The president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association told Congress yesterday that he will bring up for discussion some recommended reforms in the NCAA's investigative and enforcement procedures with the organization's executive council next month.
J. Neils Thompson told the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations that he would discuss some of the proposals made by other witnesses to determine if the issues would be placed on the agenda of the NCAA convention next January.
Subcommittee Chairman John E. Moss (D-Calif.) pressed NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers for similar support at the council meeting, but Byers was less committal, setting off a number of sharp exchanges with subcommittee members.
Much of yesterday's seven hours of testimony focused on Byers' role in the NCAA as well as on the many complaints the subcommittee has heard about the alleged unfairness and "selective justice" of the NCAA's enforcement arm.
As leadoff witness for the NCAA, Thompson submitted a 31-page statement that presented a hard line against some of the 51 proposed reforms that the council had been asked to consider at its last meeting.
Thompson said the council had already implemented some of them, was reviewing others and felt still more were unfeasible. THe only concession his statement made to the list of reforms was for improved tape recodings of NCAA disciplinary produres.
But in his oral testimony, Thompson indicated far more willingness and flexibility to reexamine NCAA procedures, a position that Rep. Jim Santini (D-Nev.) called a "departure from the siege mentality" he said the NCAA has demonstrated.
Among some of the issues Thompson said he would bring up with the council is the current refusal to provide written transcripts of displinary hearings and whether Byer's presence on the council is necessary when it hears appeals.
Byers' role on the council was brought into question by Santini because documents the subcommittee subpoenaed from the NCAA indicated Byers had initiated in part or suggested direction in at least two NCAA investigations. Byers said he would have been delinquent in not referring information given him about alleged violations to the investigative staff.
Byers defended the current investigative and enforcement procedures, saying there was an inherent system of safeguards against colleges trumping up charges against a rival, and he praised the NCAA staff for diligence and fairness in its work.
Asked if his position of the proposed reform were in line with Thompson's written statements or his oral testimony, Byers said his statement drafted by the NCAA and Michael Scott was a "fair representation" of the council's suggestions this committee wants to suggest but I will resist to my last ounce of breath that this suggestion will weaken the suggestion program.
Moss replied that it was "ludicrous" to think that the committee wants to weaken the program. "We want you to improve and strengthen an imperfect program," Moss said.
Both Byers and Thompson said they believe the universities should declare their athletes ineligible because of violations instead of having the NCAA do it - a policy that came under heavy attact by Rep. Bruse F. Vento (D-Minn). The University of Minnesota, after cooperatig with the NCAA in a probe of basketball violations that place the college of basketball violations that placed the college on probation, took the NCAA to court in protest of the penalty.
Subcommittee members also said they believe the NCAA has failed to mete out punishments that fit the crime. "You get somebody for a spitting-on-the-sidewalk infraction and a felony charge is imposed," said Santini.
This issue was raised after Thompson said that sometimes investigators have a "feeling" there were serious violations committed but could only prove minor ones. Thompson quickly backed off the statement, however, saying he was not qualified to make such judgements.
Rep. Norman Lent (R.N.Y.,) who has championed the NCAA's cause in the hearings, said he hopes the NCAA does not change its procedures simply because of the hearings.
"This committee shouldn't act as the Sword of Damocles over your head," Lent said.