Topics: House of Representatives

New bipartisan bill would reform NCAA, college sports

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A pair of lawmakers from states with scandal-plagued collegiate football programs unveiled legislation Thursday that would ban the NCAA from punishing university athletic departments without some sort of trial.

The National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act, introduced by Reps. Joyce Beaty, D-Ohio, and Charlie Dent, R-Penn., would bring sweeping reforms to college sports. The legislation, which already has six co-sponsors, addresses issues ranging from concussion safety to compensation for student-athletes.

But a key piece of the legislation also requires the NCAA and other collegiate athletic associations to create a system of due process when it investigates infractions by schools and their players.

Ohio State University, which is partly in Beatty’s district, was punished by the NCAA after football players were caught selling trophies and other memorabilia for tattoos. Dent represents campuses affiliated with Penn State University, a school that was slapped with tough sanctions, including a four-year post-season ban, in the fallout from the child sex-abuse case of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

“In the case of Penn State, they at least would’ve had the benefit of an NCAA investigation [if this bill was in place two years ago]. They never had one, not to mention an appeal,” Dent said. “We have such a hodgepodge of activity by this organization, nobody seems to understand what the rules are.”

The legislation also prohibits the NCAA from barring institutions from giving stipends to student-athletes. Compensating Division I football and basketball players, whose teams often generate millions of dollars, has long been a contentious debate in college athletic circles. The NCAA itself boasted revenues of $871 million in 2012, largely thanks to lucrative TV contracts.

The football powerhouse Southeastern Conference recently voted to support stipends for its players, should the NCAA ever allow it.

Many larger institutions advocate paying athletes, but smaller schools worry it will create greater recruiting disparity between the big-money schools and those on tighter budgets.

The bill would merely keep the NCAA from blocking schools from providing compensation, but Dent said he hopes to spark a greater conversation.

“There are a lot of people making money on the backs of student-athletes,” Dent said. “Hopefully, this will set off a discussion on whether a stipend should be allowed.”

Under the legislation, schools would be required to conduct annual baseline concussion testing. Collegiate programs would also be forced to offer students four-year scholarships that cannot be stripped from them because of injury, coaching changes or performance on the field.

“It’s a time for Congress to act to ensure greater accountability, transparency and protection of student athletes and their education and health,” Beatty said.

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