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NCAA President Mark Emmert told delegates during the Convention’s opening business session Thursday that college athletics is facing a fork in the road.
Naturally, he encouraged the membership to take it.
However, rather than choose one branch of the fork that some critics have suggested, which is to abandon the collegiate model the NCAA has nurtured for more than a century, Emmert told the standing-room-only crowd that the Association has a shared responsibility to fix the collegiate model in the context of the contemporary athletics landscape.
“We have to acknowledge there are real problems that need to be dealt with, and we have to deal with them in the real context of the 21st century,” Emmert said.
Emmert said the NCAA has no reason to apologize for the fact that college football and basketball are wildly popular and generate revenue that allows the Association to benefit hundreds of thousands of student-athletes. “But that’s not what we live for,” he emphasized.
In his second address to the Convention since taking office in October 2010, Emmert urged the membership to “live for the education of student-athletes.”
“We want all of our student-athletes to be valued in all of our sports,” he said. “We care about increasing participation opportunities for all of our student-athletes, and we value deeply the tie between athletics and the classroom.
“There’s no doubt that finding the balance between the conflicting issues of today is a lot harder than it used to be, but it’s also true that it’s never been more important.”
Emmert cited the presidential retreat in August as evidence, calling it the impetus for the current reform effort in Division I.
“Those reforms exemplify two very simple propositions – one, that student-athletes have to be students in all the ways that we mean that, and two, we have to behave with integrity, consistent with our own values and our own rules structure.”
As for fixing the collegiate model “in the contemporary context,” Emmert said the model of scholarship support the NCAA currently uses is more than 40 years old and no longer correlates with the expectations and demands placed on today’s student-athletes. The current Division I Manual – and the process of enforcing it – also doesn’t reflect the times, Emmert said.
He called for a renewed definition of “who’s in charge,” noting that presidents and boards of universities and colleges need to be “fully in charge of and responsible for their athletics programs.” Conferences, Emmert said, must be about more than just maximizing revenue. Coaches, administrators and others surrounding athletics programs have to be held to the same behavioral standards as everyone else. And student-athletes have an obligation to take advantage of the opportunities put in front of them and follow the rules.
“That’s not too much to ask, in my opinion,” Emmert said.
Taking the correct branch of the fork, Emmert said, means the 2013 Convention will follow a much better year for college sports than the 2012 Convention did.
“Let’s bring the collegiate model up to date in the 21st century, consistent with our values as academic enterprises,” he said. “We have to work together to make sure that we act on those values, that we let the world know which branch of the fork we have chosen. If we do, by the time we get together next year, we’ll have a very different story line than the one we have this year.”