Rep. Price's bill would shed light on college athletics

July 16, 2014 

Some university athletics officials will be screaming about a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, and Tom Petri, a Wisconsin Republican. But it won’t be rah-rah cheers.

The measure introduced this week would require athletics conferences and the governing body of college sports, the NCAA, to disclose information about ticket prices, merchandise and television deals, corporate sponsorships and salaries. Universities and colleges also would have to open up on royalty deals, in addition to showing how they use government funds and fees for athletics programs.

Here is a truly whoop-worthy development on college athletics. The bill makes common sense and legal sense, and any university interested in fair competition and possessing a sense of responsibility, not just to athletics boosters but to all alumni, ought to embrace it.

Those private schools that have long hidden behind their nonpublic status to shield huge coaching salaries and other potentially embarrassing information about athletics spending always have been on shaky ground.

For one thing, almost all receive government money in some form, whether from grants or tuition programs. And when a university accepts that money, it also should accept an obligation to open its books.

Though such information is given to the NCAA, that organization has in recent years proved an inept steward of college sports programs. It has seemed more interested in protecting multibillion-dollar revenues for schools and athletics conferences than in enforcing the rules and ensuring the integrity of college sports, whether that means holding athletic programs to strict academic standards or protecting athletes from being cut off from scholarships.

A recent appearance on Capitol Hill by Mark Emmert, the $1.7 million per annum president of the NCAA, didn’t have the result he expected. Emmert kept agreeing with senators on their criticisms of academic reform and scholarships and promised to take it up with NCAA members – but the organization simply lacks credibility. It is no longer seen as an agent of oversight and certainly not of any change that might in some way hinder runaway TV contracts or coaching salaries at several million dollars apiece.

“College sports are one of America’s proudest traditions, but the current system isn’t working equally well for all participants,” Price said. “Congress and the American public at-large are engaged in a conversation about how we can promote fair competition, protect student-athletes, and lessen the burden athletics place on the wallets of students and parents. We believe constructive, realistic reforms depend on a clear understanding of the financial pressures and benefits of intercollegiate athletics.”

The congressman said the bill would enable the public, and universities themselves, to compare revenues and spending nationwide. A little sunshine of that sort never hurt anything.,

Price and Petri noted that a minority of the 125 NCAA Division 1 “football schools,” the big ones, make money on their programs. Lots of schools, and this is no secret, dip into other funds and use student athletic fees and government money to support, in effect, costly athletic programs.

If universities are not embarrassed at multimillion-dollar annual salaries for coaches, or by apparel contracts that sell their names and images to private companies, or by television contracts that grant scheduling rights to ESPN and other networks, they shouldn’t mind having that information disclosed.

And wouldn’t it be pertinent, and informative, for students going into debt to cover tuition and fees that have far outpaced inflation to know that assistant football coaches are making in the mid-six figures or that a powerful coach demanded a new practice facility for a few million dollars?

The timing for this measure could not be more appropriate, following a number of scandals at respected universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, and the absolute runaway of athletics programs operating under a university’s name but with the attitude of a for-profit corporation.

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