Three years ago, before Mark Emmert did a cannonball jump into the NCAA cesspool, he was just a Washington president with the audacity to to declare there was an etiquette to winning.
Three years ago, before Mark Emmert did a cannonball jump into the NCAA cesspool, he was just a Washington president with the audacity to declare there was an etiquette to winning.
In response to The Seattle Times’ “Victory and Ruins” series — which exposed both the criminal misconduct of several members of the 2000 Washington football team and the soft, toothless efforts by the university and community to hold them accountable — Emmert offered some strong words about success and integrity.
“You do not have to give up your values to be competitive in sports,” said Emmert, who was not in charge in 2000 and actually helped solve the football program’s image and competitive issues during his tenure from 2004 to 2010. “It’s not a success if you win a championship and have a large portion of the team arrested for poor behavior. That’s not a success.”
He went on to add: “Unfortunately, people have this notion that you can have good guys or you can have champions. I think that is an utterly false dichotomy. I reject that absolutely. You can win, and you can win properly.”
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He would be right if his allies weren’t so busy proving him wrong.
Nine months into his new job as NCAA prez, Emmert is buried in the task of trying to rescue college athletics from its most inglorious stretch of transparent scandal. Big-name programs are going down like two-bit criminals. USC, Ohio State, Tennessee and Michigan — just to name a few. The latest: Miami’s sinfully absurd infractions, exposed this week by Yahoo! Sports.
There are too many violators and violations to go through them all. It’s shocking, but only because the veil is finally being removed, and there’s actually validity to your long-assumed beliefs about cheating.
In the middle of it all stands Emmert, who must transform from idealist to enforcer. It’s the toughest job in sports right now.
Emmert wants to protect college athletics’ amateur status, but that only makes him sound hypocritical because sports such as football and men’s basketball are a multibillion-dollar cash cow, and every problem comes back to money. Players want their fair share, even though they’re receiving a free education. Schools want to continue making money, and instead of cleaning up their programs, they play dumb. Coaches react irresponsibly because they feel pressure to win at all costs.
Then there is the NCAA, a governing organization, which still refers to its membership as a semi-voluntary. It’s a nonsensical description, and that also describes the organization’s ability to solve problems. Guess you could call the NCAA a semi-authoritative.
Now that the NCAA violators are coming in droves, Emmert must both punish and reform. His tenure as the big chief will be defined by his ability to curb cheating and to fix a broken amateurism model.
He’s talking big, but we’re still waiting for action. Emmert recently went on a retreat with 50 university presidents, but it felt more like space camp than a summit. Too many of the invitees were presidents who don’t have the issues of big-revenue programs. It was a great meeting for brainstorming and grand ideas, but Emmert must provide for practical solutions. He needs to stop being collaborative and start being forceful.
The NCAA needs to reinvent the way it handles investigations. In some cases, it needs to offer immunity to wrongdoing athletes in order to get to the real truth. The NCAA needs to swing its hammer more powerfully by handing out harsher punishment (fines in the millions, suspensions of greater length) to coaches who lie during investigations and schools that fail to cooperate. And the NCAA needs to fulfill a commitment to streamline its rule book to eliminate the silliness and focus on making the real violations clear.
Yes, Emmert must also revise some antiquated beliefs. Major-college athletes deserve to benefit from some of the billions that are being made off them. But there’s a happy medium between the current scholarship and paying players. Emmert is already exploring bumping up the monetary value of scholarships to cover more than tuition, housing, books and meals. That can be done responsibly, and it would be a practical and necessary step to cover hidden expenses.
Still, Emmert the idealist will be forced to become an enforcer. He should already know that everyone doesn’t subscribe to his “win properly” beliefs. He has to be the smart guy, the bad guy and the revolutionary guy.
It’s a semi-immense challenge.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer