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NCAA's Emmert: It is time to decentralize college sports

NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks at the NCAA convention Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday the time is right to consider a decentralized and deregulated version of college sports, shifting power to conferences and campuses and reconsidering how schools are aligned.

Emmert said the recent Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA along with the lifting of restrictions on athletes monetizing their fame should be a catalyst to “rethink” what college sports is about.

In a 30-minute interview with a small group of reporters, Emmert stressed he was not putting forth a mandate or even a recommendation. But he laid out a vision for the future of college sports that puts fewer limitations on athletes and de-emphasizes the role of a national governing body like the NCAA, which was founded 115 years ago and oversees more than 450,000 students who play sports.

“When you have an environment like that it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place ever on college athletes. And it should be the bare minimum,” Emmert said.

Emmert said the NCAA's more than 1,100 member schools should consider a less homogenous approach to the way sports are governed and re-examine the current three division structure, which includes 355 Division I colleges.

The NCAA's rules and regulations have long been criticized and court challenges have been mounting in recent years.

“We need to be ready to say, ‘Yeah, you know, for field hockey, field hockey is different than football. Wrestling is different than lacrosse,’ and not get so hung up on having everything be the same,” said Emmert, who was president of LSU and the University of Washington before taking the NCAA job in 2010.

Sports serve different functions at different schools, Emmert said, and the NCAA needs to govern in a way that is more reflective of that. He added the NCAA should not shy away from the fact that a small percentage of athletes are using college sports as a path to professional sports.

“We need to embrace that,” he said. "And with NIL out there, we’re providing other opportunities around this whole notion of using college sports as a career launching pad.”

As of July 1, the NCAA waived its longstanding rules prohibiting athletes from earning money off their fame for things such as online endorsements, sponsorship deals and personnel appearances. The move allowed athletes in states that did not have so-called name, image and likeness laws — designed to usurp the NCAA's previous restrictions —- to capitalize similarly to those in states with NIL laws, such as Florida and Georgia.

In states were there are no laws to set NIL guidelines, schools have been instructed to craft their own — a dramatic change for the NCAA. College athletes have jumped into the new market with deals big and small.

The Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA last month was also seen as a bombshell, a 9-0 decision upholding a lower court ruling in an antitrust case related to caps on compensation. Legal experts and college sports observers immediately wondered if the NCAA will look at other approaches as a result.

The types of reforms to college sports governance and structure that Emmert is now advancing are not new. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, for one, has been promoting a plan to revamp Division I and pull major college football out of the NCAA’s purview altogether.

Emmert has spoken out against that specific idea, but his comments suggest change is certainly on the table.

“I think this is a really, really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, ‘You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?’" Emmert said. "What would we change? What would we expect or want to be different in the way we manage it. And this is good. This is the right time.”

The NCAA's hands-off approach to NIL reform came after months of work was done on a proposal that created standardized rules across each division and the organization was also hoping for help from Congress in the form of a federal NIL law.

After the Supreme Court ruling threw open the door for more legal challenges to the NCAA's rules, the association pivoted to a hyperlocal approach. The current model creates a patchwork of standards around the country, something college sports leaders insisted would be untenable.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby earlier this week told ESPN the NCAA's NIL solution “was intended to prevent us from getting sued.”

Emmert conceded the high court's ruling in the Alston case was a clarifying moment and should motivate college sports leaders to act on reforms.

“You can lean back and do nothing and then just wait and see what happens,” Emmert said. “Or you can say, ‘Look, we’re in it. This is a new era.’ We need to take advantage of it, pivot as much as we can toward the areas that I was just talking about and and embrace that change rather than fighting it.”

Comments

Shannon Gustafson

I feel like KU's NCAA issues are the same as those people who are doing years (or decades) in prison for growing or selling marijuana in states where marijuana is now legal...only difference is our sentence hasn't been determined yet.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Benny Armstrong

Very much agree. The question becomes whether NCAA through the IARP is going to reach a disposition in these cases under the old rules or will they give deference to the new rules given the number of years that have passed since the investigations were launched. I certainly understand both sides of this situation and think it would be fair to punish those schools that were found to have broken rules, but it will look really bad from a PR standpoint to take action against a school this far after the fact for something that is no longer a violation.

Obviously I'm biased, but hope that we wind up with a minimal penalty if anything at all. Based on the evidence that was raised during the trial and the stories that have come out since, there is not enough to actually demonstrate a link that could support significant penalties. The NCAA absolutely overcharged KU and I think they know it. This isn't a situation like Arizona or LSU where their coaches were on the record offering to make payments to athletes.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Rodney Crain

Exactly the same. Exactly.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Edward Daub

The Emmeror has no Clothes.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Randy Bombardier

Pathetic. Amateur athletics is dead. Paying high school players will soon follow. I guess this means its time to reconsider and rethink what a fan is. I stopped watching the NFL decades ago. I'm just a few years away from not watching any sports at all.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Shannon Gustafson

You're under the impression that high school players aren't getting paid now and haven't in the past?

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Sean Doherty

Randy Bombardier, no one is forcing you to watch any sports or be a fan of any of them. So while you're crying a river over your soap operas, don't cry to us. Enjoy the soaps and the unreality tv shows. Talented athletes that have the natural physical prowess and the IQ to bring it to an art that you or I could never do should be paid. Some kids have mathematical talents, scientific talents, biological talents, etc, etc, will be highly paid in their lives. Just because we might not be in that category doesn't mean we should deny those who can and do those things. No matter their occupation or how early in their lives they get to a point where they can get paid highly through their skills shouldn't make you upset or jealous, just joy and happiness for those who have gained success early in their life. If it does bother you, i'ts time for you to look deeper into yourself, and why you are perturbed, not deeper into others and their success.

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Brian Wilson

Hypothetical Example & Question: A biology student gets a scholarship from Cerner, but while going to school they are not working for or generating any kind of revenue whatsoever for Cerner. The Cerner scholarship is considered tax free money, is for $7500 which ends up covering only 75% of the student's tuition. To earn that scholarship the student needed an "A" average in high school and had earn a high score on their ACT/SAT. To get more money for their education, they go to work for the local Nike store at $10/hour selling shoes. Question: Should the money earned working for Nike by the biology student be considered scholarship money and have no-taxes taken out? Atter all, the money is used for education.<br><br>Or: Should the football player, who meets little academic requirement, be considered Professional because they are working for the same business from which they are being compensated? Scholarship football players are geting paid an all expenses paid full-ride so called educational "scholarship" by the football team (which is a business), to work, practice, and play exclusively for that same football team, for the purpose of generating revenue for that football team. I ask, do these scholarships fit the description of a scholarship, or is it pay to play, and should players now be considered PROFESSIONAL and should they have to pay taxes on these so called "scholarships", as contractors, as they are not only being paid by the very business for which they are generating revenue but they are now unrestricted from generating additonal income through licensing of their Name, Image, and Likeness as it relates to the profession, and not their academics?

2 months, 3 weeks ago

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