Under the Dome

US Rep. Holding says Congress too broken to tackle college sports

Raleigh

U.S. Rep. George Holding said Wednesday that Congress is too broken to fix the issues in college sports that have landed the state’s flagship campus in a major academic scandal.

“Congress is broken, we have a lot on our plate,” Holding, a Raleigh Republican, said in a visit to The News & Observer’s offices. “If we can’t fix the things that are solidly within our jurisdiction I have a hard time believing that we can figure out how to fix college sports.”

In recent months, four House members have re-introduced legislation that would create a presidential commission to study college sports. They want the commission to look at athletes’ educations, their health and safety, how college sports are financed and due process concerns when athletes come under NCAA scrutiny.

Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, first filed the legislation at the end of last year’s session. He told the N&O then that the academic scandal at UNC helped prompt the legislation, calling it “one of those straws that broke the camel’s back.”

Moran retired last year, and the bipartisan legislation was reintroduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat. It has several sponsors.

Holding, a Raleigh Republican and former U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District, said he was unaware of the legislation.

He cited Congress’ recent scrutiny of doping in Major League Baseball as an example of being out of its depth. Those hearings produced testimony from prominent players who denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

The scrutiny ultimately put more pressure on the MLB and the players’ union to identify and punish players using such drugs.

Holding and the rest of North Carolina’s congressional delegation have said little about the UNC scandal, which experts say is the worst academic scandal they’ve seen in NCAA history.

Asked in early 2014 about the scandal, Holding declined to comment through a spokesperson. Shortly after, UNC hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein to investigate. His probe found 18 years of fake classes initially offered by the administrative manager of the African studies department and then continued by the department chairman.

Athletes made up half of the 3,100 students in the classes, with football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball accounting for the highest numbers of enrollments among athletes. Several academic counselors to the athletes knew the classes didn’t meet and had no instruction, but used them to help keep academically-challenged athletes eligible to play sports.

Holding said if the presidential commission bill comes before him for a vote, “I will spend some time looking at it.”

During the hour-long meeting, Holding said the lack of camaraderie in Congress is preventing members from both parties from coming together to get the public’s business done. He said media coverage is too focused on snarky sound-bites that help foster a distrust of all politicians.

He said the situation might improve if more members of Congress stayed in Washington longer instead of returning home as soon as weekly sessions ended. He said roughly 70 to 100 members are sleeping in their offices, which makes it less likely they will be in town outside of session. (Roll Call reported earlier this year that as many as 70 or more members are bunking in their office.)

Holding said he stays in the same studio apartment he used as an aide to then U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, and that makes it easier for him to be in town on the Mondays and Fridays when Congress isn’t in session.

Washington is an expensive place to live, but Holding said the congressional salary of $174,000 is enough for members to find decent accommodations.

Holding, 47, said he will seek re-election next year for a third term. But he said he has no plans to be a career politician.

“I can tell you I will be finished with this with plenty of time to restart my career in the private sector,” Holding said.

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