Senators ask NCAA to better protect athletes

Published May. 12, 2014 5:00 p.m. ET

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA's next big challenge could come from federal lawmakers.

A U.S. senate committee sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert urging the governing body and college and university leaders to provide athletes with greater protection from potential ''exploitation'' on college campuses. The letter, obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, called on Emmert and member schools to act.

''We are concerned with the vitality and integrity of amateur sports and the welfare of student-athletes,'' the letter reads. ''In particular, we are concerned that insufficient oversight exists to ensure that the NCAA and its member institutions are taking adequate steps to protect student-athletes from exploitation.''

The letter was signed by three members of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation: West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chairman; Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the chairwoman of the subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety and insurance; and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. All three are Democrats.

The NCAA has not yet commented on the letter.

It's yet another potential problem for college sports' largest governing body.

One group of former college athletes, spearheaded by Ed O'Bannon, is suing the NCAA, seeking payments from the use of their images and likenesses in a video game that brought in millions in profits. Some legal experts think the ruling could change the landscape of college sports. In March, another group of ex-players filed an antitrust suit in New Jersey, claiming the NCAA and the five biggest football conferences have created an ''unlawful cartel'' that illegally restricts the earnings of football and men's basketball players as the governing body and schools profit off their labor.


In February, a National Labor Relations Board regional office granted Northwestern football players the right to unionize after ruling the athletes should be considered school employees. That decision is now under appeal. A vote was held last month, but the results won't be known until after the appeal.

The senators citied both the O'Bannon and the NLRB decision and Emmert's own words in their letter.

''In expressing your opinion about the unionization effort, you were quoted as saying the effort is `a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems that exist in college athletics,''' the letter reads. ''However, if the NCAA were accomplishing its mission of protecting student-athletes from exploitative practices, those efforts would be unnecessary and likely unsuccessful.''

As a result, the committee is asking the NCAA to send information describing what protections are already in place for student-athletes. The documents sought include everything from rules and enforcement policies to summaries of settlements that have been made in all court cases since Jan. 1, 2012.

The committee claims it has jurisdiction over the NCAA because the organization participates in interstate commerce and has oversight over all sports issues. A spokesman for McCaskill said the NCAA is required to respond.

Emmert did just that in November when the committee sought answers to other questions. Apparently, it did nothing to convince the senators the NCAA was doing its primary job.

''While it sheds some light on the current policies and practices related to student-athletes, it also leaves us with the impression that the National College Athletic Association, an organization founded specifically to protect student-athletes from exploitation, in fact defers to member institutions on most matters potentially leaving student-athletes vulnerable to the very abuses the NCAA was created to protect against,'' the senators wrote.

The committee has canceled Wednesday's scheduled hearing, which was intended to promote the well-being and academic success of college athletes. Rockefeller's office said in a release that hearing would be rescheduled following Memorial Day.