Duncan's Harsh Words for NCAA

January 12, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan made clear his displeasure with the National Collegiate Athletic Association at its annual convention Wednesday in a keynote address that, while ultimately conveying a message of encouragement, called out the organization for everything from sex abuse scandals to "New Testament"-length rulebooks. He chided institutions for their frantic conference realignment, which peaked this year as colleges sought multimillion-dollar TV deals or panicked about getting left behind. Duncan seemed astonished that even as institutional spending on athletes far outpaces spending on other students, none of the $20 million that colleges receive for playing in a Bowl Championship Series game goes toward academic purposes. He mocked the near-comical excess of the 426-page NCAA rulebook (giving a recruit a bagel is allowed, but add cream cheese and it's a violation), and lamented that a quarter of this year's BCS teams graduate fewer than half their athletes. All of the above (and let's not forget violations in recruiting and myriad other rules) have combined, Duncan said, to create a "disturbing" and "dangerous narrative" in the public that college sports lives in an insular world that's all about the money.

Duncan did commend the NCAA for its new academic reform measures, which set higher standards for athletic eligibility. "It seems clear that they are steps in the right direction," he said. "Raising the bar is always the right way to go.... Keep going, and please, please, resist the temptation to tinker or temper with your core principles." It will come down to courageous leaders, he said: while addressing these issues may be a political challenge, "This does not take a Nobel Laureate to solve."

Asked whether all this was even the NCAA's problem, Duncan (before answering in the affirmative) even got in a dig at the legislature. "If any of us are looking for Congress to solve this," he said, "good luck."

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