Why Hasn't Congress Investigated Corruption in the NCAA?

PED use in baseball merited a Congressional hearing. A similar investigation should be probing into educational institutions' use of athletics and athletes for profit.
Frank Franklin II / AP

Shabazz Napier is the enormously gifted guard for the University of Connecticut who led his team to another national basketball championship Monday night. But before that, Napier spoke to the Connecticut Mirror about the Northwestern University athletes' attempt to create a union, and said the athletic scholarship is the only compensation allowed by the NCAA. "At the end of the day, that doesn't cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don't have enough money to get food and sometimes money is needed," he said. "There are hungry nights that I go to bed and I am starving. So something can change, something should change."

Wow. It turns out that NCAA rules allow institutions to provide one meal a day to athletes, along with snacks. That merely underscores how tilted college athletics are toward the institutions and away from the athletes—at least those shaping the big-money sports like football and basketball—and how much change is needed, especially at the NCAA, which is thoroughly corrupt from the top down.

A couple of weeks ago, the usually astute Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote disdainfully of the move toward a union, saying athletes are "highly privileged scholarship winners who get a lot of valuable stuff for free. This includes first-rate training in the habits of high achievement, cool gear, unlimited academic tutoring for gratis, and world-class medical care that no one else has access to." Apparently it also includes starvation diets for poor kids who come to college without any money. And the "unlimited academic tutoring" apparently led to the 8 percent graduation rate for these privileged athletes at UConn, which actually got the program suspended a year ago because the rate was so abysmal, and led no doubt to wonderful academic preparation for the "one and out" freshman class who have made many millions of dollars for Kentucky coach John Calipari. Not to mention the pathetic one-paragraph "research paper" written by a University of North Carolina athlete that was all over Twitter a few weeks ago.

Shabazz Napier is a role model who stayed for four years and will presumably push up UConn's graduation rate from the truly pathetic to the barely acceptable. And, despite his 6-foot-1-inch height, his consummate skills as a ball handler and field general will likely make him a rich man in professional basketball. But the fact is, most of those playing college basketball or football will not make millions in the pros, and many will not graduate with the skills and training that a college education should provide for entry into the workforce. These young people are far more among the exploited than they are among the "highly privileged" getting wonderful benefits for the work they put in.

When NCAA President Mark Emmert talks piously of "student-athletes," it is ludicrous. There are many genuine student-athletes, especially in sports like soccer, crew, tennis, and lacrosse, who don't generate millions in revenue for their schools and the NCAA. And there are certainly student-athletes among the football and basketball players as well. But large numbers of them are athletes who are designated as students yet who never graduate, and in many cases they leave without basic skills. The poor ones can starve, yes, while the schools and Emmert and his colleagues make many millions off their talents.

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Norm Ornstein is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. More

Ornstein served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also serves as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future; The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann; and, most recently the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann.

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