Just one year after getting one of the mystifying extensions in contract history, Mark Emmert is stepping down as the President of the NCAA. It is hard to imagine a more disastrous tenure in sports.
It is hard to put the incompetence of Emmert into words, but let us try with one example out of many from his tenure. Emmert helped craft a legal strategy which resulted in a unanimous defeat at the Supreme Court, with Brett Kavanaugh ripping apart the NCAA’s weak arguments in a concurrence, handing a massive victory to the student-athletes, essentially toppling the entire amateurism model upon which the NCAA rests.
Do you know how bad you have to be at your job to get this Supreme Court to side with labor against the interests of a big business? And then have one of the conservative justices, not one of the liberals, to write the blistering concurrence which calls into question your entire business model? That’s staggering incompetence.
The NCAA business model is not sustainable, and technically, that’s not Emmert’s fault. But his job was to make the best pitch for amateurism and the usefulness of the NCAA, and he kept stepping on to rakes at every turn like he was Sideshow Bob. So he’s not precisely responsible for the collapse of the NCAA’s authority, but he certainly accelerated the process.
Emmert was so bad at his job, which at its core is a public relations position, that he managed to come out looking like the villain when opposing a pedophile. When the Penn St scandal broke, Emmert leapt at the situation for an easy political win, and handed down draconian penalties on the university. However, he did so outside the usual enforcement procedures, likely violated due process, and opened up the obvious question of whether the NCAA should be involved in a criminal matter in the first place.
The sanctions were rolled back, and Emmert never made so high profile bold move again. The NCAA rolled him out whenever they needed the crowd to have someone throw rotten fruit at, but he largely stopped trying to do anything in the midst of an organizational crisis.
Way back in 2010, on his first year on the job, Emmert did show he understood the issues confronting college sports. He proposed a $2,000 a year stipend for all scholarship players and even floated a trial balloon of support for a four-year scholarship. Not earth shattering changes, but a slow move in the right direction.
The stipend proposal failed and he quietly dropped his support of the four-year scholarship. He would never propose a reform again. If a leader can’t get through even such a modest reform through in his honeymoon period, then its going to be a long road to hoe. It simply got worse from there.
Twelve years later, don’t college administrators wished they had nipped the NIL train in the bud with a $2,000 check? Now, it probably wouldn’t have stopped the reform movement, but it might have slowed it or at the very least, given the NCAA a voice in what the brave new world will look like.
Instead, the NCAA has completely abdicated any role in the new pay-for-play era. They have traded one black market of bagmen for a different one of NIL hucksters. The rulebook is hopelessly outdated, trying to chase the infractions of decades-old vintage, if they had any interest in prosecuting infractions at all, which it appears they do not in the wake of their many court defeats. The next enforcement decision is begging for judicial review, and it could be the blow which causes the whole teetering structure to topple.
So the NCAA drags its feet on the Adidas college basketball scandal, even as it crowns one of the named parties in the FBI complaint as its national champion. Schools are simply trying to outwait the NCAA enforcement power, and it seems it might be a gamble. There might not be an Enforcement Division as we know it in the next few years.
The conferences and schools have largely cut the NCAA out of important decisions. The SEC is negotiating directly with TV networks for an even bigger pile of money, each state is creating its own NIL rules which is creating a patchwork of regulation, and the conferences simply made their own decisions on how to deal with COVID, a genuine crisis which probably could have used a little bit of guidance from the organization’s governing body.
Emmert couldn’t even get little things right. He attended every men’s basketball Final Four and went to the women’s Final Four just twice. These are unnecessary own goals.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has appeared at the Women's Final Four twice during his tenure, via @asapsports.— Rachel Bachman (@Bachscore) April 12, 2022
He's been at the men's Final Four every year.
*2020 tournaments not held due to covid.https://t.co/iU6sdMT6ER pic.twitter.com/5n0PHayBO0
Especially when it came on the heels of this scandal, demonstrating a lack of concern for women athletes:
Players and coaches, including Stanford sports performance coach Ali Kershner, posted photos illustrating the differences in facilities.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 19, 2021
( kershner.ali, coachalanbishop/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/jqSntApzbW
I mean, geez. After a dozen years, you would think he would have at least learned how to fake it.
But Mark Emmert was the real deal: a complete and utter failure at any and every thing he tried as NCAA president. He saw his position lose most of its meaningful power, only to be mirrored by the NCAA itself. He has presided over the demolition of college sports as we know it, haphazardly wandering from scandal to scandal, making each problem a little bit worse.
College sports are at a crossroads, and here is Mark Emmert, alone at the wheel, leaving the car in idle. At least he finally has the decency to get out.