SBD/April 7, 2014/Colleges

Mark Emmert Calls Unionization "Ridiculous" But Says Some Change Is Inevitable

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Emmert was in agreement with some of the issues brought forth by CAPA
NCAA President Mark Emmert yesterday during his annual State of the NCAA address said unionizing students is a “ridiculous idea” to solving the problems of intercollegiate athletics, according to Chris Dufresne of the L.A. TIMES. Emmert said, “It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics." He said the notion of unionization would “strike most people as a grossly inappropriate solution to the problem" (LATIMES.com, 4/6). USA TODAY's Dan Wolken notes Emmert acknowledged that the "relationship between schools and college athletes is headed for some measure of change." But he said, "You're either a student at a university playing your sport or you're an employee of that university." Emmert was flanked by Wake Forest President and NCAA D-I BOD Chair Nathan Hatch, UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, Kansas State President Kirk Schulz, Southern Illinois Chancellor Rita Cheng and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby (USA TODAY, 4/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Bachman & Cohen write Emmert "took a different approach than his fiery demeanor at the same news conference last year" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/7). In Jacksonville, Garry Smits notes Emmert took some "pointed questioning" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 4/7).

CAPA AND GOWN: In Chicago, Seth Gruen noted Emmert took a "largely obstructionist view" to the College Athletes Players Association’s movement to organize Northwestern’s football team into a union, but was "in agreement with some of the issues they are trying to bring to the forefront." In some cases, he "even took their ideas a step further." Among the "many issues that CAPA raises, the organization is trying to advocate for the guarantee of a four-year scholarship." Emmert said, "Moving toward a model, especially at the high resource institutions, that the scholarship is really committed for a bachelor’s degree, is a great idea" (SUNTIMES.com, 4/6). The AP's Eddie Pells noted neither Emmert nor the administrators who joined him for the news conference "sounded overly concerned about drawing up contingency plans in case unions start sprouting up in the aftermath of the Northwestern case." Bowlsby said, "There's 50 different sets of rules for 50 different states. So, we're a long way from having unions" (AP, 4/6). ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil noted Emmert "discussed pending change to the governance structure that will likely include cost of attendance and autonomy for the power conferences." Meanwhile, the D-I BOD is "expected to vote in August on major governance changes" (ESPN.com, 4/6).

BOWLSBY STEPS UP: In San Antonio, Tim Griffin notes when asked about players leaving for the NBA after their freshman season, Bowlsby "blasted the NFL and NBA for their lack of providing an alternate track to the major leagues than college athletics." Bowlsby: “I really think the NFL and NBA have been irresponsible in not providing other legitimate opportunities for kids that really don't want to go to college. There ought to be some other feeder system than the one that kids get forced into as a result of the profile of our programs.” Meanwhile, Schulz said that the NCAA "must be more transparent in getting its message out." Schulz: "There's a perception at times that we're asleep at the switch" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 4/7). Bowlsby also "floated the idea of shortening some seasons, including college basketball's, to one semester." He said, "Some of our TV partners would be apoplectic to think about such things. These are unusual times, and everything ought to be on the table" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/7). In Omaha, Tom Shatel notes Emmert's supporting cast at the press conference "looked good." Shatel: "They sounded sincere. They said all the right things. And maybe this is a start. ... This time, I think they mean business. Why? Because I think they're scared. Or, extremely concerned" (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, 4/7). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton writes Bowlsby was "far from light-headed." LeBreton: "What the NCAA can do now ... is reform its governing procedures, and Bowlsby was both clear and quotable about that." He "spoke both simply and eloquently," and "sounded downright presidential" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 4/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wrote Bowlsby "sounded like the next NCAA president," as he provided a "clear, concise vision of the future" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/6).

AVOIDING THE ISSUES: In DC, Liz Clarke notes Emmert "avoided substantial discussion of the issues that threaten to derail college sports’ amateur status." He began his news conference "10 minutes late and cut it off five minutes early, trimming the scheduled hour-long session to 45 minutes" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/7). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes Bowlsby was there to "provide cover" for Emmert. Armour: "For all their reassurances that they're serious about fixing the NCAA -- pinky swear! -- their words rang as hollow as ever." They "completely ducked the question" of how NU's efforts to unionize would impact the NCAA and they "revealed no concrete deals about governance restructuring" (USA TODAY, 4/7). CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote under the header, "NCAA President Emmert Would Be Wise To Pipe Down" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 4/6).

DEPTH PERCEPTION: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote it is "clear that the leaders of college athletics are determined to make concessions toward their athletes." College sports "appear to remain naïve, however, to the depth of the opposition." Once the "battle is engaged, a few minor steps will appease no one on the players' side." Moreover, they "aren't ready to acknowledge how the endgame is likely not about colleges deciding whether or not to allow student-athletes to share in revenue, but football players deciding whether they should continue to allow gymnasts, swimmers, wrestlers and the like to share in their money" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).
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