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

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But so far, there has been no outrage from the White House, no call for a congressional hearing. Yet nothing I can think of would provide greater leverage for getting the NCAA to pass rules that truly put educational and ethical values above its current obsession with building a commercial entertainment empire. Such a congressional hearing is long overdue.

The NCAA and its member institutions are the architects of the “athletic culture” that by NCAA President Mark Emmert’s own admission has become “too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge.” As recently as 2006, former NCAA president Myles Brand extolled the virtues of commercialism in collegiate sport in his State of the Association Address. What he did not explain was how to keep the profit-hungry monster from devouring education.

In universities that dominate the race for the college athletics pot of gold, celebrity coaches and their entourage of athletic boosters, alumni, and sports-addicted board members have gained considerable influence over university governance issues, especially in the area of athletic policy. College presidents, who are supposed to run the NCAA, are often more concerned with keeping these constituencies happy than defending academic integrity – or in the case of Penn State, the welfare of children.

Penn State is obviously not the only university that has compromised core values to defend its interests in revenue-driven sports. To become athletically competitive, universities routinely recruit athletes who do not meet minimum admission standards and strip them of their scholarships if they are injured or fail to meet coaches’ expectations. Academic fraud is rampant. Faculty who blow the whistle on such practices are often ostracized and sometimes fired.

The only way the NCAA will cure the problems endemic to commercialized college sports is by actually following its stated mission of “maintaining athletes as an integral part of the student body and retaining a clear line of demarcation between collegiate and professional 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.

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