IRVING, Texas — Part of the NCAA president’s job is to accept criticism for what many consider an outdated collegiate athletic model. The president is paid handsomely for this.
But what separates this part of the work from what Mark Emmert actually got wrong? Where, along the way, did he lose the faith of his constituency?
As one high-level administrator said, “He lost the practitioners’ locker room.” Then, over the past few weeks and months, his brothers – the college presidents – finally turned against him. Emmert came to the NCAA in November 2010 from the University of Washington, where he had served as president. He had been chancellor of LSU before that. The NCAA’s highest governing body, the Board of Governors, is currently composed entirely of university presidents and chancellors. It was the band that extended Emmert’s contract almost exactly a year ago, following gender equity issues exposed at NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Athletic directors and some conference commissioners were apoplectic on extensionmany lamenting a tenure that was not proactive about the most pressing issues facing college athletics, allowing outside forces to dictate the viability and future of the NCAA.
A year later, most directors echoed Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff’s reaction to the news: “I wasn’t surprised.”
Some admitted they were surprised by the timing of Emmert’s resignation, but not by the outcome. One said few ADs seemed interested in spending time with Emmert at the Men’s Final Four a few weeks ago. Another pointed to him, handing the trophy to Kansas City Jayhawks as yet another example of him putting his foot in his mouth. This person noted that he used to be a good public speaker, but even he seemed less confident in what he was saying in recent months. All he really did was use his pulpit to advocate for Congress to step in and save the day by setting national standards with federal name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation.
“He tried to do some things (at first). He tried to look at full scholarships (cost of attendance)…saying we need to realize we need to expand beyond room, board, books, tuition – the everything,” said Craig, longtime commissioner of Mountain West. Thompson. “It was not easily accepted. Then we all kind of kicked the box and said, “We’re going to find out.” Well, we haven’t figured it out, and it’s in someone else’s hands. It’s going to be difficult to put the toothpaste back in the tube at this point.
“It’s not the fault of one individual. It’s the whole group. It’s everyone.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips added, “We are all responsible.”
“I’m not going to point fingers when I was part of it,” Phillips continued. “I would have liked to see some things a little more clearly. I think we all feel that. … But I know we all believe it’s worth fighting for. It’s about access and opportunity for a group of young people who may not be able to go to university without scholarships or the possibility of playing a sport.
“We’re in a tough spot, but it’s incumbent on us to find solutions to what modernizing college athletics looks like. We are not going to go back to the past. »
Over the years, Emmert has often emphasized that he is the president of a member-driven organization and that it takes broad consensus to change rules or change policies. He’s right, but campus leaders always thought there was more to the kind of role he held. You may not be able to force voters to vote a certain way, but you can bring them to a consensus. You can prioritize certain issues. You can communicate clearly and frequently – something students on campus said Emmert never really did beyond his inner circle. When Emmert announced the cancellation of the NCAA Fall Championships in the summer of 2020, many coaches and ADs were caught off guard by the decision and learned about it on Twitter.
Not everything that has happened over the past decade was necessarily predestined or inevitable. So where did the disillusionment with Emmert specifically begin? When did it become too much?
Ask this question, and you will get many different answers. There were early missteps, such as the NCAA’s overreach in the Penn State sex abuse scandal, sanctions that the organization had to roll back. The overall obstructive legal strategy included appealing a relatively favorable decision regarding education-related athlete compensation caps to the Supreme Court, which led to a resounding and embarrassing 9-0 NCAA loss to Alston. Many would also point to his passive approach to leadership during the pandemic-induced uncertainty of summer 2020, which led to disjointed decision-making by the conferences themselves and a lack of communication between the national office and the leagues. in their whole. Or a passing reply to the 2021 women’s basketball tournamentan event which, according to an outside law firm, was deeply undervalued.
The NCAA’s failure to stand before NIL reform will haunt the organization for years to come, as the floodgates opened in July 2021 with no real NCAA legislation in place to standardize or regulate the behavior. The organization’s enforcement arm has also failed, as recall groups have sprung up across the country to pool resources to pay rookies, challenging the NCAA to enforce one of its core principles. : no payment for the game. Maybe if the NCAA had wrapped its arms around NIL preemptively years ago, it wouldn’t have such a big target on its back now.
“Perhaps we should have been more proactive a while ago,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said. “It’s a law of unintended consequences.”
Thompson pointed out that the schools in his conference aren’t all the same in terms of resources or how they operate — and that’s just 12 schools. Attempting to run an organization of over 1,000 members in three very different divisions is obviously a challenge.
“I think the NCAA is a trade organization that represents many schools that belong to different companies and different business models,” Kliavkoff said. “I can’t imagine a trade organization as large as the NCAA in its current structure remaining intact.”
But that dynamic is also what has led the NCAA to the inflection point where it currently finds itself. The Supreme Court’s decision, other legal challenges, and state and federal lawmakers have exerted tremendous outside pressure. Inside, many administrators have been calling for governance and rules reform for years. Emmert himself announced that the NCAA was to begin a process of decentralizing its authority last summer, relying instead on conferences and individual schools to limit legal exposure and allow those who govern sports academics to react more quickly.
“Hopefully we can decide for ourselves as many things as possible,” said MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. “Obviously (some) have been identified for us by other constituencies that we need to be closely tied to. It will be a marriage of all of these things.
The Division I Transformation Committee is tasked with determining which rules should be up to the leagues, such as scholarship limits in sports like baseball, and which rules should remain national, such as certification of eligibility. The group, chaired by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio Athletic Director Julie Cromer, essentially charts the course for what college sports can and will move forward. Are academics still linked to the sporting mission? Does the NCAA only organize championships? What requirements must members meet to stay connected to each other?
“We wouldn’t be here if everything was easy,” Sankey said. “In a way, we dealt with a lot of easy issues and pushed back the difficult ones. That’s why some of these challenges arise.
The next NCAA president will have to face them more head-on than Emmert. He or she cannot simply be a lightning rod for public criticism or a talking head at a Capitol hearing. The future of the college athletic enterprise hangs in the balance.
(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)