The House Subcommittee on Oversight and investigation, chaired by Rep. John E. Moss (D-Calif.), announced Oct. 4 it had begun investigating alleged abuses by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Among the questions the subcommittee would be studying Moss said, were whether the NCAA is violating any antitrust laws, whether its investigative procedures and enforcement program provided sufficiently for constitutional rights of due process, and whether the sanctions levied on institutions, athletes and coaches found guilty of rules infractions are fair and equitable.
Depending on the disposition of the members, sources close to the investigation said, the subcommittee also might delve into other areas, including possible anticompetitive aspects of NCAA television contracts; the association's relationship with black colleges, smaller college sports groups such as the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and other amateur athletic organizations; alleged NCAA obstruction of implementation of Title 9 programs; and restrictions on U.S. college athletes' participation in international competition.
The subcommittee hopes to begin hearings in February.
The probe was requested by Rep. Jim Santini (D-Nev.), stemming from a case involving the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UN-LV).
The NCAA placed the university on probation for two years as penalty for 18 rules infractions in its basketball program between 1971 and 1975. Among the sanctions: UN-LV was prohibited from competing in postseason basketball competition in 1978 and 1979, from appearing on NCAA-controlled telecasts during those two years, and limited in the bnumber basketball grants-in-aid it could award.
The NCAA also ordered the university to suspend basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian took the school to court and was granted an order blocking the suspension - it came from a state judge up for re-election, the NCAA points out - which currently is being appealed.
"From the evidence I've seen so far, it is apparent that this problem goes far beyond UN-LV," Santini said. "There are serious national implications involving a number of institutions. NCAA possesses the unbridled authority to ruin the careers of athletes, destroy coaches' professions and deal staggering blows to the athletic reputations of its member institutions."
Sartini gave Moss a letter signed by 68 members of Congress from 33 states supporting the investigation. Among the most vocal has been Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), who felt the University of Minnesota was persecuted in being placed on three-year probation in 1976 for 33 basketball violations. (The university took the NCAA to court and lost on appeal.)
Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA recently grumbled-in a strongly worded, testy exchange of letters with Moss that certain members of the subcommittee and its staff apparently assume the NCAA to be "a Czarist regime held secure by an awesome authority that wreaks revenge upon informers."
That was his phrase, not ours," insists one subcommittee staff member. The staff claims, naturally, to have made no prejudgments of the organization it is scrutinizing.
Nevertheless, the suspicion remains that the probers have listened attentively to critics who think the NCAA is some kind of powerful, heavy-handed, arbitrary and vaguely sinister Politburo of college sports.
"People forget that the NCAA is not 64 staff members in Kansas City. It's 844 members, 736 institutions, and all their personnel and programs," said Thomas C. Hansen, assistant executive director. "Staff members don't set policy. The NCAA convention and council do. We simply administer it.
"Any national organization like this is going to have certain accusations made against it by provincial interests whether it's well-run or not. We happen to think the NCAA is exceedingly well-run and that the vast majority of members agree or they would change the way things are done. All the rules, policies and procedures are subject to review at the annual convention. Nevada-Las Vegas can make a proposal to eliminate the enforcement program if it wishes."
Byers wrote to Moss, "We welcome the investigation. We have nothing to hide. In fact, we are proud of the NCAA and its accomplishments." Hansen said the staff at NCAA headquarters concurs.
"We have full confidence that the subcommittee will find that our enforcement procedures are fair and the people on the staff professional men of the highest ethics," he said. "If there are one or two institutions that feel they have had a problem, we certainly have many others that think they were treated fairly and professionally.
"I don't think that anyone who has taken eligibility from an athlete or team has ever done that lightly. It's a serious thing, and they take their responsibilities seriously."
Needless to say, subcommittee staff members are benignly skeptical. They will be asking tough questions about provision of due process at all stages of the NCAA enforcement process, while on the road visiting member institutions, as they were last week, and probably later in the hearings.
Enforcement procedures, including the investigative techniques of the NCAA staff, appear to be the initial focus of the inquiry.
There have been allegations that an NCAA investigator at Oklahoma State University misrepresented himself as a federal agent in order to obtain records, and allegations that the NCAA has used wiretaps to gather information.
The Subcommittee likely will study the initiation of an investigation, asking if there is selective enforcement. Are all schools suspected of infractions treated equally? Are allegations against UCLA, for example, pursued with the same vigor as those against Southeastern Louisana? Are certain individuals investigated because someone in the NCCA has a vendetta against them?
The Subcommittee probably will examine the NCAA's television contracts: How are teams chosen for lucrative TV appearances? Is there influence peddling, such as recent allegations that ABC-TV offered the University of Pittsburgh extra regular-season TV games if it accepted a bid to the 1977 Sugar Bowl, which ABC was televising?
The tax status of the NCAA probably will be studied, as will questions to whether the NCAA constitutes a cartel. Is there an alternative to NCAA membership if a college wishes to compete in major intercollegiate athletics, and what implications does this have?
Hansen, naturally, sytematically refutes suggestions of possible impropriety by the NCAA.
"Those who say the NCAA enforces its rules unevenly probably don't have a good overview," he said. "If they're saying that different penalties are imposed for the same violation, I think they're just wrong and don't have a good grasp of the penalty structure.
Three years ago, when the enforcement staff was expanded, it was given a broader range of penalties, designed to fit more appropriately particular cases. Some people feel the penalties are too harsh, but the convention voted harsh penalties. The membership wanted to stop pervasive cheating where it occurs, to make it very painful for an institution that has let its program get out of control. It's somewhat predictable that there would be some very unhappy persons connected with institutions that were stung.
" . . . We feel very strongly that there is no conviction by rumor or innuendo. If the investigators cannot sufficiently document a charge, the Committee on Infractions throws it out.
"Our hearings are not criminal proceedings, but the institution involved has the opportunity to question people, there is legal counsel present if desired each step of the way, all evidence is provided by the staff in advance of each hearing, there are delays when necessary to permit others to make their own investigations.
"In most cases- and I think the public doesn't understand this-the investigation becomes a cooperative search for the facts between the university and the NCAA staff. It is not a bitter process, an adversary relationship. Often the staff is commended, and the university accepts its sanctions as fair and to the point.
Why, then, is the Subcommittee investigating."
"Primarily because of one congressman whose institution happened to run into the enforcement process-Congressman Santini," Hansen said. "I think it's primarily at his prompting."