Luke DeCock

NCAA leaders explain response to UNC lawsuit

The NCAA on Monday attempted to have a lawsuit filed by former North Carolina athletes against the university and the NCAA thrown out, arguing in part that it has no duty to ensure the quality of education offered by its member institutions.

Rashanda McCants and Devon Ramsay are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks damages for breach of contract because of the so-called paper classes taught in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at North Carolina.

On Thursday at the Final Four, NCAA president Mark Emmert and Kansas State president Kirk Schulz, the chairman of the NCAA's board of directors, offered a lengthy explanation of the NCAA's position.

Q. The NCAA said in response to the UNC lawsuit it doesn't control the quality of education for its student-athletes. What is the NCAA responsible for in regards to student-athletes if it's not responsible for their education and safety?

DR. MARK EMMERT: I think we need to be really clear that everybody that's involved in the education of student-athletes has a critical role to play, including the NCAA. But it's a continuum of responsibility and everybody has a role to play, and they're different roles. So the national association, the member universities and colleges, have some time ago decided their responsibilities for the national association are to, first of all, set some floors about the minimum academic preparation that a young man or woman has to have to play sports. They've also said there has to be measurements of progresses towards degree. They have to be demonstrating they're working diligently toward their degree, making headway on it. They've established our graduation success rate measurements and APR measurements that I'm sure you're well aware of. There are these broad overview measure that the association has established for schools. The national office monitors all of those. There's a whole chain of sanctions that can be imposed on schools that failed to meet those standards. Similarly, the membership has passed a series of rules around academic misconduct that are predominantly aimed at whether or not a student-athlete is being provided benefits, 'academic benefits' - it's just the jargon of the business - impermissible benefits around academics. Are they being provided access to courses, academic support that goes above and beyond what's allowed by the schools that involves the engagement of the institution, a variety of things around that level. When you come down to what's going on in a classroom, that's where my colleagues on either side of me come to bear. So the academic quality of what's transpiring in a classroom by definition and by fairly obvious practicality, that's managed first and foremost by the professor in the classroom, second by that person's department head, third by their dean, fourth by their provost, and fifth by their president. You couldn't have, even if you wanted, a staff from a national athletic association going into a classroom and seeing how a physics class is being taught. That's certainly not a role that an association should be playing, and they don't play it whether it's the ABA or any other accrediting body of a university. But the association has to play that first role very importantly and very effectively. Then it's ultimately up to universities to determine whether or not the courses for which they're giving credit, the degrees for which they're passing out diplomas live up to the academic standards of higher education. I may ask either of these folks to comment.

KIRK SCHULZ: I have no desire at Kansas State University to have the NCAA more involved in our academic enterprise. It's the responsibility of the institutions and the academic leadership of those institutions to ensure that we're offering quality degree programs for everybody and that we're not parking our student-athletes over in some particular area or program that's not academically rigorous and doesn't allow them to be successful. One of the things that so often all of us have to remember is the huge majority of the student-athletes go on to careers, become doctors and lawyers and engineers, things like that, are not going to play professional athletics. We are obligated to do a great job preparing them for those career pathways. I think we can pick individual instances out, and you can look at particular institutions that have done one thing or another. Anytime something like this happens, it causes all of us to go look at our own institutions and say to our own people, Can you tell me we're doing a great job with our students, our student-athletes? I think many of us have been reflective to make sure that something that might happen to another great world-class university doesn't happen at our particular institution. It's a constant thing we've got to look at. But it's not just student-athletes, it's all of our students deserve, if they're going to pay that tuition, to get a great degree experience that's going to prepare them for the workplace.