WASHINGTON — The president of the NCAA said Monday that the public is losing confidence in his organization’s ability to regulate college basketball and other sports, suggesting that the problem needs to be fixed quickly.
“I believe strongly today that we cannot go into the next basketball season without seeing fundamental change in the way college basketball is operating,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics at a meeting in Washington. “The public doesn’t have sufficient confidence in any of us. And I’ll take that on myself, in terms of our ability to solve these issues.”
College basketball has come under special public scrutiny since federal prosecutors brought charges of bribery and fraud last month against 10 men connected to Division I basketball, including four assistant coaches. The charges connected to the University of Louisville led to the firing of basketball coach Rick Pitino.
“All of those things are distortions of what the fundamental mission of higher education is all about,” Emmert said of the bribery allegations that led to the indictments. “We need to be paying very close attention to it. And then we need to make sure that we can demonstrate to the world that we in higher education are capable of self-governance.”
Knight commission co-chair Arne Duncan said the commission was, “deeply troubled by the mounting evidence that the NCAA seems to be unable to ensure a level of integrity that has to be a priority in the education and treatment of college student-athletes,” adding that the relevancy of the NCAA was at stake.
“These threats to the integrity of college sports compel us to act in a very different way,” Duncan said at a press conference following the meeting. “The status quo simply isn’t working.”
The commission was formed in 1989 to make recommendations to the NCAA to promote student-athlete well-being following a series of scandals. The commission has no formal oversight authority.
Asked by a commissioner whether the NCAA can survive, Emmert said he believed that his organization was the best possible model for regulating college athletics.
“Let’s just do the mental experiment and eliminate the NCAA. OK, then what?” Emmert said. “Do we create a federal ministry of sport and let the federal government run it?…Do we create a new commission on college sport in America?…So it really begs the question, sort of the Churchillian notion of it being the worst possible solution except for everything else.”
Co-chair Carol Cartwright, president emeritus of Bowling Green State University and Kent State University, said at the press conference that the commission was not giving up on letting higher education self-regulate, but “there need to be some more checks and balances.”
Duncan, who was education secretary under President Obama, asked whether schools found in violation of NCAA rules should be denied a portion of the billions in federally-backed grants and loans that flow to NCAA schools.
“If that money is going out to places where there is academic fraud being perpetuated, is it worth considering?” Duncan asked at the press conference. “I don’t know if it’s possible, I don’t know if it’s viable and I don’t know if the current administration would be interested, but is there a way to recoup some of that money that went to coursework that wasn’t real?”
At the meeting, Emmert also said he had problems with a system that encourages the country’s top basketball talent to enter college and stay for only one year before departing for the NBA draft.
“It makes no bloody sense…If someone wants to become a professional athlete and develop the skills of becoming an athlete, they shouldn’t have to go to college to do that,” Emmert said. “Our business is educating and developing young people. It’s not giving them basketball skills.”
But commission member David Robinson, a former All-American at the Naval Academy and NBA MVP, said the NCAA should make an affirmative case for the best players to attend college, regardless of how long they plan to stay.
“We should be doing a better job of telling these kids, or presenting to them the opportunity of coming to college and the benefits for the long term that they will have,” Robinson said. “20, 30, 40 kids are going to go the NBA. The rest of y’all, we’re your best bet. You need to come here, you need to spend time on our campus.”