Dennis Dodd gets all “the times, they are a-changing” (seriously: “At some point in recent years college athletics became a Bob Dylan protest song.”) on the NCAA’s ass. It’s an easy mark – see what I did there? – when your target is tone-deaf like this:
Emmert will most likely endure probing questions Sunday when he conducts his annual state of the union press conference at the Final Four. But in the current big picture, he admittedly has nothing more than a bully pulpit.
It’s the way his term has played out. Emmert’s mandate to reform from the NCAA board of directors went flat. Witness the overreach at Penn State, the screw up in the Miami case and the failed 2011 presidential summit. His organization is now attempting to restructure from within before the courts or Washington intercede.
“I’m apprehensive in that the system right now serves 450,000 student-athletes and provides remarkable opportunities for them,” Emmert told the Indy Star. “Should that model be blown up, yeah, it would be a significant loss for America. So, of course we want to continue to support the collegiate model of athletics and think it’s worth saving. Others disagree.”
Yeah, that presser’s gonna be awkward.
No question that the guys in charge of college athletics have been slow to recognize the need for change. But even taking into account the role inertia – the most powerful force in the universe! – plays in big organizations that have been used to getting their way for decades, there are a couple of structural flaws that make it even more difficult for the NCAA and its member schools to react nimbly to the changing times.
One, unlike the pro leagues, college athletics don’t form a monolithic structure. Instead, you have a bunch of conferences that compete with each other commercially, have separate rules and management and have had no reluctance to raid each other for members over the past few seasons. What limited common purpose they share is overseen by an organization that is distrusted to some degree by much of its membership and derives a part of its authority from the control it exercises over a lucrative basketball tournament. Some of what the NCAA has to do, then, is akin to herding cats.
That’s not an easy task in and of itself. But it’s even more difficult when you consider the second structural flaw: its fearless leader, Mark Emmert. I’m not sure about the vetting process, but somehow the schools accepted a guy in the head slot with this kind of track record:
“When you Google ‘Emmert,’ you do sort of see this pattern, which is he’s a great front man, but there always seems to be these problems with the people around him,” Pelto said. “Does he trust bad people? Is the problem that he doesn’t know what’s going on? Is the problem that he does know what’s going on and doesn’t do anything about it?”
Either way, he’s a winner.
By the way, the next potential nail in amateurism’s coffin is scheduled for April 25. Be prepared for another round of how America lost.