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Congress Needs to Legislate, Not Investigate NCAA

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that in response to complaints about the NCAA’s system of enforcement, that Congress should investigate the association:

“Jerry Tarkanian made it into the [basketball] hall of fame,” Mr. Reid said, The Hill reported. “Why didn’t he get in earlier? Because this courageous man took on the NCAA, which has absolute control over college athletes. I would hope as the years go by that we, as a Congress, will take a look at that more closely.”

The NCAA (not to mention the BCS) has been under varying degrees of Congressional investigation before. There have been serious hearings like the one in 2004 into the NCAA’s due process protections. And there have been a string of useless grandstanding hearings since then on a variety of topics including the BCS, NCAA enforcement, and pay-for-play.

Congress’ challenge is not to investigate what the problem is with the NCAA. The problem that Congress could solve, the murky grey area between private corporation and quasi-governmental regulatory agency in which the NCAA sits is well known. No more hearings or testimony or briefing is needed.

The challenge is doing something about it. That means making tough decisions and hard compromises on a number of core issues include the NCAA’s tax exempt status, its antitrust exemption, its investigate power, and its due process obligations.

At the current juncture, the NCAA is probably more ready to make a deal than Congress is. Facing the O’Bannon and concussion lawsuits, the NCAA would probably gladly trade some stronger due process protections in exchange for a broader, statutory antitrust exemption (for starters). The harder part is pushing that deal through Congress in a way that also prevents schools (or a set of schools) from simply replacing the NCAA with another organization not encumbered by these new regulations.

But as it stands currently, Sen. Reid’s threat is empty. It is a bluff the NCAA has called multiple times. Until Congressional investigation of the NCAA leads to legislation (or another investigation that leads to indictments), the NCAA has nothing to fear from Congress and less from state legislatures.

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