Prez: NCAA can't change movement
NCAA president Mark Emmert said he has been consulting conference commissioners and presidents of schools debating conference moves, but that he has no ability to affect the movement in college athletics.
"I've been talking to commissioners and presidents and helping to try to keep people focused on the picture and reminding people at the end of the day we're talking about student-athletes and I think the institutions are being as thoughtful as they can on this," Emmert said by phone from the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. "We don't have a formal role in any conference configurations. The presidents have always had that and always will. As a former university president (at Washington) I know that."
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Emmert said that the NCAA president has no authority in this matter, unlike a head of a professional sports league like David Stern in the NBA or Roger Goodell in the NFL. Emmert works for the membership and is hired by a board of a directors which is made up of university presidents.
"All of the authority in the NCAA comes from the membership," Emmert said. "The members have never given the NCAA the authority over conference configuration and they're unlikely to ever do that. That is an individual institutional decision and they guard that zealously."
Emmert told ESPN.com that he doesn't fear the current expansion and alignment will turn into four or five super conferences breaking away from the NCAA membership.
"I know that's a popular conversation point," Emmert said. "People on talk radio and other places chat about that but I don't see that as a serious issue. Everybody is trying to get the best conference alignment they can. They're all looking at their situation."
Emmert said he wouldn't term what is happening in college sports as chaotic.
"It's dynamic and some of the moves look dramatic," Emmert said. "There are those who are being affected that it may seem chaotic but people are trying to make thoughtful decisions and do it in real time and almost all of the conversations are private ones. You can't have those conversations public. It's less chaotic and less illogical then it appears."
Emmert said the presidents he has spoken to, as well as commissioners, are looking for stability. He said he wouldn't fret over major conferences being disrupted or possibly disbanded, including the Big 12 and Big East.
"It's a dynamic environment," Emmert said. "We've seen in our career the disappearance of the Southwest Conference and yet football continued and you could say that those schools came out strong. Most of the discussion is about the media contracts and finding the right fit with other schools when they change relationships.
"The general public underestimates the impact of it academically and culturally and although geography doesn't always look right, the presidents are looking to put together strong and stable confederations," Emmert said. "There is a strong interest in stability, which seems ironic with all the instability."
Emmert made the point about how important the NCAA's $10.8 billion, 14-year deal for the men's NCAA basketball tournament with CBS/Turner Sports is to the membership and yet another reason why there isn't anxiety at headquarters over four super conferences leaving and forming their own version of the NCAA.
"(The contract) supports something in the order of 96 or 94 percent of the revenue that flows into the NCAA," Emmert said. "It's very important to the membership and a vast majority of the money indirectly or directly flows back to them and supports the various championships that we support. The only real question now is when this is all over whether or not the automatic qualifiers (to the NCAA tournament) have to change over time and the same thing with the BCS. We'll see where this ends up when it's all done.
"I've been talking pretty constantly to all the commissioners and presidents involved in these things since the beginning," Emmert said. "My job is to shape the outcome and to make sure the decisions are made with good information. Just like last year, it looked like monstrous changes but only a few schools moved around. Let's see what really happens this time."
Andy Katz covers men's college basketball for ESPN.com.