A bipartisan group of senators grilled the head of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Wednesday after a survey revealed many colleges allow their athletic departments to oversee sexual assault cases involving student athletes.
NCAA President Mark Emmert agreed it was "spot on" that athletic department oversight of sexual violence investigations may deter victims from coming forward. But he resisted senators' calls for immediate change, saying he wants to study the results of a survey released Wednesday showing one in five schools allow athletic departments to control sexual violence cases involving athletes.
"I think it creates an enormous amount of conflicts of interest," Emmert told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. "I think this is something that needs to be addressed."
But when Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Emmert to commit to removing athletic department influence from athlete rape cases, the NCAA leader balked.
"I want to understand the data more," Emmert said. "I'm not sure what the facts are on those campuses."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who released the survey results, told The Huffington Post that allowing athletic department oversight of assault cases was "borderline outrageous" and said she didn't understand why the NCAA has not provided more guidance on athletes and sexual violence.
According to McCaskill's survey, 30 percent of public colleges allow athletic department oversight of sexual violence cases involving athletes. Forty-eight percent of NCAA Division II schools allow such oversight, as do 27 percent of Division III institutions and 18 percent of Division I universities. The NCAA regulates athletes and athletic programs at most major U.S. colleges and universities.
Emmert called the survey findings "outrageous" and said an NCAA task force aims to provide further guidance on sexual violence this summer.
"The notion that you can't forcibly state, 'I will go after this,' I don't sense that you feel like you have any control over this situation," McCaskill told Emmert. "And if you have no control, if you're merely a monetary go-through, why should you even exist?"
Emmert responded he can "set the tone on it" and said he would "go and make sure this issue is addressed."
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) both called the athletic department conflict "ridiculous."
"You've got to fix that right away," Ayotte declared to Emmert. "The athletic department is not where you handle these allegations, Dr. Emmert. Walk out the door and fix that."
Emmert had been called to the Senate hearing to discuss college athletes' well-being, and most of the questions centered around scholarships and benefits provided to student players.
Kathy Redmond, director of the Denver-based National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, told The Huffington Post she has met with Emmert and other NCAA officials about cracking down on sexual assault among athletes, but said the sports organization claimed it's not an arm of the government with an obligation to investigate improprieties.
Redmond, who started her organization after she was assaulted by an athlete, said she wasn't surprised by the McCaskill survey findings.
"If anyone thinks the academic side of the university has power over the athletic department, they're crazy," Redmond said. "So whatever that athletic department wants, they'll get. If it means they'll have to intervene with a Title IX investigation, they'll do that."
The NCAA can investigate colleges for lack of institutional control, as it did with sex abuse allegations at the University of Montana and threatened to at Penn State University, though it has not done so at Florida State University, mentioned during Wednesday's hearing. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping a fellow student, but the university failed to properly investigate, according to a lengthy New York Times article.
"Short of [Winston's reported victim] suing the NCAA, they're not going to change," Redmond said. "There needs to be a lawsuit against them."