This is what comes of torching your credibility for more than a decade.
Some had waited months, others years and even a few decades. The college sports world excitedly readied itself for this day as it approached, an indelible moment in NCAA athletics history, when the governing body of college sports would jettison 100 years of amateurism policies that so many believe are un-American. Like the kitchen sink, poof, it’d be gone, replaced by modernized rules governing athlete compensation, specific pathways for college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
Eternally berated, the NCAA would claim a rare victory, a crowning achievement—maybe the crowning achievement—by ushering in a new era in college sports.
And then, on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET, it released a report totaling 14,000 words, 31 pages, 18 subsections, seven sections and, as one Congresswoman put it, zero concrete ideas. “My initial reaction is it’s a PR document,” says Donna Shalala, the former president at NCAA member schools Wisconsin and Miami who now serves in the U.S. House of Representative as a Democrat from Florida.
Shalala slammed the NCAA for a vague, nonsensical piece, released only to entice the press and appease the public, she said in an interview Wednesday afternoon from her Miami home. In fact, if she had received such a report while still a university president, she imagines herself wondering aloud, “Why are we paying all these people at the NCAA if they can’t give us more details than this?’”
Many key figures on the nation’s political stage held similar feelings about the NCAA’s name, image and likeness (NIL) report. The Congressional members most at the center of the NIL debate on Capitol Hill—the same ones NCAA leaders are pleading for help on this matter—spent much of Wednesday rebuking the governing body of college sports for a proposal, they say, that revealed too few details, included too many NCAA-friendly restrictions and, maybe most ghastly of all, contained a not-so-subtle request for a Congressional antitrust exemption.
Antitrust? Some lawmakers were befuddled at the notion. The gall. “I want to see them learn how to make a decision first. Wouldn’t that be nice? They don’t have to committee everything to death,” says Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee and a member of a key senate committee involved in the NIL topic in D.C. “We were giving the NCAA a chance to get their act together, but I think their leadership is weak. They are tentative and have shown they can’t come through with a requisite list of standards. They need to realize that the shot clock has run out on them.”
One thing a politician is good at is sensing when there’s somebody out there less popular than said politician. The NCAA has managed to pull off that neat trick. It’s no mean feat to be disliked more than the United States Congress, so, congrats for that, Mark Emmert. You’ve earned it with all the delays, the morphed definitions of amateurism, the empty threats (hello, Jim Delany) and all the other bullshit that have marked what passes for NCAA policy.
Even better, you and yours managed to put the perfect bow on the box yesterday.
Most lawmakers who spoke to Sports Illustrated on Wednesday quickly debunked the possibility of an antitrust exemption—which would protect the NCAA from NIL legal entanglements—painting the topic as a non-starter and a waste of time.
When you’ve got a looming threat — and, make no mistake, Florida’s NIL law scheduled to go into effect in July next year surely qualifies — pitching wastes of time to the body you hope will stem the tide is pretty much the opposite of what you should be doing. And if Emmert thinks things are urgent now, if nothing happens in Washington relatively soon, it’s not hard to think how much more urgent it’ll get next year.
“That’s why we’ve got to act and act fast. That means the NCAA has got to put a little more flesh on the bone than this proposal,” says Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and one of the legislative leaders on this subject. “It’s Florida right now, but as we creep closer to that date, you better believe Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and every other state with teams in the SEC or ACC are going to start passing laws as well.”
‘Ya think? Smart and McGarity will have a bill in the Georgia legislature faster than they had with the open records one that passed in record time. There won’t be a state with an SEC school that’ll miss that feeding frenzy. And at that point, the horse will be way out of the barn for Emmert’s purposes.
You know what? He deserves it.