- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote a letter to Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner distancing himself from comments he made about minor leagues on the stand at the O'Bannon trial last week.
Emmert testified that "minor league sports aren't very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience."
In the letter written Tuesday, Emmert explained that his comments were meant to have a more narrow focus.
"For context, the O'Bannon case is focused on television rights and whether men's basketball and football student-athletes should be paid to play because their games are televised," Emmert wrote. "We strongly believe that the principles of amateurism prohibit payment. My responses at trial were intended to suggest [that] our nation's colleges and universities should not be used as minor league teams for professional men's basketball and football."
O'Conner said he was not happy Thursday when he first heard of Emmert's comments.
"I don't believe his comments were made out of malice, but he did misspeak in a way that left a steaming pothole in the middle of our brand," O'Conner said. "People in this industry work too hard and are too well respected to let something like that go."
While Emmert said he was referring specifically to football and men's basketball, O'Conner said most people relate "minor leagues" to baseball.
Minor League Baseball teams have combined to draw more than 41 million fans to their games each of the past nine seasons. Since 2000, 58 ballparks have been built for or by Minor League Baseball teams.
"When a statement like that is taken out of context, and is uneducated and unsubstantiated, it can take on validity," O'Conner said. "That's what we were concerned about."
O'Conner hasn't spoken with Emmert personally but said he has talked with NCAA officials who say Emmert hopes to take him up on his offer to see a Minor League Baseball game this summer.
Perhaps that game will be a Lake County Captains game July 2, when the Cleveland Indians' Class A affiliate is having Mark Emmert Appreciation Night. Promotions that night will take jabs at the NCAA, such as allowing fans to transfer seats but insisting on a one-inning waiting period and providing four college kids an all-you-can-eat wristband, a nod to the collegiate governing body relaxing its stringent food allowances.