NCAA President Mark Emmert took some heat on Capitol Hill today. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

NCAA President Mark Emmert testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, and he found himself fending off some tough questions. Along the way, Emmert advocated giving student-athletes “scholarships for life,” meaning that even if they get injured or become professionals, they should have the opportunity to complete their educations.

Emmert was forced to answer for the practice of only granting scholarships in one-year increments, which creates the possibility of injured or under-performing athletes having their paths to a degree taken away midway through their college careers. From a report by the Raleigh News & Observer:

Emmert disputed the opinion repeatedly stated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, that the current system for operating and overseeing college sports acts more like a cartel that protects the money-making opportunities of the NCAA and member schools at the expense of the athletes who perform in exchange for an athletic scholarship.

“College sports are serving student athletes very, very well for the most part,” Emmert said.

The most compelling evidence provided to the contrary came from Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. …

McCaskill released NCAA records showing that a majority of member schools sought to keep the one-year scholarship limit in place in a membership vote in 2012 that fell just short of the 62.5 percent majority needed. …

“I guess my question to you, Dr. Emmert, is why wasn’t this made public at the time (of the vote), because I think most of these universities would be publicly embarrassed,” she said.

McCaskill also had questions about a report released that day by her office, which, according to, found that “approximately 20 percent of the largest public institutions and 15 percent of the largest private schools ‘allow their athletic departments to oversee cases involving student athletes.’ ” From the story:

McCaskill said she was “shocked” by the survey and referenced Florida State’s investigation into the allegations that star quarterback Jameis Winston raped a student. No charges were filed against Winston. In April, the US Department of Education opened an investigation of Florida State into whether its handling of the Winston rape allegations violated Title IX law.

Emmert said he only read McCaskill’s sexual assault data on Wednesday and wants to better understand the results. He agreed the survey results contain an “enormous” amount of conflicts of interest that don’t help sexual assault victims.

Emmert said most NCAA members “are going to be very surprised” by the sexual assault data. Several senators called on Emmert and university presidents to change their procedures immediately.

McCaskill wasn’t done blistering Emmert. From USA Today:

In response to Emmert having noted earlier in the hearing that he has a limited role in NCAA rules-making that is ultimately done largely by college presidents, McCaskill said: “I can’t tell whether you are in charge or whether you a minion” to the schools and college presidents.

Continuing to bore in, she added: “If you’re just a monetary pass-through, why should you exist?”

It was a tough day for Emmert (and many would say deservedly so), but the fact that he was there to suffer it at all may answer that last question from McCaskill. Emmert is the  highly paid face of the NCAA at least in part so that coaches and athletic directors of high-powered programs don’t have come up with answers for all the tough questions.