May 20, 2014

Congressmen want NCAA to address issues surrounding UNC academic fraud

Two congressmen want the NCAA to respond to a long list of questions about how college athletes are treated and cite in particular the academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Two congressmen Tuesday sent a letter to the NCAA seeking information on a variety of college athletic matters, including the UNC academic scandal.

Rep. Tony Cardenas of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, both Democrats, noted that one of the NCAA’s missions is to ensure the “educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount” and that the association’s president, Mark Emmert, recently spoke in a national TV interview of the need to make sure those athletes receive a “real, valid, and legitimate education.” But the two congressmen say they do not see that happening.

“Despite these laudable goals, public reports suggest that the NCAA oversees a system in which its member institutions may be requiring student-athletes, particularly in high-revenue sports, to sacrifice their educational goals for the financial interests of college athletics,” they wrote.

They cite numerous news reports and other articles that speak to cases in which athletes’ educations are stunted. They also cite a legal case involving a football player’s death during a practice at a Maryland college in which the NCAA denied any legal responsibility to protect athletes.

They contrast those concerns with the billions of dollars the NCAA makes for itself and member schools from TV contracts for the men’s Division I basketball tournament. They say the majority of that money pays for athletic interests, with a “small fraction” going toward academics.

“College athletics offer wonderful opportunities for young men and women to obtain a quality education,” they wrote, “but it (is) also a $16 billion industry. Indeed, you (Emmert) have received more than $1.6 million in annual compensation as the president of this non-profit organization.”

The NCAA declined to comment about the letter or the UNC case. It said in an email that it would respond directly to the congressmen.

The congressmen asked Emmert to provide the following information regarding the UNC case:

•  How the NCAA determines that member institutions are not allowing fraudulent classes, such as those detailed in the case at UNC, “with the sole intent of keeping student-athletes athletically eligible.”
•  Steps the NCAA is taking to ensure that the problems identified at UNC “are not more widespread.”
•  Any documentation demonstrating how the NCAA has determined that these infractions “are unique to the University of North Carolina.”

Some may argue with the inference the congressmen make in the first request. UNC officials have not determined that the intent of the fraud was to keep athletes eligible.

They have said in an internal investigation – later backed up by one they launched with former Gov. Jim Martin at the helm – that there was no athletic motive. They say nonathletes had the same access to the more than 200 confirmed or suspected lecture-style classes that never met, and typically required a paper at the end that received a high grade. A third investigation, led by Kenneth Wainstein, a former high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official, is looking at the athletic connections to the fraud.

The congressmen are asking Emmert to provide a response to their letter by June 9, which is also the start date for the federal trial involving former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s class action suit against the NCAA. He and others say college athletes should have the right to make money marketing themselves and their images. That case may also touch on the UNC scandal.

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