Penn State

Congressmen take aim at NCAA

The NCAA came under fire from a bipartisan congressional group, including U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, on Thursday with the reintroduction of a bill that would govern the college sports oversight organization.

The National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act was brought back to life as Thompson, R-Howard Township, joined Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Allentown, and others to try for reform.

If passed, the law would prohibit universities from receiving Title IV funds if they participate in athletic associations, including the NCAA, that do not implement and enforce specific rules related to student-athletes’ health, education, safety and due process protections for alleged infractions of association by-laws.

The NCAA is far and away the largest such athletic association, representing more than 1,000 colleges and universities and 430,000 student-athletes. There are 95 conferences that are a member of the association, which generates almost $900 million in revenue annually.

“This is not a small nonprofit organization,” Dent said in a press conference. “Bluntly, the NCAA has failed in my view. Failed miserably.”

Targeted in the bill is the need to safeguard students, not only on the field but on campus, making sure they would be able to keep promised scholarships if injured or if a coach simply decided to go a different way.

“One-year scholarships have created a culture that cares more about athletics than education,” Dent said.

It is an area of special note as national concern over concussions with long-term injuries in contact sports grows.

In addition to baseline concussion testing for contact sports participants, any students in those sports would be required to have four-year scholarships. The legislation would also establish a presidential commission on intercollegiate athletics and “requires greater accountability and transparency in the NCAA’s adjudication of infractions for both students and schools.”

That last one is an item that brings things home in Centre County. Penn State’s unprecedented punishments in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal were noted among other investigative failings in the press conference, including at schools such as Syracuse, Miami, North Carolina, USC and Ohio State.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, does not just represent a state where one of those schools sits. She used to be a senior vice president at Ohio State.

“For me, its all about health and safety and that we are being very transparent with due process,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the university. We have a responsibility.”

Five members of Congress were in the press conference. They represented states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, where these allegations of overreach by the NCAA have occurred, but all said the bill is not about spite over those decisions.

Dent said there were plenty of other lawmakers with concerns, including those in Florida. He said some of his primary interests did rise after the NCAA’s response to questions from him and other representatives on the Penn State issue, but claims he was basically “told to stand in line.”

“To get that kind of an arrogant, unsatisfactory response was just unacceptable,” he said.

“When it comes to institutions, the concern is the governing body of the NCAA,” Thompson said. “There is a long history of governance that just failed the student-athletes. This is not about a specific university. It’s not about a specific mascot or team. This is about the individual student-athletes.”

The legislation could have real impact if passed. According to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., “last year, institutions of higher education received almost $140 billion in federal student aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, which is about 77 percent of all federal funding received by these institutions.”

At Penn State, the possibilities are being evaluated.

“We are taking the time to fully consider the proposed legislation and its impact on our athletics program. We are fully committed to the health and welfare of our student-athletes and look forward to any dialogue that advances these values,” Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said.

In 2014, the Big Ten announced that any recruits to its member universities would be guaranteed a scholarship for the length of enrollment as long as the student remained in good standing.

The NCAA had no comment.