For years, Representative Tom McMillen has been assailing college sports for ignoring the needs of college athletes. Now, he's proposing to do something about it.
McMillen, D-Maryland, yesterday introduced legislation in the Congress that would streamline the way the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopts rules and might radically redistribute the riches generated each year by college games.
In the bill, titled the "College Athletic Reform Act," McMillen calls for creation of a Board of Presidents, a 33-member panel of college heads who would have broad powers to alter the rules and relatively little concern about their initiatives being reversed.
Under the McMillen plan, a rule approved by the all-powerful presidents' board only could be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the 293 university presidents in Division I, the classification that figures to be most affected. The boards' members would represent all of the NCAA's competitive levels -- Divisions I, II and III.
In the past, McMillen has been critical of the slow pace of NCAA reform. The creation of a super presidents board is an attempt to change that.
"I thought that the NCAA wasn't going to reform itself," McMillen said. "In the hearing today [on the bill], it was clear that the presidents aren't in control of the NCAA.
"Some people have said, 'Is it right to give the presidents this much power?' But if not them, who?" said Brad Fitch, an aide to McMillen. "You go a long way toward meaningful reform when you put the presidents in charge."
McMillen's plan probably won't be embraced by all schools, particularly those that have built big-time programs with big-time TV ratings. The bill would move control of their broadcast contracts to the NCAA.
"I went through the whole Knight Commission [on reforming college sports] process," McMillen said, "and I dissented from it on a couple of points -- money and control."
The bill is radical: Income no longer would belong to the individual schools. The money would be pooled, then distributed according to a formula devised by the president's board.
Every school would be affected, including those in Maryland. McMillen's alma mater, the University of Maryland, for whom he was an All-America basketball player in the 1970s, would continue to share TV money with Atlantic Coast Conference schools. But they also might be sharing with Towson State and Slippery Rock.
"I would like to have a revenue distribution plan that's more egalitarian," McMillen said. "It would cut back on some of the Taj Mahal mentality. What we want to do is just let the kids play the games."
To that end, McMillen's bill would grant the NCAA a limited anti-trust exemption. The NCAA had powers to negotiate those contracts until a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that said that authority should rest with individual schools.
Those schools that don't want the NCAA negotiating their television deals would forfeit the exemption and be taxed as businesses.
"If you want to operate as a business, you should be taxed that way," McMillen said.
Fitch wouldn't assess the chances for the bill to pass. But he said it has spawned a lot of interest already.
"We've had a lot of calls from members of Congress today," he said. "Sure there's a debate whether Congress should pass laws in this area. But more and more, members are frustrated by the slow pace of reform."