SBD/March 14, 2012/Colleges

Mark Emmert Discusses Top Issues Facing NCAA, Including Claims Of Exploitation

Emmert acknowledges that college realignment is "predominantly" about money
NCAA President Mark Emmert made several appearances on ESPN programming yesterday, saying he likes to believe during his 16 months in office the NCAA has "started to address the great, big, major issues that are confronting intercollegiate athletics." Emmert said, "We’ve spent over the past nine, 10 months a lot of time really focused on what intercollegiate athletics is really all about ... and then dealing with a lot of really large-scale integrity questions and threats to those integrities and trying to get our rules straight and enforcement processes right. We’re somewhere around halfway through that process.” The Big 12's impending extension with ESPN is the latest example of the huge dollar amounts TV pours into college athletics, and he said TV networks influence the college game “enormously.” Emmert: “ESPN has had a dramatic impact on the way the world looks at college sports. The accessibility of it, the capacity of a university to build its brand name recognition through sport because of the exposure they get. Every university wants to be on the bottom of your ticker during ‘SportsCenter.’ ... It’s had a very profound effect on the way universities think about athletics, the way they think about it strategically as a way to advance their institution." ESPN's Bob Ley noted that there "seems to be this rising tide” of criticism that the intercollegiate athletic model is “exploitive.” Emmert said there is “such an emphasis in America on athletics as the route to fame and fortune that it has skewed far too many young people’s view of how you can be successful as a young person.” The “route to success in life is to get a good education,” and student-athletes have “access to the best coaches, the best educators, the best trainers, the best tutors that help produce academic success.” Emmert said if that is the “definition of exploitation, then I don’t know what exploitation is.” Emmert: “The idea that somehow playing in front of a stadium with 70,000 people and being on ESPN ‘SportsCenter’ diminishes you in some fashion while creating an opportunity for you to be known worldwide is somehow exploitation, is a curious notion of exploitation” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 3/13).

WEIGHING IN: Emmert yesterday morning appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” yesterday to discuss various topics. Emmert said the NCAA men's basketball tournament “is a marquee event in college athletics and everyone pays attention.” Emmert: “It is the one time of the year that people who don't know anything about basketball pay attention. The fact that the President shows up and brings the Prime Minister of Great Britain brings you a sense of how important it is.” Emmert said he does not think the tournament field would increase because “the 68 worked extremely well this last year.” Emmert: “We had a great tournament. We are establishing this ‘First Four’ as a really important couple games. I don't see us changing this for a good while.” ESPN’s Mike Golic noted attendance at the NCAA Tournament has been down in recent years and asked if the tournament might be moved to April. Emmert said, “There is some discussion about it, but right now I wouldn't describe it as anything approaching serious discussion. The attendance at some regular season games is down and some of our formats for the postseason have been down a little bit.” Emmert added, “But all the games that we put on have encouraged people to watch from home or from other venues. You see more people going out to bars and watching regular season games and tournament games via TV and internet. Some of that may be rubbing off” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 3/13).

TAKING IT TO THE TURF: Emmert discussed a possible playoff in college football, saying, "Right now, they’re looking at what can realistically be done under the current context." Emmert: "I suspect ... that we’ll see some movement toward a four-team or maybe even an eight-team playoff, probably not beyond that.” Emmert said it could be a “sensible” system and added, “I’m certainly not opposed to it. It could be exciting” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 3/13). A USA TODAY editorial states that with as much success as the NCAA has had with the basketball tournament, it has been “unable to transport the model to football.” But there is “reason to hope that something better might finally be in store for the fall,” as Emmert has “signaled an interest in a four-team tournament for football.” Four teams is “hardly a real tournament compared with March Madness, which starts with 64 teams,” but it is “a start.” Once it is four, there will be “a natural cry for eight.” The NCAA in football “has a system that is all about protecting revenue streams of entrenched interests.” In basketball, it “has a system that is pretty close to the ideal of honest, fair competition -- while still managing to be wildly profitable” (USA TODAY, 3/14).
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