NCAA President Mark Emmert sounded alarms Thursday on the potential impact of sports betting on college sports, along with how esports should be handled by schools, and stressed a need for additional strides toward diversity at the coaching and administrative levels.
Emmert, speaking in Orlando, Florida, at the NCAA’s annual convention, told the membership that they’ll need to stick to “values-based bold leadership” to handle those challenges and others going forward.
“It’s pretty simple,” Emmert said. “We have to lead with our values. That’s how we need to make decisions, whether it’s wagering, legal environments, esports, anything else that we do.”
Emmert offered few, if any, specifics on changes that should be made on the issues he addressed. He voiced concern about esports for a number of reasons, airing those worries a day after Marquette announced that it would become the first major-conference school to offer esports as a varsity team starting in the fall semester.
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One of the challenges of esports could be having it adhere to Title IX compliance rules. Emmert said 95 percent of esports players are male, though there are other studies that suggest the gap between male and female players — while still tilted heavily toward men — is much smaller than the number the NCAA president cited.
“We know a lot of the content is hugely misogynistic,” Emmert said. “We know that some of the content is really violent. We don’t particularly embrace games where the objective is to blow your opponent’s head off. We know there are serious concerns about health and wellness around those games.”
Marquette, in its announcement on Wednesday, said it saw adding esports as another way of being competitive in a changing landscape.
“Being named after an explorer means it’s in Marquette’s DNA to define the opportunities of tomorrow and ensure we’re anticipating what future students will expect,” university President Michael R. Lovell said in a statement. “Marquette embraces new methods of teaching and areas of study, and esports and gaming in general have the potential to impact both, while also helping to strengthen our student recruitment prospects in an increasingly competitive environment.”
Emmert suggested the NCAA could be able to influence change in the makeup of games.
“We may have an opportunity in front of us to apply our values to esports and better align those games to our values to change not just what happens in our activities but what happens across your campuses and more broadly what happens in society,” Emmert said. “We don’t want to ever change our values to fit a game or some other entity. We want to change that entity to fit our values.”
He did, however, say changes are needed at the NCAA level in the ongoing quest toward more diversity and inclusion. Emmert said college sports has made strides but more steps must be taken.
“When we look at our coaching ranks and our administrative ranks, we haven’t made very much progress there,” Emmert said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do there.”
On sports wagering, which the NCAA steadfastly opposes — and prohibits athletes, coaches and other athletic department employees from participating in — Emmert again urged the membership to stick to its principles.
“Sports wagering is going to have a dramatic impact on everything we do in college sports,” Emmert said. “It’s going to threaten the integrity of college sports in many ways unless we are willing to act boldly and strongly.”
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May overturned federal law prohibiting states from legalizing sports betting. The NCAA says that ruling is not affecting its bylaws pertaining to betting in any form, even the participation of wildly popular NCAA bracket pools common in office settings around the country during the Division I men’s basketball tournament.