McMillen takes a shot at putting academics back in college sports

July 26, 1991|By Josie Karp | Josie Karp,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- If Rep. Tom McMillen, D-Md., has his way, the reform of college athletics will start with the NCAA.

McMillen yesterday unveiled the "Collegiate Athletic Reform Act" designed to restore the balance between athletics and academics at colleges and universities across the country. The bill takes aim at what McMillen considers the core of the problem -- the escalating role of big-time money in the big-time college sports, football and men's basketball.

The new legislation would restore to the NCAA a limited antitrust exemption for football and basketball, a privilege that was taken away by the Supreme Court in 1984, for a period of five years, giving the NCAA the power to negotiate all television contracts.

The legislation would prohibit NCAA schools from engaging in independent broadcast agreements, rendering obsolete deals PTC such as the one Notre Dame made last year with NBC for exclusive broadcast rights to Irish games.

But the antitrust exemption would not come without its price. In exchange, the NCAA would be asked to enact a variety of reform measures, the most radical of which would establish a Board of Presidents with heretofore unheard of power to create NCAA policy and a plan to more evenly distribute television revenue.

The legislation calls for the formulation of a revenue distribution plan based on a number of criteria including: reducing the size of revenue-producing sports; improving academic performance of student-athletes; and complying with Title IX ofthe Education Amendments of 1972, designed to ensure the equality of women's and men's athletics. The crux of the reform would be that funds would be prohibited from being distributed on the basis of a school's won/lost record. It would be the job of the new Presidents Commission to establish and carry out the plan.

"I believe that our bill will let the presidents come up with criteria that are more broadly based and more in line with higher education. That's the thinking behind this," McMillen said.

The former Maryland and Washington Bullets player was critical of the NCAA's current system of reform and the current NCAA Presidents Commission.

"It's hard for them at their convention to come to grips with even reducing practice time, let alone coming up with a new model for revenue distribution," McMillen said.

The current Presidents Commission is an elected 44-member group made up of 22 Division I presidents, and 11 presidents each from Division II and Division III. The Presidents Commission meets four times each year, in January at the annual NCAA convention where reform acts are discussed and passed, and in April, June and October.

The new legislation calls for a Presidents Commission of no more than 33 elected members who would have the power to enact reforms and make changes without bringing them before the full membership at the NCAA convention. Only a two-thirds vote of the 293 Division I presidents could overrule the commission's changes.

The bill goes on to stipulate that scholarships to student-athletes not be withdrawn for five years, as long as the student enrolled is in good standing at the institution. It would also call for a "need-only" based stipend of up to $300.

The NCAA also would be required to provide any student, coach or institution accused of an NCAA rule violation "due process" rights.

McMillen has the support of Rep. Bill Richardson, N.M., and cited a 1990 Harris poll that indicated 80 percent of Americans think that scandals within the world of college athletics "have made our institutions of higher education incapable of teaching ethics and integrity in our classrooms."

"The reason I'm supporting this legislation is because the NCAA doesn't want to reform on its own. It's operating in the 19th century and they're not properly balancing academics in institutions where big-time sports are very prominent. The NCAA has been reforming at a snail's pace," Richardson said. "They don't like interference, they don't like advice, they like to make a lot of in-house reports, but when the time comes, big money -- big television money, proceeds from games -- rule over academics, and that shouldn't be the case."

McMillen is not new to the world of college athletics, nor is he new to the world that meshes college athletics and government, having co-sponsored with Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., the "Student-Athlete Right to Know Act," which was enacted in November 1990. That bill forced colleges and universities to make public their graduation rates.

"This legislation is designed to reform more than college sports," McMillen said. "It is intended to help restore a balance between athletics and academics."

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