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After Penn State scandal, Congress should make NCAA put students, education first

In light of the scandal at Penn State, which reveals how big-time college sports often overwhelm the core values of higher education, Congress should closely examine whether the NCAA is running a not-for-profit enterprise or a commercial entertainment empire.

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Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill stretches during NCAA college football practice in State College, Pa., Aug. 21. Op-ed contributor Allen Sack observes: 'Penn State is obviously not the only university that has compromised core values to defend its interests in revenue-driven sports....College sports has to keep an eye on the bottom line. But profit maximization is not its mission. That message has been lost in recent decades.'

Gene J. Puskar/AP

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In 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held congressional hearings on the fairness of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – the holy grail of college football. At issue was whether it was fair for six major conferences to receive automatic bids to the five most prestigious and financially lucrative bowl games, even if teams from other conferences had better seasons. President Obama even weighed in, saying he favored a playoff over the current system.

Senator Orin Hatch (R) of Utah, a member of the Senate Antitrust Committee, defended government intervention in college sports on the grounds that Congress should not hold colleges and universities to lower standards of fairness and ethical behavior than it would a commercial entity. In other words, when the issue was how to disburse the significant spoils of the college sports industry, Congress did not hesitate to enter the fray.

In November of 2011, a grand jury in central Pennsylvania revealed the worst scandal in college sports history. A report revealed that top leaders at Penn State, including beloved coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, had covered up sexual abuse of children by former Penn State football defensive coach, Jerry Sandusky, in order to protect the PSU football program. This scandal has implications far beyond Penn State and has shaken the ethical foundation of college sports to its very core.

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