Lost Trust in College Sports

NCAA president says after two recent scandals in college athletics, the public is losing faith and major reforms are needed.

October 31, 2017
 
NCAA President Mart Emmert

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert called for major reforms in collegiate athletics Monday, in perhaps his most substantive statements since the news of multiple recent sports scandals, which he said have eroded public trust.

Addressing the independent Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a panel that for nearly 30 years has focused on trying to bring about change in college athletics, Emmert acknowledged the mixed level of trust in the NCAA. He referenced two revelations that have called into question the association’s ability to police its member institutions.

Last month, four assistant or associate basketball coaches at top-tier institutions, as well as a mix of Adidas executives and those related to the company, were charged with federal corruption and bribery. They allegedly steered recruits and athletes toward recruiters, financial advisers, and colleges associated with the powerhouse sportswear company in return for cash. Federal prosecutors have hinted at more charges.

The NCAA was also slammed by some critics for not punishing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after, over the course of 20 years, it set up fake courses that helped ensure athletes could compete.

Citing internal data from NCAA surveys of the public, Emmert said 79 percent of those polled think that major institutions put money before their athletes. Just a bit more than half indicated that the NCAA “was part of the problem,” Emmert said.

The NCAA was unaware of the basketball scandal -- and Emmert said Monday he does not know anything more about the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe than what has been released publicly.

And the association’s panel assigned to rule on the North Carolina situation said it could not act because the “shadow courses” did not fit the association’s rules on “extra benefits” for athletes.

In both instances, the public criticized the NCAA for seeming to be powerless.

“The NCAA members, my staff and those schools have got to get our arms around it fast,” Emmert said. “I don’t think this is some little blip that’s going to go away over time. This is a real question of whether or not the universities and colleges, through the association, can manage their affairs.”

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, now a co-chair of the Knight Commission, told reporters that college sports are at a “crossroads.” Also at stake, he said, is the NCAA’s “legitimacy, integrity, even [its] relevancy.”

The Knight panel has called on the NCAA to rework the rules that allowed North Carolina to makes its own determination of whether it had committed academic fraud, and thus allowed the university to escape consequences. The Knight Commission also wants more enforcement power for the NCAA, said Duncan and the other co-chair, Carol Cartwright, president emerita of Kent State University and Bowling Green State University.

Asked if there was momentum for such reforms, Duncan said that institutions are “losing” in the court of public opinion, which outweighs short-term benefits for colleges bringing in big revenues and coaches reaping multimillion-dollar salaries.

Cartwright said the commission has persisted and taken on "tough challenges," being "relentless" to accomplish some of its recommendations. She pointed to a change to the way revenues are distributed in the Division I men’s basketball tournament, which the NCAA changed to slightly favor teams with better academics.

One commission member during the meeting questioned whether the current NCAA system could endure given its flaws.

Emmert laid out two scenarios.

The federal government could regulate college sports, similar to what happens in other countries, but Emmert said that the United States is the envy of those who already have that model, he said. Or another self-governing body could start from scratch, but it would be similar to the NCAA, he said.

After the federal charges were announced, the NCAA formed a committee led by former secretary of state and Stanford University Provost Condoleezza Rice to examine college basketball, specifically its relationship to sportswear corporations.

“We cannot go into the next basketball season without seeing fundamental changes with the way college basketball is operating,” Emmert said during the meeting. “We need to act. We need to demonstrate that we are, in fact, capable of resolving these issues.”

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