Sen. Chris Murphy bluntly criticized the NCAA on Thursday in a report centered on student-athlete education.
"The lack of academic integrity across college sports may be the most insidious piece of a broken system," the report said, noting that student-athletes, who sometimes spend more than 50 hours a week on athletic activities, graduate at significantly lower rates than non-athletes.
In a phone interview this week, Murphy said the new report rebuts NCAA defenders who argue that scholarships make for sufficient athlete compensation.
"The reality is that for many students, especially in the big-time college sports programs, the scholarship is illusory," Murphy said. "They are full-time athletes, and they do not graduate, or if they do graduate they don't get the same education that everyone else gets."
Murphy's report cites the experiences of several former student athletes, including one who says academic advisers completed coursework for him and another who claims he was barred from pursuing his preferred major because, in his words, "I was majoring in football." The report also recaps high-profile academic fraud scandals at North Carolina (where athletes were ushered into sham classes) and Syracuse (where advisers impersonated athletes in emails with professors and completed assignments for them).
Though Murphy said such experiences don't represent all college athletes, he noted disparities in graduation rates between athletes and non-athletes, which are particularly extreme for African-Americans.
"These students are thought of as athletes, not students," Murphy said. "The schools treat them as commodities, through which the school and all of the industries that surround college athletics can make money."
Murphy's report advocates "a reasonable balance" between academic and athletic commitments, accountability for schools that commit academic fraud, guaranteed four-year scholarships and increased transparency around athlete academics.
NCAA officials have long used the value of a scholarship as an argument against allowing players to be paid, maintaining that further compensating athletes would undercut the system's stated educational mission.
"NCAA rules prioritize both academics and athletics," the governing body argues on its website. "Allowing student-athletes to be paid for athletics performance would undermine the balance between the two and detract from the integration of academics and athletics in the campus community."
Murphy, however, said there's no reason the NCAA can't allow athletes to be paid (either by schools or third parties) while also providing quality education.
"I think you can do both," he said. "I think you can compensate student-athletes and dramatically roll back their athletic commitments so that they can spend more time on schoolwork. ... You could turn some of the money back around to these student-athletes in the sports that are making millions of dollars, and you could also make them real students."
Murphy said he was glad the NCAA will consider allowing athletes to profit from their likenesses but hoped the governing body would take further action. If the NCAA remains slow to act, he said, he would consider introducing legislation.
Murphy will lead a panel discussion about academics in major college sports Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in Washington D.C. The event will include National College Players Association president Ramogi Huma, Drexel University economist Ellen Staurowsky, Oklahoma University professor Gerald Gurney and former North Carolina academic adviser (and whistle-blower) Mary Willingham.