There is pretty general satisfaction with the way college athletics are governed – if you’re talking about the NCAA’s Division 2 and Division 3 schools, the smaller universities and colleges that don’t have big budgets and don’t often break into the spotlight.
But Division 1? “There is absolutely no one satisfied with the current model,” Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session this week in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. The big, high-profile sports programs with huge budgets have attracted great controversy, to the point, Emmert said, that upcoming meetings will consider changes in how college sports programs are governed.
One thing that Emmert said is almost certain not to be changed is the longstanding prohibition against paying college athletes anything that would amount to salaries. Doing that has been the subject of extensive attention in the news media recently, including a cover story in Time magazine that called it “a moral imperative” to pay college athletes.
But Emmert said he has heard no calls to pay athletes from college presidents, who are the ones who decide major policy for the NCAA. “One of the guiding principles has been that this has been about student athletes,” he said. He told Gousha he did not agree that college athletes are exploited for commercial purposes.
“It’s more debated in the media than among the membership,” Emmert said. Continuing the student-athlete model is central to continuing college sports on a generally successful path.
But Emmert said there are disparities in spending and other issues that need to be addressed. Among the possibilities for future changes, he said, would be dividing sports programs into four divisions instead of three and increasing the amount college athletes are allowed to receive as cost of living stipends that are intended to cover expenses other than the tuition, room, board, and several other categories of financial help they are limited to now.
Emmert said the rules of the National Basketball Association and National Football League that restrict the freedom of athletes to become pros without going to college should be revisited. He said that if a ballerina wants to become a pro, she isn’t required to go to college first and she has the freedom to join a ballet company. Maybe the freedom to become a basketball or football player should be similar, he suggested.
Emmert said it is largely a myth that colleges are making huge profits from sports. He said only 25 of the 1,100 colleges and universities that take part in NCAA sports programs had positive cash flows. But he agreed that the disparities in spending within the ranks of Division 1 schools need to be addressed. Emmert said there are Division 1 schools with total sports budgets of $5 million and schools with sports budgets of more than $150 million.
He agreed that there is increasing tension between what he called “the college model” and “the commercial model” of college sports. “There are people making a lot of money off of college sports, but it’s not universities,” he said. And he said much of the big money that comes into universities goes to support all the sports that bring in very little income.
Emmert said that, as president of the NCAA, his powers are not like those of the commissioners of professional football, baseball, or basketball. He compared his power to that of the secretary general of the United Nations, who takes direction from member countries. He said NCAA policy is made by college presidents, particularly those who are on the NCAA executive committee.
Emmert has been president of the NCAA since 2010. Prior to that, he was president of the University of Washington.
Emmert said that as a former professor of public policy, he accepted the invitation to come to Marquette Law School in part because he was impressed with the Law School’s public policy program. During his visit to Marquette, he also met with student athletes and with leaders of the university.
The hour-long conversation with Emmert may be viewed by clicking here.