NCAA's money issues will be Mark Emmert's next challenge
Mark Emmert, newly appointed NCAA president, said 18 months ago as University of Washington president he thought a football playoff was almost inevitable.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
On a jog recently at the Final Four, I bumped into Mike Slive, the Southeastern Conference commissioner. We couldn't have been more than a healthy 6-iron from the NCAA headquarters.
"What's going on with expansion?" I asked, hoping he might leak a kernel of news.
"Which one?" he responded, without a hesitation.
Those two issues — conference expansion and growth in the size of the NCAA men's basketball-tournament field — have lately shoved aside any other news in college athletics.
They're all about money, of course. As will be just about everything else in the tenure of Mark Emmert as NCAA president, due to begin Nov. 1.
The Washington president, named Tuesday in a shocker to replace the estimable Myles Brand, was always a guy with a supreme ability to entice donors to dig down for their checkbooks.
More than raising money, now his job will be to manage it — or more accurately, to help set a course for college athletics that keeps schools from a vast sinkhole created by fiscal irresponsibility rampant nationwide.
Good luck with that.
As NCAA president, Emmert's job description is to be visionary, to lead, to shape reform and try to steer college sports away from the cliff where it often appears to be headed.
Brand's defining legacy, for instance, was in spearheading academic reform. The initials "APR" if not tattooed onto the deltoids of every college athletic director, are at least prominent in his or her vocabulary. Brand's push resulted in the Academic Progress Rate and scholarship penalties for programs with student-athletes who flunk out or transfer in poor academic standing.
Tuesday at his introductory news conference, Emmert as much as conceded there isn't much "revolutionary" he can ramrod academically. So once you get past the obligatory lip service toward improving the student-athlete experience, it's almost inevitable that his big issues will surround money and the viability of today's structure of college athletics.
Here's a wild guess. When Emmert hangs 'em up as NCAA president — in five years, in a decade — we might remember him as the guy who successfully bucked all the guys out there in the fuchsia sport coats, the bowl officials, and finally jammed into place some sort of football playoff.
"I happen to be one that thinks it's inevitable we'll have a playoff," he told me in a conversation about 18 months ago.
That could be something modest, like the plus-one format that wouldn't materially affect the bowls, or it could be more dramatic, something like an eight- or 16-team fiesta.
If and when that happens, it will be because it's a big revenue-producer. That won't solve the myriad financial problems of college programs, but it will come partly in response to them.
Here's the world Emmert inherits: The Big Ten may expand to 16 teams, shaking down more money from TV networks and thereby putting lesser leagues on notice. NCAA officials recently floated the idea of revolutionizing their coolest thing, the men's basketball tournament, by proposing a 50 percent increase in teams to 96, just for money.
Emmert's presidential colleagues bemoan the rising costs in college athletics, on their way to introducing Nick Saban (funny, he was Emmert's football coach at Louisiana State) as head coach at Alabama and John Calipari as Kentucky basketball coach, each at $4 million a year.
Meanwhile, keeping up with the Joneses means a facilities race that dictates you not only need skyboxes but marble inlays on the toilet-paper dispensers in the football-stadium restrooms.
Talking football playoff back then, Emmert referred to "illusory arguments" like missed class time.
"I'd like to be one having shaped that," he said of a playoff, the words now sounding almost haunting, "rather than having it shaped by others."
Welcome to Indy, Mark Emmert. You've got a lot of shaping ahead of you.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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