Jenkins: Who can fix college sports problems? Not the guys who caused ‘em!

Sally Jenkins

It’s an adage that you can’t help people who won’t help themselves, and NCAA administrators fall into the category of staggering drunks who won’t let go of the bottle. The NCAA has supposedly “overhauled” itself and formed a new governance structure in the name of reform, naming a 40-seat council to govern Division I college athletics. Guess how many actual faculty were appointed to serve on it? Three.

That’s right. The body in charge of reform, of curing the NCAA of its academic scandals and overseeing sports on college campuses will have just three actual professors – you know, teachers, that sort of person.

But you know what the new council has a whole lot of? Athletic directors, those glorified ticket managers and occasional pocket-pickers known as athletic directors – 27 of them to be precise. In addition, there are four conference commissioners, those plunderers known for their values and commitment to higher education. Let’s take a headcount: Of the 40 council members in charge of guiding the NCAA through its current morals crisis, 31 of them are athletic directors or conference apparatchiks, who got their schools into this mess in the first place. Oh, and by the way, 30 of them are men.

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What a reform-minded group.

“Is this an appropriate configuration for the chief policy-setting body for Division I?” a group of faculty from the 125 schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision asked in an open letter released Dec. 5. “Does it reflect a commitment to the collegiate model?”

Um, no.

This council was supposed to be the NCAA’s attempt to get a grip on the problems plaguing it, from grade fraud to athlete exploitation. The 40-member concept was the brainchild of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, a group of 24 power brokers who are mostly presidents and chancellors. The only problem with this brilliant design? These NCAA leaders don’t want reform, not really; they want to protect and hoard their bowl game money to cover athletic department deficits, and profit-skim from the athletes. The council makeup was therefore heavily weighted: 32 seats were pre-designated to go to representatives nominated by conference schools.

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Guess what happened? The first raft of nominees submitted was so dominated by white male athletic directors that even the NCAA board of directors was embarrassed by it. On Oct. 30, board chair Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest ordered the schools to submit a list with more “diversity.”

This is their attempt to do better.

What’s so amazing about the NCAA’s death wish is that it made these council appointments in the same week that Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., the ranking member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced a bill that would let Congress seize control of college athletics from the NCAA. The bill calls for a blue ribbon commission made up of members of Congress plus education experts to study measures to reform the NCAA legislatively.

“Recent scandals involving intercollegiate athletics programs at a number of the nation’s most prestigious institutions reveal the absence of policy and practice that would ensure a level of academic integrity, athlete welfare, and financial soundness appropriate for non-profit institutions of higher education,” Moran said.

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Moran is not a lone wolf. He appears to have the support of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and who hinted in a hearing last summer that Congress might intervene.

The faculty members asked in their letter Friday for the NCAA board of directors to step in and cure the makeup of the council. Fat chance. It was the NCAA board that mandated that at least 60-percent of the council be filled by athletic directors in the first place. Anything it does at this point will just be more tokenism.

What chance does such a council have of addressing the following problems, identified by Moran? In 40 states, the highest-paid public employee is the state university’s head football or basketball coach? The average financial loss among the five power conferences was $2.3 million in 2013, and universities had to cover these shortfalls with institutional funds. Just 20 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision posted revenues exceeding expenses. And these schools graduate players at a rate 20 points below their male peers on campus.

Athletic directors are not the people who can solve these problems. They are the people who created them.

Fort Worth native Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. Contact her at