Mitch Daniels Says NCAA Needs Dramatic Reform To Head Off Congress And Courts

05/13/2015 10:48 am ET | Updated May 13, 2015

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels thinks that there’s something wrong with with college sports, and that the NCAA and its member institutions better fix the current system before the courts or Congress fix it for them.

“I’m still hoping that college sports will agree on something pretty bold,” he told The Huffington Post in a sit-down interview last week while discussing changes he would like to see made to the NCAA’s current system.

“‘Cause what I’m worried about is, if we don’t, then some court or legislature, Congress, may do it, and that may mean you really get the wrong answer [to our problems],” he added.

The NCAA and its member institutions have faced increased criticism and a growing pile of lawsuits in recent years over their unwillingness to financially compensate top-flight student-athletes for their time-consuming extracurriculars while providing them an education that has been at times of questionable value.

The former Republican Indiana governor said he’s concerned by those issues and more in Division I sports, particular within the revenue-generating sports, such as paper classes, one-and-done student-athletes and what to do with “the money -- the incredible amounts of money.” (The NCAA brought in nearly $1 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year, and individual programs can bring in tens of millions of dollars on their own, as well.)

“If you aren’t troubled by the state of affairs in Division I … then I think you ought to think about it a little harder,” he said. “There are a lot of problems.”

At top athletic programs, Daniels, who has been President of Purdue University since 2013, believes the term “college basketball” is a bit of a misnomer anyway. In his opinion, they really are pseudo-professional teams attached to universities, in a manner similar to the way teams were once associated with companies.

“That’s kind of what it looks like to me,” he said. “The Wildcats, sponsored by the University of Kentucky. Pay them! I’m not for that, but it would be more honest than what we have now.”

“If somebody says ‘I like Division I basketball just the way it is, Division I revenue sports just they way they are,’ I won’t try to talk them out of it,” he added. “I’d say just do me one favor, just don’t call it college basketball. It’s not what it is.”

The NCAA and other conferences have made some adjustments to their athletic scholarship programs in recent years. Scholarships can now cover a larger number of incidental costs than they did before, and student-athletes can now be provided unlimited meals as a result. The powerhouse Big Ten Conference, of which Purdue is a member, announced in October that it would begin to guarantee four-year scholarships to student-athletes in good standing.

Daniels said there needs to be much more reform than that. But he understands why schools and conferences are so afraid of dramatically altering their Division I programs. Being the first school or conference to do so would almost certainly cost a team wins, he said, something few to no schools want.

“The problem is the unilateral disarmament problem,” he explained. “Somebody’s got to try something, but nobody can try it on their own.”

So until everyone decides to dive into reforming the system all at once, count Daniels among those skeptical that we’ll see significant change anytime soon.

That is, unless the courts or Congress step in.

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