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By Gary Brown
NCAA President Mark Emmert kept his foot on the reform pedal Thursday by urging a standing-room-only crowd of delegates at the Convention’s opening business session to adopt a principled approach to balance what he called the NCAA’s “two-sided coin” of glamorous athletics competition and the regulations required to administer it.
Using his annual State of the Association address to both applaud the NCAA’s century of progress and yet challenge administrators to aspire for even higher standards, Emmert posed a set of commitments necessary to sustain the collegiate model, not the least of which is a values-based approach to legislation rather than pages of competitive-equity rules that in the end are unenforceable and do not support student-athlete success.
But in this new era of rules-making, which includes Division I’s ongoing effort to streamline its bylaws, Emmert urged the following as guiding principles for all three divisions:
Taken together, Emmert said, the NCAA can balance the two-sided coin on its edge.
“As I said to you last year, there are those who would raise the white flag on the regulatory side and focus on the side that cares only about the competition,” Emmert said. “But I also don’t know of any university or college president who wants that.
“Instead, let’s make sure our bylaws are designed to foster competition, promote values and advance the collegiate model,” Emmert said. “Let’s make sure that our athletics programs are conducted where students choose to be athletes as part of their educational experience. Let’s make sure our programs promote the highest ideals – not just of sport but of higher education. Let’s ensure that we are operating within the context of higher education.”
Emmert urged shared responsibility in compliance matters, too, calling on all member institutions to monitor their behavior and cooperate with the Association’s enforcement efforts.
Student-athlete well-being also is a priority, as are high academic standards.
“Intercollegiate athletics programs have to be conducted in a way that enhances the wellness of our students. That just has to be the case,” Emmert said. “And we need to have standards designed to ensure proper emphasis on educational objectives as well as athletics success.”
Emmert also stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“Those values improve the learning environment for all our student-athletes, enhance excellence within our membership, and recognize the need that all of America has for open and fair participation and all of the things that intercollegiate athletics provide,” he said.
With those values as benchmarks, Emmert said, the NCAA will be able to manage both sides of the coin – the shiny championships side and the not-so-shiny regulatory side – as complementary rather than opposing components.
“As we make policy decisions in the future, let’s turn back to the guiding principles to ensure the commitment to the collegiate model,” he said. “If we’re going to keep balancing this two-sided coin, then we can’t just worry about the shiny side but also the regulatory side, because that’s the hard work of this whole enterprise.”