing titled “Supporting our Intercollegiate Student-Athletes: Proposed NCAA Reforms.”
Members of the Subcommittee expressed their grave concerns with a number of current problems facing the NCAA, including the exploitation of student-athletes, heightening amounts of commercialism, sexual assaults, gambling scandals and disparities in student-athlete graduation rates.
“It is my hope that rather than reacting to the headlines and next big scandal, we create a long-term vision for the future of amateur college experts that re-establishes an academic-first culture,” Sterns said.
Wallace Renfro, senior advisor to NCAA president Myles Brand, was criticized by members of the Subcommittee for failing to provide a mechanism for successful enforcement. Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-New York) called for the implementation of investigators that would serve a competent oversight police force. Renfro maintained there is current success of the “self-policing process,” explaining that inherent competition amongst universities has a tendency to highlight abuses.
C. Thomas McMillen, former star for the Washington Bullets, former member of Congress, and current member of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, called for an entire reorganization of the system which would place enforcement authority with the federal government.
“With respect to the good work that the NCAA has done, I think we need a federal solution if it cannot be policy by the NCAA president,” McMillen said. “Unfortunately, it really just boils down to [waving a dollar bill in the air].”
The Knight Commission, headed by William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, has pledged goals to expose wrongdoings, formulate solutions and work in partnership with relevant institutions to bring about meaningful reform. Primarily, though, the Knight Commission has pledged a vision to integrate athletics into the university’s educational mission.
“I’m tired of the exploitation of student-athletes, particularly African-Americans, specifically for the benefit of the University,” Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-Illinois) said. “It begins at a very young age. Various schools who show interest in kids don’t have the athlete’s best interest at heart. Their talents are just a moneymaker and then [the university] abandons them.”
While Brand has served as NCAA president for just over 16 months, he has repeatedly issued his support for academic reform in collegiate athletics. With pressuring trickling down from the federal government, Brand faces a difficult challenge in living up to the message he has promulgated.