Hypothetical question: What is the least attractive job in sports?
After reading, listening and watching the sports headlines in recent weeks, I zeroed in on two positions: MLB commissioner and NCAA president. The two men currently assuming those positions are Rob Manfred and Mark Emmert, respectively. But if I have to pick one, I would say the role I least envy is Emmert’s.
NCAA President Mark Emmert is facing more challenges than ever before. He is undoubtedly feeling the public and political pressures over Title IX and gender equity, NIL (name, image and likeness) and COVID-related decisions. Each subject has its own unique set of challenges and, depending on how the courts and NCAA respond, the decisions have the potential to create a seismic shift in college athletics and beyond.
It begs the question: What will the future of NCAA athletics look like? This week, Emmert hosted a media press conference where he discussed the challenges, the process to resolution and the potential impact on the future of NCAA athletics.
What is amateurism to you right now? What should it be in the future? Can you see the irony of having to go to Congress on getting relief of implementing the NCAA version of NIL when for decades the NCAA didn’t want any intervention by the federal government?
MARK EMMERT: You and I see our engagement in Congress somewhat differently. But the essence of college student-athletes is the notion that, first and foremost, they are full-time students who are pursuing a degree and seriousness, and they’re an integral part of their university or college, that they are not employees of that institution, that the relationship between the school and the college athlete is one of student and university, not employee-employer.
Secondly, they’re not paid to perform in their sport. This is not about the so-called pay-for-play. They’re not being hired, they’re being recruited. They’re not being paid, they’re being provided support for their academic ventures. They’re not an employee of the school like you would have all the other employees at a university. To me, that’s the essence of all of that.
What we’re asking from Congress is we’re asking for them to help create a framework within which we can do what we want to do, and that is allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness in the myriad ways they can do it now. The world of today looks markedly different than it did 10 years ago when I first started this job. If you look at nothing more than the role of a social influencer, if you talk to me and I daresay probably you, too, 10 years ago, 11 years ago, said, Well, that student-athlete is a social influencer, that would have meant something quite different from a social media influential person today. Their ability to monetize all of that is quite different, not just for them, but for everybody in society.
The default option for me is that our rules around NIL or anything else should be that if this is something that a regular student is engaged in, then a student-athlete ought to be engaged in it as well, unless there’s some really compelling reason for them not to be that affects the actual operation of and the way in which you can conduct sports in a fair fashion. That’s what we’re asking Congress to help us with, is to create one rule rather than 50 different rules to allow students to be able to engage in behavior that almost any other student can engage in. I don’t see that at odds in any way with how I or most other people envision the nature of the collegiate model of sport.
How will the Supreme Court decision impact what you do when it comes to name, image and likeness as far as your own legislation and as far as your approach to the states and the state law?
MARK EMMERT: I think there’s been a lot of confusion around what the Supreme Court case is actually about. It’s not a case about NIL. It’s not a case about pay-for-play. I’ve seen it characterized that way. It’s a case about, of course, an anti-trust law case about who gets to decide some of those issues. So in chatting with people, some have characterized it as saying, The NCAA is fighting whether or not they should give additional educational support to student-athletes. That’s not the issue at all.
The question really is, Shall all those decisions be decided individually through lawsuits and by judges, or should they be made through a legislative process like Congress, or through a rule-making process by the NCAA or any other entity that’s dealing with a joint venture like college sports?
So it’s not clear at all that the case and how that rule will have any implication at all around NIL. The legislative process in Congress is significantly more important than the Supreme Court case in determining what the policies and legal framework is for NIL. The single most important thing to me coming out of the Supreme Court case, and I hope we wind up there, is we get some clarity about what the law is, clarity about who has responsibility for what, clarity about how these issues will be decided whether through Congressional processes, through legal processes, or through NCAA decision-making processes, what each of the roles are for those entities.
I think you heard loud and clear, I certainly did, went back and reread the transcript after I heard it a number of times, the justices understand the importance of college sports in America. They understand the integral part this plays in American society. They don’t want to blow it up. They want to make sure it’s preserved and they want to do it in a way that’s fair for everybody. I think that’s the challenge that’s in front of them, as well as recognizing that they’re dealing with very, very complex issues of anti-trust law. I’m no lawyer, so I can’t offer opinions on anything other than that. But the Supreme Court decision is obviously very, very important. But its implications for NIL are not clear.
AP did a pretty extensive survey of ADs around the country and they showed a real concern that virtually any kind of changes are going to negatively impact their ability to really adhere to Title IX. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on that issue.
MARK EMMERT: Title IX is the law of the land. Compliance with it isn’t optional. Our commitment to it, ‘our’ meaning the NCAA and all of the universities, has been very strong and it’s yielded some remarkable changes in the years and decades that it’s been enforced. I do fully understand the concerns that the ADs and I’m not the least bit surprised.
One of the things we’re working with Congress on, as we shape our own rules, is for folks to understand that while there’s a common belief that all universities make very large amounts of money off of college sports, the reality is quite different than that. When there are other calls on those funds, then that limits the ability of schools to be able to support all of their teams. That’s something I worry a great deal about. Schools naturally enough look to their revenue-producing sports, which is usually football and men’s basketball, to generate revenue that they can use for all the other sports, the so-called non-revenue or Olympic sports.
We’ve said from the very beginning of the NCAA that we want to support through our rules a wide variety of sports, not just two sports or one sport, but a cross-section of sports like universities do across their curriculum. We need to make sure that those who are passing laws, those who are setting new policies at the Congressional level or elsewhere, understand the implications of those decisions.
Title IX law applies to universities that are the member institutions that make up the NCAA. But the law does not apply to the operations of the NCAA itself, including the administration of championships and addressing gender equity. I’m curious if the NCAA would consider enforcing Title IX standards to ensure that men and women are given equal opportunities?
MARK EMMERT: You’re right in your description, of course. Title IX doesn’t apply specifically to the NCAA as an entity or our events. I and all of the boards and every university president I know is supportive of Title IX. So whether the law applies to us or not, we need to act as if it does. We need to make sure that, again, we are walking the talk around the events that we do and the way we represent college sports. To the extent that we failed this year, that’s on us. We need to make sure that that is not the case going forward. That’s why we’ve hired the Kaplan Hecker folks. That’s why we’re asking them to conduct an independent review. We can find out all the places where we have missed on that, not just around one tournament, but historically and going forward, so we can rectify those issues. By the way, I think it’s important for you to know, just as for everybody that’s in the audience right now, the Kaplan Hecker group has set up a website. It’s NCAAGenderEquityReview.com. That’s a direct site and direct access to the firm. People that have information or advice or opinions that they want to share around gender equity in our championships are encouraged to connect directly to them, not through us, but through that site. That’s an important part of this. But we need to enforce Title IX first and foremost on ourselves, make sure we’re getting it right.
The people who question the NCAA’s role, some of the things that have transpired, why should you be the leader of this organization?
MARK EMMERT: Whether I’m the leader or not is not up to me, it’s up to the Board of Governors. They’re my bosses. I work for a board that represents all the universities, all three of the divisions. My role is to do my job, do it to the best of my ability. I’m very confident that I’m capable of doing that. That’s not my decision. I don’t hire myself. The board does that. I know there’s been plenty of things that have been done poorly or misses that we’ve had over the years. I’m certainly happy to take my share of responsibility for that. I don’t pretend like I’m infallible, that we’ve done everything perfectly, or that I’ve done everything perfectly. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and have learned from them. But who runs the NCAA is not my decision.