The Penn State announcement was supposed to be the defining moment of Emmert’s tenure. But instead of signifying his and the organization’s status as tough on NCAA crime, it has become Emmert’s Waterloo moment. Since that announcement, his leadership style, combative personality, and most of all, his decisions, have directly intersected with an NCAA in deep crisis. Employees are headed for the exits in droves, and instead of helping to alleviate the NCAA’s problems, the man at the top may be compounding them.
… and other powerful constituents.
But there is no doubt that, in the opinions of many, his mistakes and approach have helped sever the tenuous trust between membership and the association, and if Emmert remains at the helm amid such substantial change, it will be over the objections of some of the NCAA’s most powerful school athletic administrators.
One source said that at least one major conference has gone so far as to send a directive to its representative on the NCAA Executive Committee — which, among other duties, hires and fires the association’s president — to make it “crystal clear that they were not at all happy with the direction of the entire enterprise under Emmert.”
Emmert, of course, thinks he’s doing a swell job. At least publicly.
In an “Outside the Lines” interview last week at the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis, when asked if there was anything he would have done differently in the Penn State case, Emmert, 59, said there was nothing.
What about a mulligan on any decision in his almost three years on the job? “I can’t think of one decision, no — if that is what you are asking.”
But it sure doesn’t seem hard to find plenty of people who disagree with him about that.
Several staffers have left, including two NCAA enforcement directors and five investigators, and some claim that the same executive branch that is pushing to make cases won’t support its investigators in the end.
“I know people who have worked there for 10 years,” one source said. “They said the first nine years and the last one are completely different. It’s not a good place to work right now.”
The organization is incurring hefty legal bills, at least in some part from enforcement actions. In its most recent tax filings, the association reported $9.5 million in legal fees, more than double each of the previous two years and a figure certain to escalate with bills coming due from, among others, the outside independent review of the NCAA’s investigation of Miami, and the class-action suit brought against the NCAA over its use of athletes’ likenesses in video games, which resulted in Moody’s Investors Service recently downgrading the NCAA’s credit rating.
And maybe that’s had an effect.
“From what I have seen the last few months, he has certainly pulled back in style and is starting to try to go back and make amends,” a former NCAA administrator said. “I think he has had a meeting with [athletic directors] recently, a select group of ADs, to analyze what he is doing — what he has done wrong and those things. Whether he can recover … he obviously has been a lot quieter. He may have gotten word from the Executive Committee, too. Their message of support was a pretty guarded message in how they said it. It is his style more than anything else, and people have trouble with his style.”
The Executive Committee still has Emmert’s back for now. So he survives. But it’s never a good sign when this many people are willing to pull out the knives. And if you keep blundering, changing your style only goes so far. In any event, it’s hard to deny that the NCAA is a hot mess. And that probably means even if he keeps his job, there’s going to be a move to limit what he can do in it. Which is another reason to watch what happens when the power conferences make their move to set up a new bracket for themselves in D-1.