Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, March 29, 2012
Q&A: NCAA president Mark Emmert

By Eamonn Brennan

ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan spoke with NCAA president Mark Emmert in Phoenix last week about a wide range of topics, including compensating student-athletes and the APR appeals process.

It seems like this, and other stuff you've done -- I know you were on Mike & Mike and in Bristol last week.

Mark Emmert: Yeah, I did the whole car wash treatment.

Right -- there seems to be a concerted effort to be more proactive [with the media], to get the message out a little more than past administrations. Is that a fair statement?

Emmert: I can't speak to the past, but there has historically been an impression that the NCAA is sort of a black box and impermeable. I want to make sure that's not the case. I want to make sure we're being as transparent and open as we can be about what we do, why we do it, how we're doing it, what the facts are, and for me that's been a very useful approach all my career and it certainly makes sense here.

Mark Emmert
NCAA president Mark Emmert is making an effort to be more transparent regarding the way the NCAA operates.
You came in a tumultuous time for the NCAA. If you had to pick one, what has been the most difficult challenge since you started your tenure?

Emmert: It's not any one incident as much as it is the moment in time in college sports. There's more, I guess, critique and concern about college sports than any time in the past 20 years or so. There's more misunderstanding about what the real facts are and aren't. There are more collisions between the collegiate and the commercial models than before. So I think's it the whole environment right now is very challenging.

Because at the same time, we've got these extraordinarily positive things going on. The game we just watched [Florida-Louisville on Saturday] is a great example of it. Best graduation rates in history, more people being attentive to college sports than ever, more people participating in college sports than ever, so you've got this in one sense best of times worst of times thing, and it's that dichotomy that I think is the most challenging.

This is the one question right now that I hear most [from fans], and it's pretty blunt: Why can't college athletes be paid? Or, why is it the position of the NCAA that college athletes shouldn't be paid?

Emmert: Because this is about a model completely different than professional athletics. College athletics has always been about college students who happen to be athletes. Indeed, the NCAA was created over one hundred years ago to prevent that professionalization of the sport, to differentiate it from professional athletics. The whole notion is that these are young men and young women who come to universities, who play athletics avocationally and represent their schools. When you convert those student-athletes into professional athletes, then they're virtually no different than NBA and NFL or MLB.

That's all fine. I have nothing against those professional sports. But college sport has always been intended to be something quite different.

What are your thoughts, or the NCAA's stance, on an Olympics-style model, where amateurism still exists in some form but athletes are allowed to go outside and secure endorsements?

Emmert: The problem is the analogy doesn't work. It's one people like to use, but we have two responsibilities here. One is to make sure that student-athletes are students and athletes, and we work on that collegiate model. The other is to provide a level of competitive fairness across institutions and conference that makes sense. That doesn't happen at all in the Olympics. When a young man or woman is trying out for the Olympic rowing team, the Swedes aren't over here recruiting them. If they're an American, they're an American. They row for America. That's that.

Imagine if you were going to have sponsorships in oh, let's just say, the state of Alabama. Do you think there might be competition between sponsorships between Auburn and Alabama? Or between Michigan and Ohio State? Or between Texas and Oklahoma? You would immediately convert it into a professional model, with students going to the highest bidder. And then they're no longer student-athletes, they're professionals.

One thing I think most people have supported is the idea of making the APR more punitive -- that if the grades aren't there, you shouldn't be in the NCAA tournament. The first real high-profile school to be affected by that is Connecticut. It's been public about its desire for an appeals process. Should that be a possibility?

Emmert: There is an appeals process. They've made one appeal, and they're going to submit their second and final appeal on this coming Monday. Monday, I assume, they will file another appeal. That will go to the Committee on Academic Performance -- CAP, as the acronym is called -- and then they'll make a final ruling on their eligibility.

What are the different things that would affect an appeal like that? The APR seems sort of cut and dry -- your APR was bad, that's the rule, deal with it.

Emmert: Well, this is a new rule. This will be one of the first rulings on it. The committee will have to consider what things can or not be considered as mitigating factors in that performance. So this is completely different than an infractions case, because this is about qualification. What the board and the CAP said last fall was going forward, teams have to qualify two ways -- they have to qualify on the court or the field and they have to qualify in the classroom. One is not sufficient. You have to do both. So the committee will consider Connecticut or anyone else's appeals and whether there are any mitigating factors or whether their score should be considered differently for some reason.

It seems like pretty much everyone agrees the rule book needs to be trimmed down and simplified, made easier to understand. What about the structure of the NCAA in general? It doesn't seem like most people understand the various committees and processes -- the way the NCAA works. Is that a desire of yours, that you'd like to see simplified?

Emmert: It's certainly desirable around the enforcement process, where there seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. We've got working right now two parallel committees -- I've called them working groups -- a group of presidents and ADs and coaches and athletes and faculty reps that I appointed to look at the rules. We're working our way through shortening and shrinking the rule book around some very principles, of getting rid of things that extraneous, unenforceable, that are largely irrelevant, focusing on the things that count.

The second group is looking at how we can make the investigation and enforcement and penalty structure easier to understand, simpler, as consistent as can be. They're looking at, for example -- and this is my language, not theirs -- at a sentencing guidelines if you will, that if you're in this category, the likely outcome is X, and if you're in this other category, it's likely Y. With latitude, because every case is different. But at least giving universities and all the participants better guidelines and making it probably easier for the public at large to understand it too.

A lot of the recent popular proposals put forward -- for example, the stipend -- have sort of hit the wall in the committee process. Was that surprising to you? Or does the public not quite understand that these things don't move quickly, that because you might support something it doesn't mean it's going to happen overnight (or at all)?

Emmert: I think there's a lot of confusion about even who the NCAA is, and how it operates. So, lots of audiences that I talk to think the NCAA functions sort of like the NFL or the NBA. You know, of course, that the NCAA is completely different -- it's a voluntary association with 1,100 members, 330 of them in Division I, we make decisions in a very democratic fashion, and so whenever you want to change something that's a controversial or dramatic shift, then it's necessarily a cumbersome process to get there.

We have moved on a handful of big issues -- academic reform, multiyear scholarships, the 930 APR, for example with by NCAA standards lightning speed in the past six months. This one issue we're still wrestling with on that score is what to do around we call it the full cost of attendance model, making sure that student-athletes have the resources that cover their real costs of being a student. I wasn't surprised at all that that's taken a long time. It's a complicated issue; there are legitimate philosophical differences of opinion.

And schools some are concerned about competitive balance.

Emmert: There are competitive balance concerns issues about it. All of those things are rolled in there.

Do I think we'll ultimately get there, to where we have a model that works? Yeah, I'm quite confident of that. But it's going to take us a few more months to get there.

What about the future of the NCAA 15 or 20 years from now. With the way college football and TV rights work, there has obviously been a huge sea change in conference structure recently. Will the NCAA become powerless, or more powerless, at least as it regards college football?

Emmert: I don't see a significant shift in the power relationships, if you will. The fact is the NCAA had nothing to do with postseason football ever -- whether it was a bowl or BCS model or old structure as to where the revenue went around those games. I think there's also been confusion about that. The NCAA has always governed the rules of play, and the way games are conducted and the nature of the season and all of that structure, and the enforcement of those rules, including recruiting rules. No one's particularly anxious to take on those responsibilities, so those will all remain the same.

The only piece that's ever changed is where TV revenue went for football, and the NCAA hasn't had control of that since 1983. So, I really don't see anything on the horizon that's fundamentally different for the NCAA.

The BCS model may shift. We've talked of course about a playoff model. Whether we shift in that direction isn't clear. But it's something that's widely discussed, and there's certainly momentum in that direction. I consistently have said, 'Look, if you want to have the NCAA run a championship, finally, for the first time in history around FBS football we're more than happy to do that.' I think there's some interest in that in a number of quarters. We'll see where it winds up.

On the basketball side, where is the NCAA tournament right now? Are there things that can be improved? Are there things about it that are outdated? There was a push for expansion a few years ago, which ended up at 68. Anything along those lines for the future?

Emmert: Well, first of all I think it's in great shape. The success so far of this tournament is pretty good evidence of that. The first try at the round of 68 was by everybody's estimation a huge success. I think we've got the seeding model pretty darn good right now. Again, this year would be a pretty good example of that, that criticism or critique of the seeding was pretty minimal. I think the committee does a great job of that. They're very thorough and objective about it. Nobody's ever going to hit it right, but you don't want them to get the perfect seeding, because that'd be pretty boring.

I wouldn't have anything to write about.

Emmert: You wouldn't have anything to write about! Where would we be without Norfolk State? So, I think the seeding process, the way the tournament is run, is going very well. I'm very happy with the 68. Everybody involved right now, or virtually everybody, is happy with the 68. So I don't foresee any change there.

We can always get better. We're constantly striving to make the events work better for the athletes, for the fan bases, our interaction with you guys and with our media partners, we're always trying to improve on. But I don't see any significant departures in the years to come. It works pretty darn well right now.

What about the basketball season in general? Occasionally there is discussion about getting basketball to a one-semester season. Is that a possibility?

Emmert: It's a possibility because everybody talks about it, and at the end of the day we control the rules, so if the members want to go in that direction, we can do it. I think it's challenging because there's a lot of fall basketball that people really like. There are a lot of preseason tournaments and activities that fans and coaches really like a lot. It would be from an academic point of view desirable to shrink it down a little bit. But at the same time, we also want to maintain the value of the regular season. The board recently committed to not allow any sport to expand beyond their current total number of games, so we're not going to see any growth anytime soon, that's for sure. The season is plenty long enough. The kids are playing a lot of games.

There might be some move to reduce some of the games, but I don't think it's a sea change.

In recent years, the NCAA tournament selection committee -- having done away with the "last 12 games criteria" and really focusing on the entire regular season -- has placed an emphasis on the entire season. Is that a goal for the NCAA, to push people to be more aware of the basketball season in November and December?

Emmert: We obviously don't want to reduce the value of the regular season. Those are very important games, some of them include great tradition, some of those tournaments are great traditions, and we want to make sure they maintain their importance. I'm pleased with the position of the committee now. I think they're finding that right balance to look at the entire season. So, yes, that's something that's important to us.