WASHINGTON -- Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, is spearheading a series of congressional hearings intended to inspire major reforms in the way the NCAA governs its college and university members.
The first hearing occurred yesterday after a news conference by a new group formed to pressure the NCAA into changing its investigation and enforcement procedures.
The Federation for Intercollegiate Fairness and Equity includes college coaches, school administrators, current and former athletes, political leaders and business executives. Some members of the board of directors represent schools punished by the NCAA for rules infractions.
Federation officials charge the NCAA with abuses in its enforcement procedures, especially a lack of due process -- legal fairness -- for school officials and athletes.
They say the NCAA acts as judge and jury, prevents the accused from facing their accusers and often dispenses sanctions long after the supposed violations took place -- and after the culprits have left.
In colorful language, Louisiana State University basketball coach Dale Brown likened the NCAA's tactics to those of Nazis under Hitler. "That's how the Gestapo operates," he said, referring to an NCAA investigation of himself that didn't result in penalties.
McMillen said he supports the goals of the group, though he is not a board member. His hearings are a more broadly targeted investigation of the NCAA.
"College sports is in serious need of reform and the NCAA has not demonstrated the willingness to restructure the model of intercollegiate athletics," he said.
McMillen played pro basketball and starred at the University of Maryland College Park, which is under NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations committed during the tenure of former coach Bob Wade.
McMillen said he's not part of a vendetta. ". . . I believe my alma mater committed some serious violations," he said.
But the federation's endorsement by such NCAA targets as Jerry Tarkanian, basketball coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, has led some college athletics officials to question the organization's motives.
"I think that some of the objectives are self-serving," observed Andy Geiger, Maryland athletic director. "Very often members of the group are interested in or are representatives of the schools that have been penalized.
"I think the NCAA enforcement and infractions procedures need to be reviewed," Geiger said, however. "I think there's not a jury of your peers in the sense we have in the criminal justice system and not the same sort of findings that take place in the civil system . . . we use in the U.S.
"The NCAA is pursuing this itself and has appointed a special committee to review the NCAA enforcement and infractions process," Geiger said. "They will conduct hearings themselves in July and I know the University of Maryland and others are going to seek to be heard at those hearings."
Geiger said he has spoken to McMillen and approves of the congressional hearings. But Geiger said he wants the NCAA itself to undertake reforms and not have to live under new federal and state laws.
Gene Corrigan, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, said he's "all for an investigation, but I'm not leading the charge."
"I think that Dick Schultz [the NCAA executive director] has said he thinks it should undergo a study to decide whether it was carrying out its function as intended," Corrigan said. "I would agree with Dick."
The NCAA's top cop, David Berst, says the organization's enforcement procedures have been evolving for years and changes are made almost every year. But while he would take some of the federation's concerns to heart, he views others as impractical.
"Some of the issues certainly are valid," said Berst, assistant executive director in charge of enforcement. "You have to determine how to address those kinds of issues. The enforcement staff recently began tape-recording the interviews they conduct, which addresses one of the concerns [critics] have.
"But if you, for instance, were to require the NCAA to present live witnesses in a hearing, that is virtually impossible, because the individuals involved in the case come from all over the country," Berst added.
"The NCAA has no subpoena power, no ability to find somebody guilty of perjury, so the attempt to require the enforcement agency to only find people guilty if you can bring everyone to one location to conduct a hearing, in effect, renders enforcement hamstrung, or ineffective.
"Often the process is too slow," Berst acknowledged. "There are a variety of reasons for the time it takes to process the case. But this is something that [concerns] everyone. The answer to that issue, though, is not simply to establish an absolute time period to investigate a case."
Several states have passed or are considering laws to regulate NCAA activities. Florida requires that an investigation be completed within two years, according to Florida State Rep. James E. "Jim" King, a federation board member.