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Knight Commission talks student representation

Amid lawsuits and academic scandals, now is a critical moment for college athletics, according to leaders from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

And on Monday, the commission hosted a panel discussion in Miami to discuss the future of college athletics and reforms and priorities.

The meeting focused on ways to ensure the well-being and academic success of college athletics, said Amy Perko, executive director of the commission, which makes recommendations to the NCAA.

UNC-system President Tom Ross attended the meeting as an independent participant.

The NCAA is finalizing the changes to its governing structure, Perko said, and the Knight Commission has recommended that former college athletes should be added to the NCAA’s board as independent directors. The NCAA is considering the recommendation, she said.

Its board is now composed of presidents who are representing the conferences — which Perko said can lead to too much competition and financial self-interest in the decision-making process.

But Ramogi Huma, head of the National Collegiate Players Association who was also at the meeting, said he doesn’t see the addition of players to NCAA’s board as a solution.

“There wouldn’t be enough of the players to even make a difference,” he said. “That’s not a real seat at the table, and that’s not real power.”

The association has endorsed an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA filed by four college athletes on Monday. The lawsuit, which calls the NCAA a cartel, seeks to eliminate the player compensation cap and pay college athletes.

“If you look at how to fix the system, first and foremost, stop violating these players’ rights and build a workable model ... that treats these players as American citizens,” said Huma, who said he is an unpaid advisor in support of the plaintiff.

The Knight Commission has historically been opposed to treating college athletes as professionals, but Huma said he received a positive response from commissioners after he presented proposals to protect players’ publicity and labor rights and create an education trust fund.

He said they agreed with most of his points, with the exception of having a labor union for players.

Perko said there are multiple lawsuits pending that challenge the current system of college athletics. Questions swirl about salaries for student athletes and the line between professionalism and college.

And some of the recommendations that the Knight Commission have made in the past are just now getting attention, she said.

“Many times, large, complex enterprises don’t change on their own and only change when confronted with crises.”

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