UNC's Ramsay: NCAA doesn't protect student-athletes
Posted July 9, 2014
Updated July 10, 2014
In a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football player Devon Ramsay detailed the experience that saw him lose then regain eligibility under suspicion of academic fraud.
Ramsay was one of 14 UNC players held out of games during the 2010 season as the NCAA investigated the football program. He was ruled ineligible in November 2010 before being reinstated in February 2011. In its ruling reinstating Ramsay, the NCAA said he did not violate any rules.
"The NCAA as an institution no longer protects the student athlete," Ramsay said after a detailed account of his navigation, with little support, of the NCAA violation procedure.
Eventually, former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr took on Ramsay's case and helped him get reinstated. "It terrifies me," Ramsay said of student-athletes who lacked similar support.
In his introductory remarks, committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, questioned the NCAA's commitment to amateurism, saying, "There is a growing perception that college athletics, particularly Division 1 football and basketball, are not an avocation at all ... It's about capturing the billions of dollars that these sports generate."
Ramsay was one of two former student-athletes on the panel, and he told senators that a key regret of his college career had been the inability to do an internship which would help him prepare for a post-football career.
"At a competitive football school, completing an internship is almost impossible," he said.
Guests at the hearing were NCAA President Mark Emmert, Richard Southall, associate professor of the Department of Sport and Entertainment and director of the University of South Carolina's College Sport Research Institute, author and historian Taylor Branch, Myron Laurent Rolle, a student at Florida State University College of Medicine, Rhodes Scholar and former FSU football player and William Bradshaw, former director of athletics at Temple University.
Southall agreed with Ramsay's take on the time constraints on college athletes, noting that advisers often steer athletes to courses and majors that balance with the need for travel, workouts and practices. "Athletes are physically and socially isolated from the institution," he said.
After each man gave a brief statement about his athletic history and experience with the NCAA, Rockefeller and the others on the committee honed in on Emmert.
"I am just very skeptical that the NCAA can ever live up to the lofty mission that you talk about," Rockefeller told Emmert. "My cynical self says universities like things the way they are because they are making a ton of money."
Emmert outlined changes he wants to see in how student-athletes are treated, but conceded that his role as president wields no real power.
"The NCAA is a democratically-governed, membership-led organization," he said before listing six key reforms that the NCAA board is pushing. They are:
- Offering a "scholarship for life," so that student-athletes can complete a bachelor's degree even after their eligibility runs out.
- Offering scholarships to cover what Emmert described as the "full and actual cost of attendance, not simply tuition, room and board, books and supplies."
- Leadership in the realm of health and safety.
- Closing gaps in health insurance and injury coverage for student-athletes.
- Sex assault prevention and support for victims.
- Provide time and resources for athletes to take advantage of all opportunities on college campuses
Emmert concluded, saying that any changes must not come at cost to female athletes supported by Title IX and student-athletes in non-revenue sports.
The harshest criticism of the status quo came from Branch, who likened the NCAA and big-time college programs to "a distorted cartel."
"The NCAA and schools strip rights from athletes uniquely as a class. No freedom should be abridged because of athletic status," he said.
Emmert expressed confidence that changes he proposed would be widely adopted. He noted a recent rule change that allows universities to offer multi-year scholarships.
"College sports should be appropriately self-governed," Emmert said. "We're going to see whether that system works. I have confidence. This hearing is a useful cattle prod."
Rockefeller emphasized that questions about big-time college sports are not going away. "We have jurisdiction over sports, all sports," he said. "We have ability to subpoena. We're very into this subject."