Incoming NCAA President Mark Emmert Discusses Realignment, BCS
Mark Emmert will leave his postion as president of the University of Washington to take over as president of the NCAA on Nov. 1. Emmert will succeed Myles Brand, who died late last year from pancreatic cancer.
In addition to his post at Washington, Emmert has been the chancellor at LSU and Connecticut.
Emmert talked with FanHouse from Seattle earlier this week on a variety of hot topics in college sports.
FanHouse: What are the first things on your to-do list?
Mark Emmert: Obviously, one of the first things I need to do is learn an awful lot. This is a new role for me and, while I'm well-engaged on the big issues, as anyone with a big enterprise would need to do, I'll be learning the people inside and out, getting out and about to key members of the Association and getting to know them, learning what the key issues are for them. It's going to be an educational tour for me.
FH: Are there any big things left undone, any things that need to be dealt with immediately?
Emmert: I don't think there's anything that's out of the ordinary, that has been piling up. Jim Isch, the interim president, has done a spectacular job, the staff has been great during this period. I've got some more organizational things to deal with, the normal transitional issues. There have been issues that are always popping up in intercollegiate athletics, but nothing that's been waiting in particular. The issues are just the normal course of business issues.
FH: Is this a job you ever envisioned yourself in?
Emmert: I can't say that I thought much beyond the job that I had. I've always been somebody who gets into the job that I've got and done it as well as I know how, and see where it goes from there. I have always been actively engaged in intercollegiate athletics at each of the universities I've worked at.
Being more intimately involved in it has always been appealing to me. I've loved the role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the education of student-athletes and so, for me, it was a very natural progression, even though if you'd asked me five years ago, I probably wouldn't have said, 'I'll probably be head of the NCAA someday.'
FH: As was the case with Myles Brand, the NCAA decided to go with a university president instead of an athletic director. What do you think the NCAA is looking for in bringing you on board?
Emmert: I may not be the best person to answer that. What I know it signals is that the NCAA is in fact a collegiate association first and foremost. That it's an integral part of higher education. When I met with the executive committee and in all my conversations with them, I said, 'Look, my personal emphasis first, foremost and always, is what do the actions of the NCAA mean for student athletes on the ground and in their personal development as young people? And I think that resonates well with membership, that this is, in fact, about a collegiate experience and not just about an athletic one.
FH: You had a bird's-eye view of the conference realignment this summer with the Pac-10 and the Big 12. What was your impression of all of that? Do you believe that super-conferences are an inevitability?
Emmert: I was, of course, involved in the Pac-10 discussions, and when it comes to conferences, I don't think anything is inevitable, as the track record would suggest. The other piece that I think it taught us, was that at the end of the day, the individual universities and conferences are going to be pretty thoughtful and rational about all this.
There were conversations that were verging on hysteria when all that was going on. Everyone looked at the options, there were good thoughtful conversations. While most people don't believe it, there were a lot of conversations about academic alignment and fit and culture and how members work together. It was not all about money. I don't mean to pretend that the money issues were not important, they were very important. But it was much more complex than that. On the whole, they ended up with some adjustments that were a whole lot less dramatic than people anticipated. I think that's likely to be the case going forward.
FH: How did you view all those developments? As a university president or the incoming president of the NCAA?
Emmert: It was a very interesting place to be. I still had my University of Washington hat on and I kept it firmly in place. But obviously, in the back of my mind, and in my colleagues' minds, I'm sure they were thinking, 'You're going to be in a different spot in a while.' It was kind of fun, frankly, to think about these issues from a variety of perspectives.
FH: Conference realignment has been football-driven. Do you have concerns about what major realignment means for minor sports, women's sports, Olympic sports?
Emmert: It's football-driven because it's media-driven, and of course, that's closely related to revenue and for the individual institutions, football revenue, in all but a few cases, is what supports Olympic sports. So if you don't have football revenue, you really can't support all of those other programs. So, while yes, you need to worry about what these mean for all of sports, I always tell people at the University of Washington that if you love crew, if you love women's gymnastics, if you love soccer, go buy football tickets.
FH: Do you envision a scenario in which the NCAA would intervene if it felt that conference realignment would be damaging to college athletics?
Emmert: It's pretty hard for me to imagine that. Those decisions are decisions of the individual institutions. It's really not ever been, or would ever likely be, the role of the NCAA to intrude in conference alignment decisions.
FH: You are familiar with the USC situation. People have talked about how to avoid penalizing student-athletes currently in a program for things that happened before they got there. Do you think there's any solution there?
Emmert: No, I don't. I understand that emotion clearly. And I understand why people could look and say 'Gee, that doesn't feel quite right.' On the other hand, there's not an easy solution to it. I do want to work as effectively as I can with the member universities to make sure that we line up penalties and rewards and a variety of things -- the carrots and the stick in a way that's as effective as we can be at changing behavior. To create a level playing field to support student-athlete development and well-being. But there's never, ever, a perfectly clean solution to those issues.
FH: What is your take on the coaches who have talked recently about the issues of agents and attempts to limit access to their programs? Is that an individual school's role to make those decisions or does the NCAA have a larger responsibility?
Emmert: Clearly the NCAA has a central role to play in all of that, both in setting the rules and shaping that culture, to the extent that we can do that.
So I've been already involved in some of those conversations. I actually think that's an arena in which we can make some very good progress collectively. Because we do have most all of the interested parties concerned about this right now -- coaches, and the NFL, and obviously the NCAA, and the agents themselves. We, I think, have a chance to do something there, that could have a very positive impact on the situation. It's like most complicated things. There's not a silver bullet. It will probably take a number of pieces and it will probably take a few false starts to get it right. But I think it's one of those circumstances where you can definitely improve the situation.
FH: What's your feeling about the non-automatic-qualifiers who are making their cases to be included in the BCS championship picture? Do you have an opinion about a playoff?
Emmert: From a fan's point of few, it's fun to see the parity that's going on. TCU and BSU and some other schools that are non-automatic qualifiers that are playing very, very good football. On the other hand, you have James Madison beating Virginia Tech, which is, from a fan's perspective, exciting to see that anybody can beat anybody on a Saturday. And that's just fun. The whole debate about a playoff and the BCS, that's not something that the NCAA is going to wade into. Again, that's an issue for the member institutions. If they want the NCAA to come in and help with those discussions, I'm more than happy to do that. But that's not my domain.
FH: Are you happy with the changes to the men's basketball tournament?
Emmert: I'm very pleased with where we wound up. I think we're in a good position from a competitive point of view. I think the decision that has been made to play that first round at a single site at Dayton, I think that will work really well. I think it's a very good place to start this new model. And I think it will prove to be quite stable. That doesn't mean change won't occur soon (laughs). For right now, I think it's a very good place and I' m delighted with the contractual arrangement with Turner and CBS. We're able to make the decisions about conference participation, independent of that contract, and that means you can make it based on competition and what works for the members.
FH: Do you anticipate similar expansion in the women's tournament?
Emmert: I don't know. That something that I need to spend more time with the member institutions about and right now, I don't really have a strong view of it.