Emmert won't duck Newton backlash
NCAA president Mark Emmert, less than two months into his tenure, removed his tie and sat down in the middle of the table in a back room at St. Elmo Steak House, surrounded by nine national writers waiting to pounce on his every word.
"We’re trying really hard to be more transparent,” said the 57-year-old former University of Washington president.
Emmert and the NCAA have come under fire of late in the wake of the organization’s decision to allow Auburn quarterback Cam Newton to play in the Southeastern Conference championship and national title games despite being shopped by his father in a pay-for-play deal.
But give Emmert credit. He’s not hiding in a bunker.
Emmert said he expected backlash from the media and the general public — and even the conference commissioners — following the Newton ruling.
"I was not surprised at the volume of it,” Emmert said. "The only thing that would have been greater is if we had made a different decision.”
"Given the facts that we had,” Emmert added. "Given the fact that we didn’t have any proof of it.”
Emmert also didn't rule out the possibility that emergency legislation could be put in place in January, potentially changing the outcome of the Newton case.
After listening to Emmert for the better part of three hours in between consuming spicy shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad and tuna, it’s obvious he is an intelligent man capable of following in the footsteps of the late Myles Brand. His primary concerns in heading up the NCAA are the well-being of the student-athletes and making certain his new organization is run as efficiently as possible.
But right now Emmert won’t hide the fact he doesn’t possess all the answers.
He isn’t yet armed with all the information on how to deal with the agents, runners and even financial guys who have infiltrated collegiate athletics.
In fact, he can't yet explain whether the NCAA is able to run and sanction certain events in the July recruiting period, or why preseason basketball scrimmages are closed to the media.
But there were plenty of topics that Emmert wasn’t shy in addressing.
While not speaking specifically about Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, Emmert said that coaches should be held to — at the very least — the same standard as student-athletes when they have been less than forthcoming to the NCAA.
"I certainly believe they [the same guidelines] should,” Emmert said. "Of course. At least as much.
"We certainly want to (hold) coaches — who are the teacher and authority figure in that relationship — to at the very least the same standards that we hold out students.”
Emmert will continue to be brought up to speed on the myriad of issues involving the NCAA nowadays.
"I think we’re in a good place right now,” Emmert said.
But he also remains realistic.
"When we made mistakes," he said, "we need to stand up and say, 'We made a mistake,’ and deal with it and not pretend otherwise.”
Here are some other topics that were brought up throughout the evening:
• Emmert spoke to NBA commissioner David Stern on Monday. He didn’t go into detail about their discussion, but said: "We talked about (the NBA's labor situation) only in the context that it’s a labor issue between them and the players. My interest is in anything that encourages students to come to college and stay in college. ... Anything that keeps students in school longer I support.” Emmert said he wants to work with all the professional leagues in the future, but has yet to speak to NBA Players Association leader Billy Hunter.
• Emmert reiterated that he has no say over basketball's one-and-done rule. "That’s a huge misconception. At events I go to around the country, I’m constantly asked when I’m going to fix that.”
• There’s a misconception by some that Emmert and the NCAA have control over the BCS and the discussion about a national championship game in college football. "We don’t have anything to do with the bowl games," he said, "but we are heavily involved in football.”
• On whether he sees the NCAA tournament expanding to 96 teams: "I like this 68 model. I think we’re going to stick with it for a great while. We need to get through one season before we start speculating.”
• On the potential of conference realignment resulting in a league breaking away from the NCAA: "If we do our job well and serve the broader interest of college sports, the last thing in the world any conference should do is say, 'We don’t want to be a part of that.’ I wasn’t concerned about a conference growing so big that it didn’t want to be a part of the NCAA.”
• Emmert reaffirmed that he is opposed to paying college athletes
• Emmert said there were only 14 programs in the country last year that broke even or made money.