October 6, 2017
What Does Congress Do About the Latest NCAA Scandal?
In late September, college basketball was struck by a scandal that has engulfed some of the most prominent names in the sport, and could – if the allegations hold up – become the most widespread and consequential case of wrongdoing in the history of college athletics. Colleges and universities, apparel companies, business and financial advisors, sports agents, and coaches at the college and amateur level have been swept up in a federal investigation related to fraud and corruption charges surrounding alleged payments made to college athletes.
The investigation by federal authorities, which remains active, has the potential to expand substantially and implicate many others involved in the scheme. If proven true, the allegations and resulting penalties will have wide-ranging implications for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Adidas, and the universities involved, among others, and may forever alter the business of college athletics.
The U.S. Congress quickly seized on the announcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, requesting a briefing from the NCAA and apparel companies involved. Committee leaders Greg Walden (R-OR) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) put out a joint statement saying “in addition to any criminal activities, these allegations raise concerns about the effects of these predatory schemes on youth athletes and how hidden financial connections between advertisers and endorsers influence young consumers.” Congressional hearings involving testimony from representatives of the NCAA, Adidas, and universities involved are all but inevitable.
Congress maintains wide latitude should it want to delve deeper into the controversy, and has a long history of scrutinizing corruption and scandal in sports. Congressional hearings involving high-profile athletes or sports league executives generate a frenzied atmosphere in the halls of Congress and wide media attention across the country. The testimony that results from these hearings can be a defining moment with long-lasting consequences. In the case of former Major League Baseball player Rafael Palmeiro, who aggressively and definitively denied using banned substances during congressional testimony only to test positive for steroids several months later, his image because of the hearing has never quite recovered.
It is imperative that representatives of the NCAA, Adidas, the universities, and others called before Congress understand fully the ramifications of their testimony. There is little margin for error as these hearings are assured to be well attended, well televised, and heavily scrutinized.