Members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's infractions committee yesterday defended before Congress the NCAA's enforcement system, asserting that sufficient "due process" rights were afforded athletes, schools and coaches.
But the committee, the judge and jury in NCAA disciplinary cases, appeared to fall far short of persuading members of the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations that such rights are readily available or commonplace.
"Due process, as I understand it, is not in fact available," said subcommittee Chairman John E. Moss (D-Calif.) "I don't find there is the kind of due process we've assured exists."
The bulk of yesterday's session was spent describing NCAA procedures for investigating and adjudicating cases of alleged rules violaions.
Arthur Reynolds and Charles Alan Wright, former and present chairmen respectively, of the infractions committee, defended the current disciplinary system, although each acknowledged that reforms could and are being made.
Rejecting previous witnesses' characterizations of the NCAA proceedings as a "kangaroo court," Wright, an expert on constitutional law, said he was satisfied due process was provided by the NCAA.
"I believe that those involved in an infractions case receive all of the due process that the Constitution requires - wholely aside from the question, which to me is irrelevant, whether they have any property or liberty interest protected by the Constitution," Wright said.
The creation of a property right for student-athletes frequently has been discussed in the hearings and Moss said again yesterday that some form of a limited property right be in order. If there were a property right, a student-athlete could not be denied certain rights without a due-process hearing and would have stronger legal standing in the courts.
Reynolds and Hunt, who said the subcommittee hearings have been beneficial and have prompted the staff to reevaluate some current procedures, said some changes are under way and more are in the offing.
The NCAA executive council, meeting next month to determine the January convention agenda, will be asked to consider allowing colleges to pay for an accused student's fare and legal fees so he may present his side to the infractions committee. Also to be studied is permitting live witnesses at the hearings to corroborate testimony.
The council also will be asked to review th advisability of creating a staff separate from the current investigators, who prosecute cases before the infractions committee. The separate advisory staff presumably would have less take in the outcome of cases, proponents have argued.
Throughout the two days of NCAA testimony, there have been sharply divided opinions on the issue of universities being forced to declare athletes ineligible because of violations of NCAA rules. Most of the subcommittee members said the NCAA should be responsible for making ineligibility rulings, not the colleges.
In many cases, the colleges - which conduct their own investigations - have disagreed with the findings of the infractions committee. But, failure to apply the committee's recommended discipline can mean more charges by the NCAA against the colleges. Compliance by the colleges, on the other hand, can result in lawsuits from athletes and coacher.
The NCAA contends that its member colleges should be self-policing since it does not have the staff or subpoena power to conduct probes of alleged violations.
"It is completely repugnant to me that you (NCAA) have an organization which can order a finding against an individual," said Moss. "It is an outrageous imposition on an institution, particularly when it has to go counter to its own, more orderly procedures."