SBD/June 20, 2014/Colleges

Emmert Testifies In O'Bannon Trial, Tries To Quell Claims Of Hypocrisy By NCAA

Emmert insisted that amateurism is essential to competitive balance
NCAA President Mark Emmert on Thursday took the witness stand in the Ed O'Bannon trial and said that college sports "would be fatally flawed if players were allowed to receive a portion of the billions of dollars in basketball and football television revenues now flowing into big conferences and colleges," according to Tim Dahlberg of the AP. Emmert said that one of the "biggest reasons fans like college sports is that they believe the athletes are really students who play for a love of the sport and for their school and community." The lawsuit already has had "some effect, with the biggest five conferences moving quickly toward giving athletes more money and benefits." Emmert supports that development, but he said that giving athletes "more than the true cost of attendance would cause a free-for-all in recruiting and force many schools to give up smaller sports." He added that many schools "would simply leave Division I sports rather than pay their players." Dahlberg noted Emmert faced "friendly questioning by an NCAA attorney," though the cross examination was "sometimes contentious." He was forced to acknowledge that many people "are professionals because they make money in college sports, but said that is no different than other amateur sports." Emmert noted that if some schools "paid their players for their NILs and others didn't it would create such an uneven playing field among schools there would likely be no national championships in football and basketball" (AP, 6/19). In L.A., Lee Romney notes under repeated questioning, Emmert "declined to change his opinion, saying that he acknowledged a longstanding debate on commercialism but did not agree that the fight was lost or the slope slippery" (L.A. TIMES, 6/20). 

DEFENDING HYPOCRISY? ESPN.com's Munson & Schlabach noted players' attorney Bill Isaacson asked Emmert about an "incendiary" e-mail from October '10 in which former NCAA exec Wally Renfro wrote, "The notion that athletes are students is the great hypocrisy of intercollegiate sports." The "great hypocrisy" statement "shoots a hole in the best answer the NCAA has to the O'Bannon effort to transform the organization." Emmert replied "mildly and quietly." He said he "does not believe the statement is accurate" (ESPN.com, 6/19). In N.Y., Ben Strauss notes another document presented was a "strategic plan" from NCAA VP/Communications Bob Williams. It read in part, "One of the most damaging criticisms we face is the hypocrisy in which we operate." Isaacson "wanted to know what Emmert thought of the word hypocrisy, and if he had any follow-up conversations with senior staff members about it." Emmert replied, "You’re focusing on the word hypocrisy more than necessary" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/20).

A SLIP OF THE TONGUE: USA TODAY's George Schroeder notes Emmert "stuck doggedly to the NCAA's script, insisting that amateurism, as a core value of the NCAA, was essential to the goal of competitive balance and to integrating athletics and academics." But there were "minor gaffes and unintentionally humorous moments." In one answer during direct examination, Emmert said that although NCAA rules "have evolved, a core value remained being a 'full-time athlete.'" NCAA lawyer Glenn Pomerantz "corrected him, suggesting Emmert meant 'full-time student.'" Emmert replied, "Excuse me, I misspoke" (USA TODAY, 6/20). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sharon Terlep notes after the gaffe Emmert "became terse at times." He seemed to "choose words carefully as he defended the tricky position that unpaid athletes are central to the success of a collegiate athletic system that has seen billions of dollars pour in" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/20).
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