WASHINGTON – After years of scandals in intercollegiate athletic programs,a House committee heard more about the same old problems at a hearing Tuesday.
“It is kind of like the movie ‘Groundhog Day,'” said C. Thomas McMillen,a former House member and college and pro basketball player who is a member of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “You keep getting up every day and the same thing happens. That is basically the plight of intercollegiate athletics.”
McMillen was one of three witnesses testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce,Trade and Consumer Protection's second hearing about college athletics.
The hearing focused on progress made by the NCAA and its task force that has investigated recruiting infractions and proposed new standards for athletic programs to raise athletes' academic achievement and graduation rates.
“Institutions have a moral obligation to help every individual admitted as a student athlete achieve success in completing a degree,” said William C. Friday,co-chairman of the Knight Foundation Commission.
Friday also discussed what some colleges deem necessary to keep athletes happy. He noted that many football coaches make more than $1 million annually and said “athletics facilities have been built with excesses that you may not be able to find in professional sports.” He cited a “West Coast university” that built a $90 million stadium that included a luxurious $3.2 million locker room.
Wally Renfro,senior adviser to the NCAA president,addressed the treatment of incoming athletes.
“The competition among institutions for highly skilled prospects has escalated expectations among prospects for transportation via private jet,five-star luxury suites,extravagant meals,and ‘game-day' simulations that glorify feats of these athletes before they have ever enrolled or set foot on the field,” said Renfro.
“The central focus of the task force's preliminary recommendations is to return recruiting visits to the purpose for which they were originally intended,” he said. The NCAA recommended coach air fare and vehicles without TVs or special decor for visiting high school students,among other changes.
The Knight Commission reviewed the graduation rates of the 65 teams participating in the 2004 NCAA men's basketball tournament and discovered that more than two-thirds of them failed to graduate at least 50 percent of players who had been enrolled for four consecutive years.
While many blame lenient coaching staffs,Renfro defended them.
“It is not fair to characterize all coaches as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who are disinterested in the academic success of their student athletes,” said Renfro. “The vast majority of coaches view themselves as educators who take pride in the classroom achievements of their charges.”
Rep. Clifford Stearns,R-Fla.,the subcommittee chairman,concluded with words of hope that the problems surrounding intercollegiate athletics are being solved.
“Thirty-one schools have been penalized for major recruiting violations since 2000,” Stearns said. “It is therefore my hope that,rather than reacting to the headlines and next big scandal,we can create a long-term vision for the future of amateur college sports that re-establishes an academics-first culture that also supports our student athlete's excellence on the field,court or track.”