Congressional scrutiny of the NCAA's handling of athletics is growing, with members of Congress asking pointed questions of top officials over the treatment and benefits offered to student-athletes.
As bills emerge to force colleges and universities to make good on scholarships that cover four years of education -- and as legal challenges seek financial rewards and union rights for athletes -- NCAA officials should stand warned that lawmakers are pressing for action to address perceived inequities, Rep. Tony Cardenas said in the latest episode of the ESPN podcast Capital Games.
"We're hearing from young people who say, 'Well, as soon as I got hurt, all of a sudden my scholarship was gone and I didn't have the wherewithal to finish school,'" said Cardenas, D-Calif., a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"Right now it appears that they are treating our questions as noise," Cardenas said Tuesday. "We haven't had any formal answers from them. The communication has been minuscule."
According to an NCAA spokesperson, the NCAA provided its written response to Cardenas on June 13, after the interview for the Capital Games podcast was conducted. A spokesman for Cardenas confirmed that the response has been sent, but said Cardenas' office is reviewing and analyzing the answers before releasing the letter
NCAA president Mark Emmert declined a request to appear on the podcast.
Even as the NCAA has been criticized as being slow to act, some of the most powerful athletic conferences have begun discussing reform packages that would remake the relationships between institutions and athletes. Commissioners of two of the most influential athletic conferences -- Jim Delany of the Big Ten and Larry Scott of the Pac-12 -- said they are confident about the prospects of instituting reforms from within.
Delany and Scott said they are confident a series of NCAA reforms granting the power five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) more autonomy and voting privileges will pass in August. Delany said if he were a bettor, he would say it's more likely to pass than not and that the change will likely take 12 to 18 months to occur.
Congressional scrutiny, he said, will "force us to face up to the changes that would be healthy for our athletes and for our schools and for the public."
"It's been very difficult to get us the authority to do more and spend more on student-athletes, but I believe in August we're going to get a vote of the NCAA board that allows us to do that," Delany said. "I think there will be an expectation that we do present a big package of change. And I'd be disappointed if we don't make progress in that area in what I would describe for NCAA terms pretty quickly."
Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, agreed with Delany's assessment.
"Based on the progress that the conferences are making with the NCAA, there's really a clear path forward for the five conferences as well as our peers to conduct a very significant reform process," he said. "So my view would be I hope it's not necessary for Congress to spend their time on this."