Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Man in the Middle

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Man in the Middle

Article excerpt

Diverse goes one-on-one with NCAA President Mark Emmert.

President of the NCAA since October 2010, Dr. Mark Emmert is constantly engaged in a delicate balancing act, as he deals with the competing priorities and agendas of college presidents, coaches, athletic directors, boosters, sports agents and the media while trying to look out for the best interests of the student-athlete, ostensibly in college to receive an education. Most recently, Emmert was criticized by John Calipari, head coach of the 2012 national champion Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, over his view that NBA-ready high schoolers should not be forced to spend a year in college, as current NBA rules practically demand.

In a conversation with Diverse earlier this month at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Emmert discussed the NBA's "one and done" rule and numerous other college sports issues, including the perception that the NCAA is a willing participant in the exploitation of the Black athlete for financial gain. Emmert has been under intense pressure from numerous intercollegiate athletics stakeholders to forcefully confront the powers that be who want nothing to interrupt the billions in TV, ticket sales and merchandizing revenue generated by college athletics programs, even if large numbers of Black athletes, at the end of the day, end up back on the streets after their NCAA glory days are over, with no degree or marketable skills.

DI: Can you reflect on how your role as NCAA president differs from prior positions you've held leading NCAA-member institutions?

ME: We have nearly 500 employees, and I have conventional line authority over that staff, but at the same time, our role and mission is to serve. So it is a classic leadership-servant model of running an organization where you have to provide leadership on key issues and help the membership find solutions to the problems that they see out there. But on the other hand, if the membership doesn't want to go in some direction, then you don't go in that direction, and a classic example is the BCS debate. So everyone says, "Well, Emmert, when are you going to solve the BCS debate?" Well, as soon as the presidents want to solve that problem, it will get solved, but right now they haven't determined they want to solve it. So it's something I'd much more liken to being Secretary-General of the U.N. than head of a corporation.

DI: What is your response to criticism Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari has leveled against you for your opposition to NBA rules that force some wouldbe draftees to play some college ball?

ME: Well, I've made no secret of the fact that I greatly dislike the one-and-done model. . . . The baseball rule is you can go right out of high school, but if you go to college, you've got to stay three years. Everybody has got their own set of rules here, and they're built into the labor contracts of each of those professional sports. So I happen to believe that college students and college athletics would be much better served if the basketball rules were more like the football rules or the baseball rules. And the idea that a youngster coming out of high school has no interest in going to college but feels obligated to go there for six months to touch that base so he can get to his real goal, that doesn't make any sense to me. It makes a mockery of collegiate athletics. Collegiate athletics is about college students playing sports.

[NBA] Commissioner [David] Stern has opined on this as well He and I have talked about it I've talked to coach Calipari about this. There seems to be a strong interest on most everyone's - but not maybe the Players Association's - part, in changing that rule and having kids stay in college longer, which would greatly benefit those kids who want to come to college. If they don't, go play in the Development League, go play in Europe, go do something else, but if you come to college, be a college student.

DI: Is it reasonable to ask college athletes to step up their performance in the classroom given the reality that for many students, playing college sports is like a job, given the amount of time they commit to practices, traveling for games, etc? …

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