The Interview Issue: Mark Emmert

September 27, 2014

Controversies, legal battles, criticism. Would this be a fun time to be president of the NCAA, or what? But here Mark Emmert is, with a very full plate.

LOPRESTI: Some voices have been particularly strident in taking issue with the NCAA. Are there moments when it is hard not to take comments personally?

mark-emmert3-15col.jpg Mary Emmert (Photo courtesy of Wabash College)

EMMERT: Whenever a person or organization is in a very public position, they will naturally be the subject of scrutiny and criticized from time to time. Some of the criticism is fair, and some is off-base.

LOPRESTI: Of all the criticisms, which do you find particularly valid, and which do you think are unfair or inaccurate?

EMMERT: Criticism about the NCAA being too ponderous in making policy decisions, about the complexity of the rules, and about being distracted by commercialism are legitimate concerns. On the other hand, criticisms that the leaders of college athletics don’t care about the interests of students are simply wrong.

The critique that schools and the association are focused only on making money also is often off-base. Almost every school in the country—all but about 20 out of 1,100—now subsidize their athletic programs rather than making a profit off of sports.

LOPRESTI: Is it fair to say that the future of the NCAA is at stake in the coming months and years?

EMMERT: I think that’s a misguided notion, to be candid. College athletics has become an integral part of American society and I don’t believe people want to throw that away. There’s no question we are going through a lot of change right now, which is perfectly appropriate and, frankly, necessary.

LOPRESTI: If you were the parent of a highly acclaimed athlete in a high-profile sport, what would you expect from the NCAA for your child?

EMMERT: I think we’ve done a good job chipping away at some unnecessary rules. For example, Division I schools can now provide student-athletes with unlimited meals and snacks, and Division II is looking at a similar change. Things like the multiple-year scholarship, new health and safety guidelines and, hopefully in the near future, full cost-of-attendance scholarships, are huge wins for prospective student-athletes and their parents.

LOPRESTI: If you could make your vision come true, what would the NCAA look like in five years?

EMMERT: First, we need to do all we can to continue to provide the opportunity for nearly half a million young men and women to enjoy playing NCAA sports and benefiting from all that comes with it.

Second, we have to continue to expand support for student-athletes and their success.

[Third], the decision-making model among all the colleges and universities needs to be more responsive and flexible. A key part of those changes will be bringing the voices and votes of student-athletes themselves into the governance process.

Finally, we have to make sure we are putting money in the right places to help student-athletes.

Can all that happen? Yes, it can.

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