On the 10th of July, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on college athletics. The goal was to gain insight about recent problems with the NCAA with the hope of getting some resolution. Unfortunately, none of the sides could seem to make any headway.
The main witness in the hearing was NCAA President Mark Emmert. He did pledge to support some changes during the hearing, such as offering players “scholarships for life” and changing their position in a controversial concussion lawsuit. Emmert backed away from the legal position that the NCAA has “no legal duty” to student athletes, and he recognized that the NCAA’s attorneys had misstated NCAA’s position that it does indeed have responsibilities to student athletes. But the senators had plenty of other questions for Mr. Emmert that didn’t have easy answers.
At least three senators questioned Mr. Emmert on how the NCAA handles sexual harassment in its programs. According to a report commissioned by Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), more than 20% of schools give the athletics department oversight in these cases when they involve athletes.
The committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) also gave notice to Mr. Emmert that, assuming Democrats continue to run the agenda of the committee, “…we want to make this a continuing subject of this oversight committee. We have oversight of sports. All sports. We have the ability to subpoena. We have a special investigative unit. We are very into this subject. This is part of a process here.” He also made remarks that university presidents might also be subpoenaed in future hearings.
The committee also strong questions about topics ranging from parent stipends so they can attend games to whether the role of the NCAA President is even necessary. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a former Stanford football player, emphasized that problems with adequately compensating student athletes have been endemic in the NCAA even back when he was playing 20 years ago.
In the end, the committee felt that they hadn’t done much besides start the conversation, and were hoping for more action. There will likely be more conversations of this sort in the future, especially as these cases unfold.
The NCAA President has had to testify numerous times this year to explain the organization’s actions, including hearings on the consequences of athletes unionizing and testifying in trial about the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA.
Raizner Slania LLP represents dozens of former NCAA athletes who sustained during collegiate play.