NCAA president Mark Emmert gets an earful from Claire McCaskill in Senate hearing

07/09/2014 6:06 PM

07/09/2014 7:30 PM

Sen. Claire McCaskill is livid about how colleges and universities deal with sexual assault and how some schools turn oversight of cases involving student athletes over to their athletic departments.

McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, speaking during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., took her frustration out on NCAA president Mark Emmert when he cast himself as a figurehead for college athletics, rightfully pointing out that schools make and change the rules.

“I feel sorry for you,” McCaskill said. “I can’t even tell whether you’re in charge or whether you’re a minion (to the universities). If you’re merely a monetary pass-through, why should you even exist?”

Ouch.

A report commissioned by McCaskill found about one quarter of schools across all classifications allow athletic departments to oversee sexual assault allegations involving athletes.

“If you’re a victim and you know the allegation is going to be handled by the athletic department, why in the world would you think the process is going to be fair?” McCaskill said.

College football was rocked last year when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was investigated for an alleged sexual assault of another student. A New York Times report discovered the investigation was conducted by an officer who had done private security work for the school’s booster club.

No charges were filed and Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the BCS National Championship.

McCaskill wasn’t the only committee member with sharp words for Emmert and the NCAA, which is battling challenges on several fronts, including the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that could allow players to control their likenesses and the Northwestern football players’ union movement.

Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller took a bigger view during the hearing, questioning whether the amateur model is sustainable. He told Emmert: “I think I am just very skeptical that the NCAA can ever live up to the lofty mission that you constantly talk about.”

“I don’t see how a multibillion-dollar commercial enterprise can merely be an amateur pursuit,” said Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. “I don’t see how the NCAA will ever be capable of truly making a safe, quality educational experience for students their No. 1 priority.”

Rockefeller said he doesn’t plan to drop the issue. He dropped veiled threats of using subpoena power and the committee’s special investigation unit should the Democrats retain control of the Senate and the NCAA not move forward with reforms.

Near the end of the hearing, which lasted just under three hours, Rockefeller said too much of the hearing was conducted in “self-protection mode.”

“My real feeling from this hearing,” Rockefeller said, “is that we haven’t accomplished much.”

Sen. Cory Booker, a former Stanford running back, also questioned the NCAA’s desire to change.

“We need another hearing, with the real rule makers, the college presidents,” said Booker, a New Jersey Democrat.

But Emmert told the committee that changes were pending, at least among the richest schools. Members of the five biggest conferences, including the Big 12 and SEC, are in the process of remaking their governing structure that will provide more benefits and services to athletes.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlairKerkhoff.

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