New NCAA President Mark Emmert reasserted the top priorities of his predecessor, Myles Brand, in an interview Friday where he emphasized the need to focus on the welfare of student athletes while addressing thorny issues involving commercialization of college athletics.
Emmert was interviewed by Penn State President Graham Spanier for the Big Ten program "Expert Opinion" today at the Newseum. Emmert came to the job from the University of Washington and has been dealing with a number of high-profile issues since moving to Indianapolis in October, including an investigation into rumors of "pay-to-play" involving Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Spanier's interview with Emmert generally avoided specific controversies but instead focused on providing an overview of the NCAA. Emmert said student athlete welfare has been --and will be-- a key focus.
"We have to make sure we protect the collegiate model of athletics," Emmert said. "It's frankly the only way we can protect the brand." Related to that is the issue of paying student athletes--an idea that has been the subject of debate. Emmert didn't leave room for speculation.
"Student athletes will never be paid as long as I'm president of the NCAA," he said. Fewer than 20 schools break even on collegiate sports, he added. "It is grossly inappropriate for universities to even talk about paying student athletes."
It's the perception of wealth in big-time programs that is likely driving the discussions about paying athletes. So is the commercialism, which Emmert said presents the most pressing ethical issues he's facing. More revenue is a "good thing," Emmert said, but the model can't compromise the collegiate model. Protecting that balance will be a Herculean effort.
Emmert promised he would also be "very focused" on enforcing NCAA rules. "We have to do enforcement in a way that is fair and honest and transparent," he said. The NCAA has no subpoena power -- and the process is slow and cumbersome. Emmert said he wants to expedite the process--but can't risk getting it right. He also promised to look at organization's rules to make sure focus is on the "bigger issues."
On agents: "I'm very pleased with the level of conversation we're having," Emmert said. "I think we're going to have some good progress there." Emmert said he won't address it just as an enforcement issue but will look at modifying the NCAA's rules, hinting that they could be changed.
On the hiring of African-American football coaches: Football is behind basketball and other sports in mentoring and bringing up minority coaches through the ranks. Emmert said the NCAA needs to use the "bully pulpit" with university presidents and ADs; last year saw some improvement.
On NCAA focus on Div. 2 and Div. 3 schools: These smaller divisions are important --they involve large numbers of student athletes. But Emmert justified the NCAA focus on Division 1. "We have to recognize that Division 1 sports are the revenue drivers...Their (smaller divisions) future is tied to Division 1."
On universities cutting non-revenue sports: "We're probably not done with that."
The program will air Monday on the Big Ten network.