For the second time in as many months, members of Congress yesterday openly questioned the ability of the NCAA to gain control of college athletics.
"I don't know what to do," said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.). "I'm just frustrated. It seems to me our young people are being used and abused."
William Friday, the chairman of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, and Wally Renfro, a special assistant to NCAA President Myles Brand, each testified before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, a follow-up to a hearing in March spurred by the previous year's scandals involving academic integrity and recruiting practices.
Renfro and Friday were joined by former Congressman and Maryland basketball star Tom McMillen in an effort to update the committee on the NCAA's progress in establishing new rules governing recruiting, as well as the widely publicized "incentive-disincentive" academic reform package that will tie college programs' scholarship availability to graduation rates.
The five committee members present for the 90-minute hearing largely expressed support and hope for the academic reform package, as well as for the NCAA's task force that is completing a report on recruiting overhauls.
Renfro provided an outline for potential changes in recruiting practices, such as eliminating the use of private planes to transport recruits to campus and making sure prospective players aren't treated to elaborate meals. Renfro promised that the final reform package, which will be endorsed by university presidents, would include strong language prohibiting the use of alcohol and sex in recruiting, a move designed to specifically address the situation at Colorado, where football coach Gary Barnett is awaiting word on his future following widespread allegations of drinking binges and sexual assaults during recruiting trips.
Still, committee members wondered whether the NCAA could truly oversee the changes even when they're implemented.
"You can't possibly enforce this," committee chair Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) told Renfro. "You can't possibly get a handle on it. . . . We're asking college athletics to be self-policing, but there's got to be a hammer, and you're it."
-- Barry Svrluga