INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA President Mark Emmert looks and sounds increasingly frustrated.
Some of the fast-track reforms he championed in August 2011 have been slowed down by the governing body’s legislative process. Simplifying the rule book has proven trickier than expected. His own enforcement staff got swept into a major scandal earlier this year, and Emmert has come under increasing scrutiny for presiding over all of this.
Yes, it’s been a rough start to 2013.
“It’s just a demonstration that this is a membership association and decision-making is hard. It’s hard to find agreement among all the members and that’s the nature of democratic processes,” Emmert told The Associated Press this week. “As Winston Churchill put it, it’s the worst of all systems except for everything else.”
At least Emmert can still laugh a little as the NCAA’s board of directors prepares to meet Thursday. A lot has changed since the committee last met in person in mid-January.
Shortly after that meeting, the former LSU chancellor announced publicly that the NCAA had botched its investigation of the University of Miami. A monthlong external investigation confirmed the initial findings and led to the ouster of NCAA enforcement director Julie Roe Lach. As speculation swirled about Emmert’s own future, the board issued a rare — and perhaps unprecedented — vote of confidence in his leadership.
Last month, the board suspended rules passed in January that would have deregulated which coaching staff members could perform recruiting tasks and what printed materials could be sent to recruits. It also agreed to take a second look at a new rule that would have prohibited coaches from scouting future opponents in person and watched closely as at least 75 schools, the minimum needed to override a board vote, objected to allowing coaches unlimited contacts with recruits outside the traditional non-contact periods.
Those rules went into effect in men’s and women’s basketball last summer, and the coaches approve. Football coaches don’t see it the same way.
“We have serious concerns whether these proposals, as currently written, are in the best interest of high school student-athletes, their families and their coaches,” the Big Ten coaches and athletic directors said in critiquing the changes in February. “We are also concerned about the adverse effect they would have on college coaches, administrators and university resources.”
It’s enough to even make Emmert consider the possibility of implementing sport-specific rules — something that would cut against his initial argument to shrink and simplify the NCAA’s massive rulebook.
There was also Emmert’s annual Final Four press conference, which turned contentious.
Emmert now acknowledges the tone didn’t help either side but made no apologies for what was said.
Two more enforcement staff members have left in the past month, and during Tuesday’s opening remarks to a seemingly friendly audience at the NCAA’s second Inclusion Forum, Emmert was questioned about the impact of the academic reforms that established new, tougher eligibility standards for incoming freshmen. The man who asked wondered if it would cause a growing disparity among college athletes from low-resource schools. Emmert explained that the new standards would lead to better results, such as higher graduation rates, rather than negative consequences.
In the background are a number of lawsuits against the NCAA, including the high-profile suit from Ed O’Bannon and others over the use of amateur athletes’ images. Some critics have continued to call for a change at the top.
Don’t bet on it after the board’s unusual February announcement.
“Well, it was (unusual), but it was an unusual moment,” Emmert said when asked directly about the vote of confidence. “They decided to take that action and there was, at that moment, I think so much discussion out there that they felt the need to make clear that they were supporting what I was engaging, a task that they wanted me involved in. I have great confidence in the board and the agenda we are trying to work through.”
Several board members did not return messages seeking comment from the AP.
The hardest part is that little has gone right lately for Emmert and the Indianapolis-based NCAA.
Thursday’s agenda illustrates what’s at stake.
That’s why Emmert describes this meeting as “framing” the big issues for the future rather than a headline-grabbing action meeting.
“We’ve been making really good progress, really great headway on a whole host of issues most notably the academic and rules reforms,” Emmert said. “The work we’ve conducted on all of our enforcement work and those things have been really positive. Obviously, the distractions of the Miami case and the way that was handled have been frustrating to no end.”
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