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Volume 24 No. 156

Intercollegiate Forum

When Mark Emmert was hired as NCAA President, he was asked to be the face of the organization. In retrospect, he said today, he “did it too much.” Emmert sat down for a one-on-one interview this morning at the ’14 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum and opened up about how his leadership style has changed during his four years with the association. Emmert: “My high visibility reinforced the wrong position on all that. It should have been, in retrospect, putting more front and center presidents, ADs, student-athletes, to reflect that fact that this is a member association more than an NCAA president-led organization.” Throughout the 45-minute session, he discussed the roles of a variety of decision-makers, particularly within the context of the new D-I Council, which is set to meet for the first time next month. He noted that ADs will make up most of the council, which will put in place legislation regarding issues deemed high priority by school presidents. He stressed that student-athletes, faculty athletic reps and senior woman administrators will also be represented on the council, and that their voice “will be as strong as it’s ever been.” He added that one of the items on the agenda is a recommendation from the NCAA Finance Committee to allocate an additional $19M to its student assistance fund, which would bring the total fund to $100M. He noted that the NCAA will have doubled the fund in the last five years, and that the money has “an incredibly loose structure” when it comes to determining how it can be allocated for student-athletes.

HISTORY ON THE HORIZON? Emmert began the session by saying that the next 36-48 months will likely be “some of the most important months in the history of college sports,” even comparing the climate to that leading up to the creation of the NCAA. He cited economic pressures, legal challenges, the interest of the general public, political intervention and efforts to maintain the welfare of student-athletes as the driving forces behind the wave of change he anticipates. Emmert went into some depth on the complex legal landscape through which the NCAA has been forced to navigate. He reaffirmed the organization’s intent to fight the cases brought by both Ed O’Bannon and Jeffrey Kessler to the Supreme Court, if need be. Emmert characterized the Kessler case as asserting that college sports “has to become a free market with no constraints on college athletes receiving any money from any source for any purpose.” He said that there can be “no middle ground” on that argument. Regarding the O’Bannon ruling in August, which the NCAA is appealing, Emmert suggested that athletic departments be conservative with their financial commitments in the event that the judge’s injunction goes into effect. He added that this would put a lot of administrators “in an incredibly chaotic position.”

* On punishing students for selling autographs: “The membership has to decide, 'Do you want this rule, or don’t you?' If you want the rule, do you want the national office to enforce it, or don’t you? … The speed limit on the Beltway in Indianapolis, which is 55 miles per hour, is a stupid rule. But I also know that if I drive 75 and I get pulled over, I can’t say, ‘Well, I think it’s a dumb rule.’ I get the ticket.”

* On UAB shuttering its football program: “It’s not up to me or anybody outside those universities ... to second guess whether that’s the right decision. ... But it’s troubling anytime the opportunity for students to play sports is reduced.”

* On the CFP selection process: “Picking four football teams is bloody hard. I thought they did a really good job. Let’s recognize there’s no way that a group of people can pick four teams ... and have everybody be happy and in agreement.”

The ’14 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum kicked off this morning with two presidents of NCAA institutions -- Wake Forest’s Nathan Hatch and Villanova’s Rev. Peter Donohue -- providing insight into the latest NCAA governance changes and their individual schools’ priorities. Donohue, whose school is in the Big East as opposed to one of the Power Five, said that those conferences’ push for autonomy is positive because the “focus has really been on, ‘How do we really give that student-athlete the advantage they need?’” He later added that the idea of paying the full cost of attendance is a sensible model, and that Big East presidents recently determined that all of the conference’s schools would cover the cost of attendance for men’s and women’s basketball players. Donohue: “We are an elite basketball conference, and we will do everything we can to stay at that level.” He noted that schools could then decide individually how they would treat athletes in other sports. Hatch said that the new governance structure for the Power Five conferences was important because it allowed D-I “to stay together.” He also praised the creation of a new D-I council, which will include ADs, student-athletes, conference commissioners, faculty athletic reps and SWAs. Hatch: “Over time, the NCAA has seen a diminution of the involvement of important athletic directors, and I think this new structure allows that to be recaptured.” Regarding the notion that schools outside the Power Five will lose out on revenue as a result of the autonomy move, Hatch said that TV and media rights affect the gap between big and small schools far more than any changes in governance could.

* Hatch, on the fan experience: “In our culture, the push by media is to have it be all about the individual. ... It seems to me that’s an issue we all face in the future in terms of fan participation. Students may go to a game for a half, and then they get something on their phone, something more interesting going on, and they’ll join it. It seems to me we live in a culture, a digital culture, that makes [fan loyalty] difficult. ... And the fact that sports are presented so well on television.”

* Donohue, on athletes being deemed employees: “I would hate to guess [what that would mean]. It would change things drastically. ”
Hatch: “If that was the decision, it’s not only the difference between state and private institutions, but it’s right-to-work states and others. I think largely, in the south, you wouldn’t have unions, and I think in other parts of the country ... you might. The anomalies it would create for the NCAA are mind-boggling.”

* Hatch, on the treatment of student-athletes: “Sometimes you feel whipsawed, because in the press they say student-athletes aren’t well taken care of, that we use them on behalf of commercial advantage. On our campuses, I think many of our students think students-athletes are pampered. They get more academic help; in some ways their lives are good. They’re tough, but good. I think the current model works if we’re committed to the education of student athletes.”

Three prominent former student athletes went on stage at the ’14 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum today for a panel that turned into a lively debate on the amateur athlete model of college sports. The panel featured ESPN basketball analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas, former FSU safety and neurosurgery student Myron Rolle and Bonnie Bernstein, Campus Insiders VP and All-American gymnast. Here are some quick hits from the panel:

* Rolle, on college athletics as professional sports: “[Let’s say] I walked into a clinic and saw a patient, and I saw clinical manifestations of lobar pneumonia in a chest x-ray and pleural effusion, all different signs and symptoms that  tell me that this person now has strep pneumonia. I go to my attending physician and say, ‘This patient has strep pneumonia,’ and they tell me, ‘No, he has a broken foot.’ … It’s like the NCAA not wanting to realize the exposure, the amount of money, the amount of increase, the amount of attention and awareness that presented in college athletics now. It’s not run like a professional entity when it truly, truly is.”

* Bilas, on being a student and an athlete: “When I was recruited, they spotted me in gym. They weren’t walking through a library and said, ‘Hey, you look like a good student. You don’t happen to play basketball because that would really help us out." ... I wasn’t recruited as a student. I was recruited as an athlete. They are not mutually exclusive. You can be both.”

* Bernstein, on the feasibility of paying players: “I just find it very hard to believe that the preponderance of athletic departments in this country have the ability to pay athletes without cutting sports. My greatest fear is that if we go down this road, we’re going to be robbing thousands of kids of that opportunity.”
Bilas: “You used the term robbed. If we give money to these athletes, you athletes are going to be robbing someone. What coach is taking a discount for the student athlete experience? Who among you is taking a discount in your negotiations in your salaries? I wouldn’t do it, either. We’re all making good money and rightfully so. We’re making fair market value based upon this big huge business. Then we say if the athlete wants more, now all of the sudden we worry about the gymnastics program.”

* Bernstein, on how student athletes are different today: “Student athletes have a better understanding that you’re not only there to go to school and to participate in a sport, but you’re starting to build your own brand and being able to leverage the platform that you have.”
Rolle: “I think that players are more aware now. They are astute and understand the amount of money that’s coming into the sport. They’re walking into the school bookstore and seeing their jersey being sold and realizing that they had three touchdowns this past Saturday and say, ‘OK, that jersey’s probably for me.’ They’re not naive to those facts.”

Three college football players, each a finalist for the Campbell Trophy for the nation’s premier student-athlete, appeared at the ’14 Intercollegiate Athletics Forum to talk about issues relevant to today’s student athletes. The panelists were Northwestern C Brandon Vitabile, Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett and Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly. The discussion was moderated by the Chronicle of Higher Learning's Brad Wolverton. Here are a few quick hits from the session:

* On what students athletes miss out on:
Lockett: “For me, one of the things that I wish I would have done since I’ve been in college is get to know people more, to get to hang out with people more. ... We really don’t get to just hang out, to maybe just go to the recreation center ... go bowl and stuff like that because of the commitment that we have to football.”

*On protecting yourself from NCAA violations:
Vitabile: “We’re told before every autograph signing that we have, make sure you find out, if it’s a child, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ Write, ‘To Joe,’ ‘To Mary,’ to whatever, so that way they cannot go and sell it because who’s going to want an autograph that’s not addressed to them?”

* On giving money to student athletes:
Kelly: “I think there should just be a certain amount of money in an account for each player, an equal amount. I think that they should even raise the stipend that you live on based on what type of school you go to. Those prices can vary. I think students just need more money per month so they can help their family out if they need to, or maybe put that money away, save it for when they get out of college.”

* On the role of social media:
Lockett: “Whether you want to be a mentor or not, being a college athlete, you’re in that position. We all have a platform and it’s all about how you use it. You can use it in a good way on social media or you can use it in a way that can look bad for you. ... There’s a lot of kids out there watching you, and if you’re cussing and doing a lot of that stuff on there, what are you portraying?”