July 8, 2014

US Senate hearing on college athletics will feature former UNC athlete

Devon Ramsay, a former UNC football player whose career was derailed by an NCAA violation that was later overturned, is among those scheduled to testify before a committee looking into the well-being of college athletes.

A U.S. Senate committee will conduct a hearing Wednesday on the well-being of college athletes, including an examination of whether they’re getting a chance at an education.

Among those scheduled to testify: a former UNC-Chapel Hill football player who was wrongly accused of academic fraud by the NCAA four years ago.

Devon Ramsay, a fullback, was declared permanently ineligible early in the 2010 season during an NCAA investigation over improper financial benefits from agents and improper academic help from a tutor. But in Ramsay’s case there were no financial benefits, and all he had done was ask for help on a draft of a three-page paper that resulted in some suggested edits from the tutor.

Ramsay sought help from lawyer Robert Orr, a former N.C. Supreme Court justice, who convinced the NCAA that there was no violation. Early in the following season, Ramsay suffered what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury. His story is featured in a documentary released last year that is critical of the NCAA called “Schooled: The Price of College Sports.” (I am also in this documentary.)

Also on the witness list:

• NCAA President Mark Emmert.
• Taylor Branch, a civil rights historian and journalist who wrote a 2011 article in The Atlantic that was highly critical of college athletics and the NCAA’s oversight. He is a producer of the documentary.
• Richard Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute, which used to be housed at UNC until he moved it last year to the University of South Carolina.
• Myron Rolle, a former Florida State University football player who became a Rhodes Scholar.

It’s unclear at this point whether the committee will explore the long-running academic fraud at UNC that involved many athletes. At one point, whistleblower Mary Willingham was asked to testify, but her name never appeared on a witness list.

“We still hear too many reports of fraudulent academics, and too many tragic stories of former college athletes who have absolutely nothing to show for the services they provided to their schools – services that generated millions upon millions of dollars,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the committee. “...We need to better understand whether the revenues generated by the NCAA are corrupting the basic mission of athletic programs that are established to serve schools and educate students, not the other way around."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation will start its hearing at 2:30 p.m. It can be followed on the web here.

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