Rep. Bobby Rush: NCAA is dirty, ‘would make the mob look like choirboys’

David Cassilo Contributor
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Issuing a call for Congress to involve itself in monitoring college sports, Democratic Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush said the NCAA “would make the mob look like choirboys.”

“I have this innate understanding of the NCAA, and I think it is one of the most vicious, most ruthless organizations that was created by mankind,” Rush said Tuesday during a roundtable discussion he organized.

Rush, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, organized the event on Capitol Hill to examine the NCAA’s problems. Among the items on the agenda were recruiting, financial compensation for athletes and scholarship terms.

While no plan or timetable was set for future congressional discussions, Rush all but guaranteed that changes were to come.

“It might not be this year, it might not be next year, but ultimately we’re going to get to this,” Rush said.

ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap moderated a panel including NBA players Shane Battier and Thaddeus Young. The group spent much of the day discussing the NCAA’s recent decision to allow schools to provide athletes with an optional $2,000 stipend.

While Ramogi Huma, head of the National Collegiate Players Association, said that the stipend was a step in the right direction, he and the rest of the panel agreed it was not enough to cover the difference between the financial needs of most student-athletes and the value of their athletic scholarships. (RELATED: NCAA inches toward paying student athletes)

“We know that the amount of shortfall is an excess of $3,000,” said Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent who admitted in 2010 that he paid college players. “It’s like throwing a guy on a 10-story burning building a three-story ladder.”

By making the stipend optional, only schools from bigger conferences with more revenue would choose to do it, Huma warned. He suggested giving student athletes some of the $150 million that schools get from success in postseason play.

“Whoever happens to get into the tournament and do the best, they get money just for the sake of getting money,” Huma explained. “It has nothing to do with education whatsoever.”

Battier said the optional stipend was not a “game changer,” instead suggesting a guarantee of four-year scholarships and the ability to pursue a free post-graduate degree.

“Everything doesn’t have to be about dollars.,” Battier said. “Let’s get innovative.”

Battier, who graduated from Duke University in 2001, knew from the moment he saw all the high-priced amenities on campus that a lot of money was changing hands.

“This isn’t about throwing a ball through a hoop anymore,” he said. “This isn’t about running for touchdowns. This is big business.”

Andy Schwarz, a managing partner at OSKR, a law firm based in California that specializes in sports, antitrust, entertainment and intellectual property, said the six major Division I athletic conferences make $1.3 billion annually.

The average athletic scholarship still falls short of a player’s total expenses. The result, panelists suggested, is a black market system that leads to scandal.

“The system is set up for these players to fail,” Luchs said. “This is where guys like me are able to step in and fill in the gap.”

The players have little say in the manner, but Congress has slowly gotten involved.

In mid-October, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to urge congressional involvement in the NCAA’s problems.

“I think we can stop it,” said Conyers, who was on the panel. “That’s why Chairman Rush and I are here.”

A precedent already exists for impacting the NCAA. Congress approved Title IX, which prohibits discrimination at college campuses on the basis of gender, in 1972.

The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.