McMillen's reform school repeats a grade

Phil Jackman

July 29, 1991|By Phil Jackman

It was after sitting through about a year and a half of numbing Knight Commission meetings that Tom McMillen began to get the idea that this august body, this blue-ribbon panel of experts, was taking on the character of the organization it was duly constituted to study and investigate.

The Maryland congressman would close his eyes, listen and envision himself in a meeting of NCAA pooh-bahs instead of sitting amidst a gang of supposed reformers hellbent on straightening out college athletics.

A worthy description of the commission's ultimate report was provided by author Frank Deford, one of those asked to give testimony during an endless round of hearings: "The 47-page report is naive and preachy, rife with platitudes and celebrations of the obvious."

McMillen, a commission member, didn't disagree with the assessment, so he decided to do something about it. Enter the College Athletic Reform Act.

The biggest problem with McMillen's effort, though, is it ends up espousing pretty much the same warmed up corrective measures that have been tried and found wanting for so many decades.

For example, McMillen proposes a 33-member Board of Presidents be given "broad powers" to effect needed change and control. Currently, the NCAA is allegedly directed by its 44-member President's Commission.

Going back before the turn of the century, it was the heads of the colleges President Teddy Roosevelt directed to run college athletics. It should be somewhat apparent at this juncture that the boys from academia are either incapable of or just aren't interested in running the sports department.

McMillen says the "key" to straightening out college athletics is getting a handle on the money. He proposes that the NCAA be granted monopolistic powers over the broadcast rights, then it get to work on establishing a revenue distribution plan that's more "egalitarian."

Here it should be mentioned that after graduating from Maryland, McMillen was a Rhodes Scholar and he sometimes uses words requiring a side trip to Webster's New World Dictionary. Egalitarian loosely means everyone having equal political, social and economic rights. So, in this stronghold of capitalism and free enterprise, Tom opts for a touch of socialism.

Over the dead bodies of the power schools and power conferences, my friend. They make the dough, they don't want to be splitting it up with every Tom, Dick and Harry, not to mention every Jane, Millicent and Samantha.

Besides, as executive director Dick Schultz points out, it was back in the early '80s when the Supreme Court decided that it was wrong for the NCAA to hold such powers and you can bet the member schools will want to give back their property rights.

While the congressman is right on the money complaining that the NCAA is far too slow in affecting obviously needed change, it might be argued that he works within an organization beset with the same problem, so where does he get off suggesting he knows all the answers?

Besides, in the last year or so, the NCAA Council has been making progress in attempts to speed the process of change. Several reform proposals were put forth at the annual convention in January and, since, almost half of another hundred suggestions submitted have dealt with reform. All will be discussed and prepared for final ratification at a meeting beginning Wednesday in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Not bad for an organization that has been conducting investigations since the 1950s and didn't get around to taping interviews with those giving testimony until just a couple of months ago.

While Tom McMillen would like to see the powers of a Board of Presidents broadened and TV revenue bargained for by the NCAA, indications are very strong that the major networks will be cutting way back on fees and times allotted college athletics, and that the future of the schools is on less-lucrative cable. No way the organization could barter or keep tabs on the myriad of deals of the future, especially when pay-per-view becomes a force.

Stripping away all the whereases, the main point of contention on the McMillen bill will come down to money and the fact that football and basketball, the sports that rake it in, will be asked to spread their wealth around even more than they do now. Tom refers to the big two controlling a school's purse strings as the "Taj Mahal mentality," which takes a pretty good slap at his old school, which is well into a multimillion-dollar athletic plant building program this very moment.

Also, while McMillen is proposing a federal law in an area where rules and regulations would serve better, there are a couple of states who have enacted laws to curb NCAA powers in its dealings with its institutions.

Maybe the Knight Commission, realizing the enormity and futility of it all, took its only course of action by issuing a nothing report and silently stealing away.

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