WASHINGTON — A Democratic congressman compared the NCAA to the Mafia over how it controls the lives of student athletes.
“I think they’re just one of the most vicious, most ruthless organizations ever created by mankind,” Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush said of the NCAA at a congressional forum on college sports on Tuesday. “I think you would compare the NCAA to Al Capone and to the Mafia.”
Rush made the accusations at the forum called to look at the impact of “back-room deals, payoffs and scandals” in college sports. The congressman spoke after hearing from a couple of mothers of former student-athletes who complained of ill treatment by schools after their sons suffered injuries.
“Congressman Rush obviously doesn’t know the NCAA,” Bob Williams, a spokesman for the organization, said in an e-mail message Tuesday night. “The NCAA and its member institutions provide over $2 billion per year in scholarships, financial assistance and academic support to student-athletes … second only to the federal government. Student-athlete success is our mission.”
One mother, Valerie Hardrick, said the University of Oklahoma refused to grant a waiver for medical hardship that would allow her son, Kyle Hardrick, to play basketball at junior college after transferring from OU. Prior to Tuesday’s forum, Hardrick’s family provided the Associated Press with documentation showing that team doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus in his knee and wrote down on practice logs that he should be held out because he was hurt. Hardrick’s family said the university has refused to pursue the waiver unless the family agreed to a settlement that would prohibit him or his family members from enrolling at Oklahoma or any of the universities governed by its board of regents. The proposed settlement also would prevent the Hardricks from filing a lawsuit against the university.
“My insurance does not cover all of Kyle’s medical bills,” an emotional Valerie Hardrick said. “The University of Oklahoma refused to pay for Kyle’s surgery, his rehab, and his medication. The university actions also allowed Kyle to be released without appropriate medical treatment before consulting his original surgeon.”
Kyle Hardrick, a forward who played a total of six minutes during his two seasons with the Sooners, said he has since transferred to a community college in Kansas but is unable to play without the waiver.
Jeff Capel, Hardrick’s coach at OU, wrote a letter on behalf of Hardrick in September saying a medical hardship waiver is justified in his case. Capel was fired after last season and is now an assistant coach at Duke.
In response to phone and e-mail messages left for Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, the university issued a statement late Tuesday night saying it had informed the Hardricks it “would facilitate the opportunity” for the family to seek a hardship waiver and asserting it had “acted responsibly in this matter.”
Oklahoma pointed out that any NCAA institution where Hardrick would transfer also could apply for a waiver. However, he has instead transferred to the junior college level, which is not governed by the NCAA.
Oklahoma’s statement indicated that athletic officials could not discuss Hardrick’s case in detail because of student privacy guidelines.
The NCAA requires schools to certify that an athlete has insurance coverage for athletic-related injuries, up to the deductible of the NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program (currently $90,000). The insurance coverage can be offered by the school, a parent or a personal policy of the athlete.
Two NBA players also participated in the forum, Thaddeus Young of the Philadelphia 76ers and Shane Battier, a free agent who last played with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Young, who went pro after one year at Georgia Tech, presented one of the few positive accounts of college sports at the forum.
“Georgia Tech is a tremendously hard and difficult school, so they definitely put more time into academics than basketball,” he said. “The teachers they don’t care if you’re a student-athlete, they just care about students.”
Battier described a college regimen at Duke that included a workout at 6:30 a.m., followed by classes, practice between 4 and 7:30 p.m., and wrapping up schoolwork at 11:30 p.m. or midnight.
“It is a full-time job,” he said.
Battier called the NCAA’s decision last week to allow conferences to provide student-athletes up to $2,000 in spending money “a great start.”
“Is that a game-changer? No. What is a game-changer? A game-changer is guaranteeing four-year scholarships. That’s a game-changer,” Battier said. “A game-changer is, ‘If you commit to our school, and you graduate, we will pay for any graduate degree that you would like to pursue.’ ”
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, called the $2,000 a step in the right direction. But he said it shouldn’t be optional, and that it still leaves a shortfall. His group has calculated the average scholarship shortfall for men’s basketball and football at the Football Bowl Subdivision level at around $3,200.
With just a push at five schools, the NCPA recently got more than 300 major college football and men’s basketball players to sign a petition telling the NCAA and college presidents they want a cut of ever-increasing TV sports revenue.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this story.