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January 12, 2012

Mark Emmert

THE MODERATOR:  Many of you may have known Mark from his previous stops at Montana State University, the University of Connecticut, Louisiana State University or the University of Washington or you may have had a chance to meet him over the past year or so during his leadership here at the NCAA. 
I can say from a personal standpoint, I don't know a warmer, better person, anyone of greater integrity and a more perfect leader for the NCAA during these very, very challenging times. 
I'm now pleased to introduce him to address the association.  Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mark Emmert. 
PRESIDENT EMMERT:  Thank you very much.  I'm glad Ed didn't ask those of you that would like to retire this year.  It would have been a bigger crowd. 
Well, first of all, let me join President Ray in welcoming all of you to this year's convention and to Indianapolis.  Ironically, we had my first convention last year in San Antonio where it was colder and snowier, if you remember that.  It's actually warmer here in Indianapolis. 
We have, as you see as you look around the room here, a wonderful crowd.  We have terrific attendance that I hope is a reflection of all of the deep conviction that people have about intercollegiate athletics, and also as a reflection of the serious issues that we have in front of us as an organization. 
This has been by any measure an extraordinary year.  It's been a year in which intercollegiate athletics has probably, if there are any of you in the room that are communications or journalism faculty members or students, if you did a content analysis of all the media results for 2011, I suspect we would have set a record for the amount of copy that was written and stories that were filed, and electronic media that was produced around what was going on in intercollegiate athletics this past year. 
It was a year which I think, in very fundamental ways, shaped a lot of people's opinions, whether it was reinforcing or disproving their views about intercollegiate athletics in pretty profound ways.  And the stories that have been told and the story lines that have evolved over this past year have been pretty loud and pretty clear. 
The story lines about university presidents and administrators have made cases like they only care about money with conference realignment as exhibit A, that administrators only see athletes as fundraising tools, as something to promote the University. 
I've seen story lines that say leaders of universities and leaders of this association are powerless and unwilling to make change; that we refuse to hold student‑athletes or coaches to standards of the academy and of higher education.¬† Similarly, how many stories have we seen or heard this past year that talk about coaches in lines sort of like this‑‑ everybody cheats?¬† All they care about is winning.¬† They have no loyalty to their institution or to their students.¬† They're all millionaires.¬†
Then I think the worst and most disturbing story lines have been about our student‑athletes themselves.¬† In fact, I've heard the word student‑athlete described as an oxymoron used with absolute derision.¬†
The story line goes that they're not even capable of getting educations.  They aren't prepared to come to our colleges and our universities.  They aren't interested in getting an education, and in fact they don't get an education. 
The summary of all of those story lines that we've seen this year is essentially that there are no ethics and no integrity in collegiate sports and the whole system is broken.  That's what we've seen played out again and again and again. 
But here's some really bad news.  There is some truth in those criticisms.  We can't hide from all of the facts that some of those criticisms, some of those critiques are, in fact, valid, and we need to be honest about what the real facts are and not trying to hide from them.  If we don't deal with those, then we'll allow those story lines to define us in who we are and what we're about. 
We don't want another 2011.¬† We don't want another year like that.¬† What part of those story lines is true?¬† What part of is rings true to me, and I suspect to many of you?¬† Well, sometimes we have seen behaviors that don't match our values.¬† We've seen coaches that cheat.¬† We have seen some people who want to win at all costs.¬† We do have some small number of student‑athletes who aren't interested in education, and we have others that candidly don't get the education that they deserve.¬†
Some administrators are fixated on revenues, and some student‑athletes are really taken advantage of.¬† And we can't ignore some of those story lines that are true.¬† The story lines are about only a handful of high-profile programs.¬† They include a lot of hyperbole.¬† But the worst thing about it to me, the very worst thing about those story lines, is they completely overshadow all of the wonderful and good things going on in intercollegiate athletics.¬†
So 2011 was also the year that saw the highest graduation rates ever in Division I.¬† We all know that, we celebrated it, but yet that was a story that wasn't much regaled.¬† We know the data from Divisions II and new studies from Division III, the same that in those our student‑athletes are graduating higher than the rest of the student bodies across all of our student‑athletes in all three divisions.¬† We saw that.¬†
We saw some of the greatest athletic competitions we've ever seen.  We've had the highest levels of participation, and never before has America been more interested in our competitions than they were in this last year.  But the story lines overwhelmed all of that, and we didn't get a chance to tell all of those great story lines.
In part, of course, we have to be honest that there is nothing new about those story lines.  In many ways, it's those story lines and those problems that were at the heart of the creation of the NCAA over 105 years ago, 110 years ago nearly now.  In part, those programs are why we're all in this room.  We need to recognize that. 
I often tell the story of the very first power coach who overruled his president, ran around his president to the alumni to gain advantage that I know of.¬† And that very first coach that did that was William Reid at Harvard University in 1904.¬† When Coach Reid, then a 20‑something football coach realized that probably the most powerful president of a university in American history, Charles Elliott was bound and determined to destroy football, he did the only sensible thing for a football coach, he ran to his alumni.¬† He ran to his most famous alumnus, the president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.¬†
By going to his most famous alumnus, he was able to fend off a president who wanted to end football at Harvard, and, in fact, he wanted to end it in the United States because of all the things that were wrong.  Because of all the over-commercialization that was going on.  Because of all the injuries, and indeed, deaths that were going on to young men who were playing this relatively new game of football, and how orthogonal or completely opposed to the values of higher education he saw college sport. 
So Coach Reid goes to Teddy Roosevelt, and they decide to form this association not to destroy sports, but to mend sports rather than ending sports.  To make sure that they address those problems and those issues so that we can create this wonderful American tradition called intercollegiate athletics. 
The tensions that existed then between the collegiate and the commercial models still exist today.  Those tensions have never gone away.  What happens now though, as we deal with the battles over control of college sports, who is really in charge, the perennial issues that we all face that aren't new, what is new today is the 21st century context that those same issues now play out in a very, very different world than they played out a hundred years ago when we started this great endeavor. 
Today we've got an explosion in media revenue that we enjoy, and it provides enormous opportunity for our student‑athletes, but changed context quite a bit.¬†
Today we've got a 24/7 news coverage that brings everything into a much starker relief and does so instantaneously, and does so on countless distribution channels, whether they're electronic or print.  Today we have social media and other ways of reporting information and behavior that didn't exist a hundred years ago, not even 20 years ago, in some cases ten years ago. 
I don't know about you, but I am awfully glad that there weren't camera phones and video phones and Twitter around when I was 19 years of age to record everything I did when I was 19 years of age.  That experience I'd just as soon forget. 
The other thing that's changed consequentially, even in the past 40 or 50 years has been the evolution of what we can kind of loosely call the big dream syndrome in professional sport that's impacted us pretty dramatically. 
Fifty years ago or so, it wasn't necessarily everyone who wanted to play basketball's dream to play in the NBA.  Their dream was to play in college ball, to go to college and play at that level and get an education there, and they didn't think college is only a tool for me to get to the NBA.  They didn't think if only I could get to the right team to play football, I could then get into the NFL team of my dreams. 
We now have far too many of our young people starting on travel teams and running around the country from the time they're six years of age on.  They're learning they need to do this and they need to do that so some day they can play at a professional level.  Some day their lottery ticket will come in because they have this big dream of becoming a professional athlete.
Love professional athletics.  I support everything that goes on there in the professional sport world.  That's a great thing. 
But last year we got survey data from all of our student‑athletes and fully 50%, half of our Division II basketball players, men's basketball players, half of them reported that they intended to have a career in professional basketball.¬† Half of Division II men's basketball players believed they were going to have a career in professional basketball.¬† That's different than it was 50 years ago.¬† That's changed a lot of the context within which we have to address all of the problems that we know all too well.¬†
We've also heard this year plenty of solutions.¬† They have been bantered about all over the place.¬† We can run down a laundry list of them and solve all of these problems; if only we had a BCS playoff.¬† We could solve all these problems if we paid our student‑athletes a salary.¬† We'd solve everything if we declared freshmen ineligible.¬† If only we'd professionalize football and men's basketball.¬† If we capped coaches' salaries, cut athletic budgets in half.¬† I've even heard some people say all we have to do is blow‑up the NCAA and everything would be fine.¬† I'm not enamored of that solution, by the way, but I've heard it suggested many, many times.¬†
Now the other fact is that not everything in those proposals is wrong.  Some of them have some interesting and good ideas in the midst of them, they're just too simple and too narrow. 
H.L. Mencken, one of my favorite journalists, once famously said, "For every problem there is one solution to every human problem‑ neat, plausible, and wrong."¬† And I think that's exactly what we have here today.¬† There are no magic solutions.¬† There are no silver bullets.¬† I love the easy button ad for whatever company that is.¬† Of there is no easy button to press that sort of solves all of these problems for us.¬†
We have to, in fact, deal with these realities.  While the solutions themselves aren't exactly clear and they're complex, I would contend that we really are at a point in the history of intercollegiate athletics where we have, in essence, a fork in the road.  We've got two clear options that are being staked out in front of us.  Again, widely publicized and widely discussed. 
The first one is to simply give up on the collegiate model.  If students can't be educated, if you can't compete and be a good student, if it doesn't matter whether you care about all of the other sports other than those that generate revenue, then you just professionalize the whole opportunity and turn it into professional sport. 
We've heard that pronounced again and again and again as the solution to the problems with intercollegiate athletics is to essentially end it.  Hire professional teams.  Put university or college names on the front of the jersey and their name on the back and call it a day.  That's basically one branch of the road in front of us. 
The other branch is to say, look, we've got to fix the collegiate model.  We have to acknowledge there are real problems that need to be dealt with, and we have to deal with them in the real context of the 21st century, but we have to embrace the basic values of the collegiate model.  And you won't be surprised to hear I have a preference between these two branches. 
In the first place, I don't think for us there is any real choice in all of this.  We simply have to look at a model of a professional model that emphasizes one set of values, and that model says, look, we care about entertainment value, we care about revenue generation and that's it.  Or we embrace the collegiate model that says we value something entirely different. 
Yes, we like the fact that we have some sorts that are highly entertaining.  Yes, we like the fact that it generates revenue that allows us to do all the other things that we do, but that's not what we live for. 
What we live for is the education of our athletes.¬† That education and athletics goes hand in hand, that we want all of our student‑athletes to be valued in all of our sports.¬† While people don't watch rowing or volleyball or fencing as much as they watch football or men's basketball, that doesn't mean we don't value them as part of our enterprise.¬† We do.¬† We value things like title line.¬† Don't think it's just some interesting annoyance that we have to manage over here.¬†
We care about increasing participation opportunities for all of our student‑athletes so they can fulfill their dream of trying to excel in their sport.¬† We value deeply the tie between athletics and the classroom, and believe that athletics and academics can lead to the best educational experience that a young man or young woman can possibly have.¬†
There is no doubt that finding the balance between all of those conflicting issues today is a lot harder than it used to be.  But it's also true that it's never been more important.  That's what I heard last August from all of the Division I presidents when we got together for a retreat.  That's what I hear every time I sit down with a Division II and Division III president.  Those are their values.  That's what they care about.  That's what they want to maximize. 
The reforms in Division I that were launched last August that exemplify two very simple, complicated, but simple propositions.¬† One, that student‑athletes have to be students in all the way that's we mean that; and two, that we have to behave with integrity consistent with our own values and our own rule structure.¬†
Now in Division I there are efforts underway to make a serious and even dramatic change in all of those directions.  That's what those reform efforts are about in Division I, making sure that we have academic expectations that don't just encourage but mandate that young men and women are academically prepared when they come into our colleges and universities, and that we hold them to the right standards for academic performance as well as athletic performance if they're going to advance into our championships and/or if their programs are going to be part of the NCAA. 
Secondly, this whole group has been talking about in advancing another simple notion.¬† That is that we have to worry about student‑athletes' well being.¬† The model of scholarship support, for example, is now over 40 years old.¬† But 40 years ago student‑athletes weren't putting in 40 to 50 hours a week working on their sport and competing at the highest levels.¬†
The demands and the context of the 21st century is very different than the one that existed not long ago.¬† And the opportunities and the challenges that our student‑athletes face are very different than they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, and the way we handle their well being has to reflect that.¬†
We've launched an effort in Division I, as you're well aware, to reform our rule book.  Our rule book has emerged over that same timeframe, and it's created a variety of rules that are unenforceable, irrelevant or out of context or just anachronistic compared to where the world is today in the 21st century, and we have to fix that. 
Similarly, the flurry of activity around rules enforcement has created new strains and pressures on the enforcement model in Division I that the old context simply can't keep up with and doesn't fit where we need it to be today. 
We're making great progress in all of that.  Great progress.  We see similar efforts underway in a variety of positions that have been taken in Division II and Division III as well, to reinforce the core values and what it means to be involved in the intercollegiate athletics from the collegiate model perspective. 
But we have to do a few things more, even when we get those pieces done.  We have more work to do.  We need to especially be willing to focus some attention on the very simple notion of responsibility. 
There is today, I think, a good bit of confusion about who is responsible for collegiate athletics.  There is confusion about who is actually in charge.  We need to clarify who is in charge, what different groups’ roles are and what they aren't. 
Presidents and boards of universities and colleges need to be fully in charge of and responsible for their athletic programs.  Conferences have to be responsible to do more than just maximize revenue.  I'm all in favor of maximizing revenue.  It's a good thing; but it's about more than just that. 
Coaches, administrators, anyone around an athletic program have to be held to the same kind of behavioral standards as everyone else inside the university.  That's not too high a price to get to pay to participate in intercollegiate athletics.  You are part of a university environment.  Your standards of behavior and conduct have to be the same as they would be for anyone else inside that university or college. 
Student‑athletes have to take responsibility for a very simple thing, and that is you have an obligation to take advantage of the opportunities that have been put in front of you.¬† Educationally, athletically, and in every other way that a university or college offers them to you, and you have to follow the rules.¬† That's not too much to ask, in my opinion.¬†
Alumni, boosters, people who love these games that we all play, they have to understand that being a fan doesn't mean you're in charge.¬† Doesn't mean you're in charge.¬† And we in the NCAA, we have to take responsibility in every way that we can to serve our student‑athletes, consistent with all of those values, and assist all of you, the colleges and universities, member institutions in our conferences, to deal with this very complex context in new and the most helpful ways we possibly can.¬† And we, too, have to adjust everything we do to fit this new context and provide support and leadership.¬†
At the end of the day, the collegiate model provides us with those two basic notions, in my opinion, the notion that you are a student that happens to be an athlete, and we're going to act with integrity consistent with our rules.  Those are the two things we have to keep in front of us. 
So here we are at this curious fork in the road, and we have to decide are we going to take the collegiate model, maximize our values, make the changes that we have to make, even ones that are hard to make, but bring the collegiate model up to date in the 21st century, consistent with our values as academic enterprises or are we going to wave the white flag, throw in the towel and say it's too much. 
Let's just pretend it's all about playing the games.  It's all about driving the most attention we can to football and men's basketball.  Take the money and run.  I know where all of you stand on that issue.  You know where I stand on this issue. 
What we have to do is work together to make sure that we act on those values.  That we let the world know which fork we have chosen in that road, and that by the time we get together next year, we've got a very different story line than the one that we had this year. 
I know that we can do that.¬† I know you all want to do it.¬† I sit in your meetings and I watch you.¬† I see the commitment that you have for our student‑athletes, and I know how important it is to you as individuals and to your programs.¬†
With your help and commitment dedication, we can make that change.¬† We can make that change in 2012.¬† We can make it so when we get back together again next year, we've got some really wonderful stories to tell about making the difference for our student‑athletes.¬†
Thank you very much for everything you do for our student‑athletes.¬† It's greatly appreciated.¬† Thank you so much for being here.¬† Thank you.¬†

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