The NCAA was threatened today with continued congressional oversight and possible legislation if it does not voluntarily make reforms in its investigative and enforcement procedures on rule violations.
The threat came from Rep. James Santini (D-Nev.) at a press conference also attended by Rep. Norman F. Lent (R-N.Y.) where the two discussed majority and minority findings of the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations' year-long probe of the NCAA.
The report recommends no immediate congressional action, calling upon the NCAA for "self-corrective action." But the majority report urges delegates at the NCAA's 73rd annual convention here to create an independent "blue-ribbon" panel to consider 18 specific reform measures recommended by the subcommittee majority. The minority concurred in whole or part in 12 of those proposals, but rejected the recommendation for the blue-ribbon panel. The minority called the year-long investigation "a waste of time."
The policy-making NCAA Council, which has rejected proposals for such a blue-ribbon panel in the past, announced at the opening session this afternoon it has decided against appointing the panel urged by Santini.
"The association's enforcement procedures have been reviewed on numerous occasions, both internally by various NCAA committees and externally by federal courts," said John Toner, council member from the University of Connecticut, in a prepared statement.
"It is the council's position that all relevant information related to the structure and policies of the enforcement program have been reviewed and discussed in detail in recent months. It is our view that it would be in the best interests of the Association (NCAA) to move on."
However, the NCAA membership could overturn the recommendation of the 18-member Council.
Earlier, at a press conference prior to the NCAA's announcement, Santini took into account the previous NCAA resistance to his recommendation, noting that the concept won support during the congressional hearings from college sports officials.
"But if the NCAA continues its fortress-mentality intransigence instead of making constructive responses... or makes a cosmetic whitewash of the recommendations of the subcommittee," Santini said, "... federal legislation may be necessary, particularly if there is no action taken of any kind."
Santini has scheduled a press conference after the convention adjourns Wednesday to announce whether he intends to seek legislation.
Informed of the Council's decision against the blue-ribbon panel, Santini said tonight: "It seems that at the very least the NCAA is going to have continued examination by the subcommittee. We may want to investigate things we couldn't get into this year."
Santini said he has talked with Rep. Robert Eckhardt (D-Tex.), who apparently is the front-runner for the subcommittee chairmanship this session, and Eckhardt has agreed to continue the subcommittee's probe, if necessary.
Speaking for the minority, Lent chastised the subcommittee for spending 10 days on NCAA hearings, calling them a "waste of time... overblown and misdirected." He was especially critical of the majority's threat to legislate NCAA reforms.
"I feel that these bullying tactics are out of place in San Francisco," Lent said. "This is not Tehran or Phnom Penh or some place where the federal government can make threats like that."
"It is shameful that the NCAA was dragged through that mire of bad publicity," Lent said. "It is shameful that the NCAA should be the target of such a hatchet job by an arm of the Congress. Our subcommittee would have better occupied its time on more serious problems confronting our nation."
The NCAA Council, in response to a subcommittee request, already has reviewed and rejected some of the proposals made by witnesses before the subcommittee, proposals that again are made in the majority report. The Council, has, however, put six proposals on the convention agenda that relate to the recommendations.
At issue during the hearings and again today was the question of whether the NCAA provided basic fairness and "due process" rights in its investigations of alleged rule violations and in its subsequent disciplinary proceedings.
Almost all of the 41 congressional witnesses said the system is inherently unfair, and the majority report so concluded, but also noted that in some instances there is only an appearance of unfairness. The minority concluded that the NCAA is fair, but does have some appearance problems.
Of the six issues they disagree on, the two sides clash most on the majority's call for "joint and simultaneous investigations" of witnesses by the NCAA and accused member-school, and requiring the NCAA to make ineligibility declarations.
On the former, the minority contends such a procedure would unnecessarily interfere with enforcement efforts and might preclude the discovery of evidence clearing someone of alleged guilt. The majority contends it would reduce credibility problems and eliminate the introduction of evidence based on hearsay and recollection.
The minority argument against the second proposal is that is undermines the self-policing philosophy of the NCAA code that makes member-schools responsible for students' and coaches' conduct and eligibility. The majority contends that since it is the NCAA that actually makes findings of guilt and assesses the penalties, it should be responsible for its actions -- a position that would make the NCAA legally, and, presumably, financially liable.
Aside from the blue-ribbon panel proposal, the minority disagreed with the majority's recommendations to let all affected parties -- including "boosters" -- in an investigation participate, with counsel in the NCAA disciplinary hearing; establish a list of set penalties for "minor" and "major" violations, revise and recodify its rules.
Significantly, both the majority and minority reports agreed there is no NCAA "hit list," and both were elaborate in praising the personal integrity of those involved in the NCAA "judicial system." The majority went on to make several other recommendations in which the minority concurred either fully or in principle:
The separation of functions of the infractions committee (judge) and the NCAA enforcement staff (investigator and prosecutor). The staff should be supervised by a new NCAA group completely separate from the committee. That new unit, acting like a grand jury, would decide if formal investigations are to be made.
There should be specific, published evidentiary standards for hearings. The burden of proving guilt, moreover, must be on the enforcement staff. The majority found that there is a prevailing sense of "guilty" until proven innocent" in the NCAA hearings.
A section of the code allowing additional penalties to colleges that challenge the NCAA in court and lose must be repealed.
There should be established standards of what the NCAA Council will review in a case when hearing an appeal.
There should be a statute of limitations on uncovering violations and on the period between the initial notice that an investigation is under way and its eventual conclusion.