- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Four years ago, exasperation crept into the voice of Rep. Linda Sanchez as she faced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a Congressional hearing.

The California Democrat pumped her right arm for emphasis.

“The NFL,” she said, “sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-90s.”

The Big Tobacco comparison, as Sanchez excoriated the commissioner in front of television cameras, remains one of the signature moments of the concussion crisis that swirls through the league.

And the razor-edged words are important to remember after Sanchez’s letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert last week seeking answers about the organization’s paper-thin concussion policy.

“I am writing,” Sanchez wrote, “to express my concern about the increasing number of traumatic brain injuries in college football.”

The innocent-sounding sentence should send a cold shiver down Emmert’s spine.

These are difficult days for the NCAA. The multi-billion dollar organization can’t escape a magnetic attraction to bad publicity. Remember the NCAA-affiliated web site selling jerseys searchable by player name earlier this year? Or Emmert’s boast that if you’re not being sued, you’re not trying?

Add those to the plodding investigations. Head-scratching rulings. Lawsuits pile up, spanning everything from the handling of concussions to allowing athletes to share in the financial windfall generated by their likenesses. An organization choking under 400-plus pages of rules that seem to shift from one case to the next.

The dysfunction has drawn the attention of Congress.

Last week, Rep. Tony Cardenas, California Democrat, and five co-sponsors introduced a bill called “The Collegiate Student Athlete Protection Act.” Based on California’s Student Athlete Bill of Rights, the legislation mandates a package of benefits for athletes at high-revenue schools, from guaranteed four-year scholarships for collision sports to changes in the enforcement process to enhanced education about the long-term dangers from concussions.

In August, Reps. Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, and Joyce Beatty, Ohio Democrat, brought in a separate bill to mandate baseline concussion testing for college athletes, mandate irrevocable four-year scholarships and more.

In an era of partisan gridlock, NCAA reform is an issue that appears to cross party lines.

Sanchez’s letter didn’t draw the same attention as the two pieces of legislation or Sen. Harry Reid’s April comments suggesting Congress investigative the NCAA’s circuitous enforcement process. But the consequences of the six paragraphs are no less important.

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