With so many people worried about the heat members of the new college football playoff selection committee will take, there’s already an important figure in collegiate sports who’s got it far worse than any playoff panelist — NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Emmert took the reigns of the NCAA more than two years ago. Today he’s been riddled with more bullets (verbal in nature) than Sonny Corleone at a tollbooth. Coaches don’t like the NCAA because its rulebook is too thick. Fans don’t like the NCAA because the organization is basically the police force of college sports and if their favorite school is cheating in some way, well, they don’t want them to get caught. Media members attack the NCAA because that’s just what we do. We look at big organizations and attempt to critique them, often in unfair ways.
And if happen to be the poor sap who’s agreed to sit atop the NCAA’s org chart — as Emmert has — then you’re the guy that coaches, fans and media members will target most often.
This week, Sports Illustrated is running a lengthy story on the overall failure of Emmert to reform the NCAA during his tenure. (Of course, when he’s attempted to actually reform the rulebook, the changes have all been ixnayed after the fact by coaches and athletic directors who were not consulted). Among the many negative reviews of Emmert and his team from SI.com:
* “In many interviews with NCAA officials about enforcement, the topic quickly shifted back to the leadership of Emmert, who is known internally at the NCAA as the ‘King of the Press Conference.’ That’s not a compliment.”
* “A portrait emerged of a (enforcement) department battered by turnover, afraid of lawsuits and overwhelmed by scandal. One ex-enforcement official told SI, ‘The time is ripe to cheat. There’s no policing going on.’”
* “When talking to a dozen college officials to get a pulse on Emmert, many struggled to answer the question, ‘What has he actually accomplished so far in his tenure?’ Even the harsh sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal ($60 million fine, four-year bowl ban and the loss of 40 scholarships over four years) has painted Emmert in a bad light after he went on a television tour, which some perceived as a victory lap, to talk about the unprecedented action by the NCAA.”
* “The NCAA failed to pass most of the initiatives Emmert has trumpeted. Many agreed with the ideals behind Emmert’s ambitious agenda, including trying to give scholarship athletes a small amount of money to cover the full cost of school, and paring down the rulebook. But the lack of results have highlighted the growing schism between have and have-nots in Division I and further polarized the athletic directors who feel largely ignored and highlighted how out-of-touch Emmert is with his constituents.”
* “Why does embattled president Mark Emmert still have a job? The reason could be this simple: Firing Emmert could do more harm than good. ‘If you force him out, you’re essentially telling everyone he has failed,’ one NCAA (university) president told Sporting News. ‘When you’re dealing with (litigation), it’s not prudent to admit failure at the highest office.’”
* “‘He is incapable of looking in the mirror and figuring out that he could be the problem,’ one administrator of a BCS school told Sporting News. ‘A leader with a personality like that, it affects everyone he manages and it affects the way the organization is run.’”
The real problem might just be that reforming the NCAA is a goal that cannot be accomplished, a game that can’t be won. Sci-fi heads, think “Kobayashi Maru,” the ultimate no-win scenario.
If an NCAA president aims high and misses, he will be called a failure. If he aims low and tries to make gradual changes, some college administrators and many in the press will say he’s moving too slowly and not trying to do enough.
If an NCAA president moves in a way that pleases administrators from big-money schools, he’ll alienate those administrators from small-money schools. And vice versa.
When it comes to enforcement, everyone wants the NCAA prez to create a judicial system that hands down similar penalties for similar crimes. Unfortunately, that’s impossible as no two cases are the same. In our legal system, a rich man facing murder charges in one county will likely receive a different sentence from a poor man facing murder charges in another county… defended by a different attorney, prosecuted by a different DA, in a case presided over by a different judge. Yet no one writes weekly columns calling for a reform of our legal system.
Trying to “fix” the NCAA is akin to trying to reconfigure our political system in such a way that a rich candidate doesn’t always have an advantage over a poor candidate. Ain’t happening.
Hey, I’m not trying to defend Emmert. Last summer, I wrote that he was going too far across jurisdictional lines in his entirely-for-show, over-the-top attack on Penn State. I said that he was putting the NCAA on a very slippery slope. Today, the NCAA is facing multiple lawsuits — suits it could lose — over the PSU situation.
Told ya so, Mark.
But just because I don’t agree with many of Emmert’s decisions, that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge the fact that he’s taken on an impossible job. There will be no let up for him until he hangs his head and walks away with his reputation in tatters.
At that point, some other dolt will underestimate the challenge of running the NCAA and agree to sit in Emmert’s old chair.
Woe unto that man.