Federal Bureau of Basketball?

August 10, 1991

An editorial yesterday in The Sun said that Representative Tom McMillen represents the 2nd Congressional District. He represents the 4th District.

The Sun regrets the errors.

It is wrong for colleges to overemphasize sports, but it shouldn't be illegal.

There is no doubt that college athletics needs reforming. For too long, coaches and athletics directors, not college presidents and other academic officials, have had effective control. For too long, the term "student-athlete" has seemed an oxymoron at many schools which compete at the top levels of competition. For too long, abuses of recruiting rules have persisted in the face of inadequate enforcement. And for too long, colleges and universities have given lip service to reform while the problems linger. Into this breach -- ill-advisedly -- steps Congress.

About half a dozen bills are now pending in the House which would regulate the National Collegiate Athletic Association. ("The most outspoken lawmakers tend to be those who represent colleges that have been punished by the association," the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its Aug. 7 issue.)


The most thorough-going reform legislation is a bill sponsored by Maryland's Rep. Tom McMillen, D-2nd. It would require the NCAA to share television revenues more equitably, since the big money for basketball tournaments and football bowl participants is a powerful incentive to cheat. It would establish a board of college presidents to run the NCAA, breaking the power of the athletic establishment. And it would require due-process standards in NCAA probes -- no doubt a popular position for a politician here after the University of Maryland was punished more harshly by the NCAA than more serious or more habitual transgressors.

These are good ideas. They should be taken up by the NCAA where, once again, reform efforts are under way. But there is no clear case for federal action. There is a legitimate role for the federal government in college sports, particularly in assuring sex equity (as it does in all other programs offered by colleges and universities which receive federal funds). Expanding that role dramatically is unwise. The NCAA has to reform itself. It is not a job for Congress.

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