Reid: Congress should investigate NCAA's 'absolute' power

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday said Congress should investigate the NCAA over long-running complaints about its enforcement process.

Reid is a fervent fan of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), which was sanctioned by the NCAA in the mid 1970s for recruiting and other violations.

Jerry Tarkanian, who was then the coach of UNLV’s basketball team, sued the NCAA for depriving him of property and liberty without due process. The recruiting violations initially investigated by the NCAA occurred before Tarkanian was hired as head coach in 1973, but NCAA investigators faulted him for not fully cooperating with their probe.

“Jerry Tarkanian made it into the [basketball] hall of fame. Why didn’t he get in earlier? Because this courageous man took on the NCAA, which has absolute control over college athletes. I would hope as the years go by that we, as a Congress, will take a look at that more closely,” Reid said.

Tarkanian was invited Monday afternoon to join the Naismith Hall of Fame. He won 729 games over a coaching career that spanned more than three decades.

The Supreme Court of Nevada ruled that the NCAA had violated Tarkanian’s rights and blocked it from enforcing sanctions against the coach.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state court’s injunction. In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled the NCAA had not violated Tarkanian’s rights because it was not a state actor. It did not have any power to issue subpoenas and UNLV could have left the association.

In a column published last year, Joe Nocera of The New York Times highlighted former SUNY Buffalo basketball coach Tim Cohane’s protracted legal battle with the NCAA.

Cohane claims his former players were coerced by the university to implicate him of violating NCAA rules, something the NCAA was aware of but did nothing to remedy.

“I have wondered, more than once, how an organization as powerful as the NCAA can deprive one group of students — ‘student-athletes,’ as the NCAA insists on calling them — of rights that every other university student, and for that matter, every other American, assumes are his as a matter of course,” Nocera wrote.