Another day, another alienated group of people.
As outgoing North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp explained in Chapel Hill on Friday how ill-equipped most collegiate CEOs are to handle the issues surrounding major collegiate athletics, several dozen Division I athletic directors gathered at a beachside hotel probably nodded in agreement. The ADs came to Santa Monica not for the pier, but to discuss the major issues facing college athletics without anyone from the NCAA around. Besides, several athletic directors said, few people at NCAA headquarters seem to care what the ADs think these days.
And that might be the NCAA’s biggest problem.
Commence the airing of grievances.
Under president Mark Emmert, the NCAA has aggressively embraced a model that puts all the power in the hands of university presidents and chancellors. That would be fine, some high-profile athletic directors said, if the presidents sought the advice of the people who work in athletics on a daily basis. Instead, Emmert and his hand-picked group of CEOs have rammed through rules and policies with only minimal consultation of the people who must actually implement those rules and policies. Why will much of the recently passed football recruiting deregulation package probably get tabled? Because no one bothered to ask the people working in athletics. If they had, they might have realized a relaxation on the rules that govern how often coaches can contact recruits would be fine with most ADs and coaches. They also would have realized a relaxation on the rules that govern exactly who may contact recruits could result in a hiring spree by the wealthiest schools that would leave everyone else going further into debt while trying to keep up. Why did the plan to offer athletes up to a $2,000 annual stipend to cover the full cost of attendance get scuttled after its passage at a 2011 presidential retreat? Because no one bothered to check with less wealthy schools to see how they felt about it. If they had, they’d have known it stood no chance of passing an override vote.
The athletic directors want to have an open dialogue with the NCAA about the pending Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, which could radically reshape the business model of major college sports. They want to talk about the potential impact should former football players sue over concussion-related issues. They want to talk about conference realignment, which has upended the industry in the past three years. They talked about all those issues Thursday and Friday in Santa Monica because the NCAA leadership doesn’t seem to want to discuss any of it with them. And the people in charge of some of the nation’s most powerful athletic programs are fed up.
In other words, Emmert chose a management model that relies on decision-making from a group of people who, according to Thorp, at least, don’t have a damned clue about how to go about their business (“… We go to conference or NCAA meetings to discuss new rules and when we get home, our ADs tell us we were crazy to agree to these changes. And they’re usually right…”). That actually explains a lot.
Which brings us to the bottom line:
At the meeting in Santa Monica, another AD said there is “zero confidence in the guy in that chair,” referring to Emmert. While the enforcement issues have received the bulk of the attention, this issue may be the most critical for Emmert’s NCAA. Because while problems with enforcement aggravate the handful of schools being investigated, the systematic shoving aside of some of the brightest and most experienced people in college sports aggravates people at every school. And, despite what has transpired in the past three years, the schools still ultimately run the NCAA. The schools want the NCAA to work. The wealthiest schools could strike out on their own, but that would require significant time and investment. They would prefer to create a workable system within the NCAA.
So, they don’t want Emmert. But they need the NCAA. That’s not such a great combination for your long-term prospects, if you’re the president.