FENNO: After more than a decade, Ramogi Huma’s quest to reform NCAA gains traction

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But Huma sees the years of effort, from the courts to public perception, snowballing into unavoidable change.

In September, Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Corporation agreed to pay current and former athletes $40 million to settle a lawsuit over using their likenesses in video games.

Earlier this month, the NCAA and plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing the organization of not doing enough to protect athletes from concussions started mediation. At least three other lawsuits are challenging the NCAA’s hands-off approach to the injuries, too.

Grambling State University football players, dissatisfied with the firing of coach Doug Williams, substandard facilities and poor travel arrangements, boycotted practice, then a game.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken issued a ruling in Ed O’Bannon’s long-running lawsuit against the NCAA that allows current and former athletes to challenge the organization’s prohibition on compensation for athletes.

This is how change is coming, not from another well-paid committee meeting at a Ritz-Carlton, but through hard-fought court cases and legislation and athletes reminding their schools that there are no games without them.

“College sports,” Huma says, “are on the tipping point.”

The NCAA’s magnetic attraction to head-scratching decisions has helped. It wades neck-deep into issues divorced from common sense, while sidestepping real change on issues from scholarships covering the full cost of attendance to deceasing the number of contact days allowed each week for football practices from the current five.

Instead, the NCAA tackles urgent problems like the BYU runner ruled ineligible because he competed in an informal race four years ago. The run involved costumes. Summon the NCAA’s enforcement team.

Or the Colgate basketball player ruled ineligible for participating in a casual church league.

Or the Middle Tennessee State walk-on football player ruled ineligible for playing in a military recreation league while in the Marines.

These are the sacred ideals the NCAA fights to protect.

The ever-growing number of contradictory rulings, meandering investigations and blustery pronouncements by men and women enriching themselves off the multi-billion dollar industry’s fixed-wage product have only injected life into Huma’s efforts. In recent months, attention to the problems, in his mind, resembled an avalanche.

“When we started in 2001, there weren’t many people who understood that college athletes really deserved a closer look,” Huma says. “I feel like the environment is night and day. It’s really hard to find someone who defends the status quo.”

Well, outside of many folks at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. But the hypocrisy is corroding the system they’re trying to preserve.

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