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March 31, 2016
BOB WILLIAMS: Good afternoon and thank you, all, for joining us for the NCAA president's press conference.
Joining us today is NCAA president Mark Emmert, Harris Pastides, University of South Carolina president and chairman of the Division I board of directors, and Joe Castiglione, University of Oklahoma athletic director, and chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee.
With that I'll turn it over to President Emmert.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Thank you, all, for joining us. I'm sure you have lots of questions. There's certainly all manners of things going on in this very exciting time. We want to make a few quick comments, then we can get to your questions right away.
First of all, for me it's great fun to be back in Houston. This was the first Final Four, the site of the first Final Four, that I participated in as president of the NCAA. It's been a fascinating six-year intermittent period.
The piece of that transition that I'm most pleased with is that the role that student-athletes play in the oversight and engagement of the NCAA, the ability of student-athletes today to gain access to educational experiences and the success that they're having, the resources that are being committed to student-athletes, and the opportunities they have to enjoy those resources, are significantly greater today than they were six years ago.
In fact, I would clearly contend that student-athletes right now are in a much stronger, more successful position than they were in that short time. That's a very, very good thing.
I'm proud of what the member universities and colleges have done to achieve all of that. They've taken on a number of very important and complex issues, always keeping their focus on academics and fairness and the well-being of our student-athletes. Those things are the hallmark of these two gentlemen to my left have worked so hard on.
With that I will turn to President Pastides. He's been a leader throughout most of the changes we've seen in this time period, and Joe Castiglione, in his role at his university and the basketball committee and the rest of his governance has had a huge role to play in what we've been able to get done over the past number of years.
HARRIS PASTIDES: Well, thanks, Mark. Let me add my appreciation to the city of Houston, the mayor, the city council. I think this is going to be one of the most exciting and best Final Fours ever.
I'm particularly happy to be at NRG Stadium where Bob McNair's Houston Texans play. Bob is an illustrious alumnus of the University of South Carolina. I spoke to him a couple days ago, he said he's excited to see what basketball will look and feel like in this magnificent football stadium.
As Mark mentioned, job one for the DI board and really for the entire association is the well-being, the academic well-being of our student-athletes. We've made a lot of progress, although we've got more progress to make.
I would point particularly to increasing the requirements, the academic requirements, for becoming a Division I student-athlete. All of the other investments we're making in academic student progress, the APRs are increasing, at my university they're the highest ever, across the Division I, the graduation rates are the highest ever.
I'm particularly pleased that the Board of Governors recently released $200 million to Division I schools that are expressly targeted at well-being of student-athletes. That's the only place that you can spend that money on, is on the well-being of our student-athletes.
Right now I would say, what we're looking at is the time demand issue. The board is very committed in January when we go to our convention to promulgate new rules. I'm particularly pleased that the Student Athletic Advisory Council, or SAAC as we call it, it is actively engaged in recommending to our board what changes are needed.
I know some people are disappointed we didn't make the changes last year. I think the DI's board's viewpoint is we'd rather get it right than be too quick.
It's an exciting time to be with all of you. Looking forward to some great basketball. Proud to be part of this association.
JOE CASTIGLIONE: Good to see every one of you. I come here as chairman of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee. Obviously also I'm the athletic director at Oklahoma, one of the participants, but that's not my role today.
I just want to express on behalf of the basketball committee, first of all, our gratitude to the city of Houston, Doug Hall, the local organizing committee, the countless volunteers that have been involved in preparing for this iconic event for probably 18 months or more.
It's been a while since they were awarded the bid, but they've certainly been actively working on the process to host this weekend.
I also would like to extend our thanks to the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Rice University, the first time that three institutions have actually come together to collaborate to host a Final Four.
If you don't mind, I have to just mention, it's a little bit nostalgic in a sense for me, because I don't know that I could have fully imagined sitting here in front of you, being part of this incredible process, when I was starting my career back in 1979, probably four months after Magic Johnson and his Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird and his Indiana State Sycamores thrilled us all with one of the most memorable Final Fours ever.
But I was starting my career just about three or four miles from here at Rice University. At that time it wasn't so farfetched to think about a basketball game in a football stadium. After all, Houston had played UCLA over here at the Astrodome.
But to think about coming back here, part of a Final Four, even with a team in the Final Four, being directly involved in the process, to help initiate everything related to the Final Four is quite mind-boggling but very, very exciting. I can't tell you what a personal and professional privilege it is.
I want to extend, again, our sincere thanks to everybody that has been involved in bringing the Final Four here to Houston. We're excited to get basketball underway right here at NRG Stadium.
BOB WILLIAMS: Thank you. At this time we'll open it up for questions.
Q. Mark, the NCAA obviously took a role last year with the objection to RFRA in Indiana. You've expressed similar objections to HB2 recently in North Carolina. I'm curious what the bid cycle for men's basketball coming up over the next seven to eight months, is that going to play a role in whether North Carolina will or will not continue to host NCAA basketball?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: First of all, it's really important to note that for higher education, for the universities and colleges that are members of the NCAA, diversity and inclusion is one of the benchmark values that every one of those institutions adheres to. So this is an issue of great importance to us.
The RFRA law in Indiana had the double importance that that was also and is also the home of the association, so it's our point of employment. We have around 500 employees who live and work there. So it was even more poignant that we deal with it last year.
What the membership has done, with the leadership of Harris and the rest of the Board of Governors, has been to be really clear that the experience our student-athletes, the teams, the universities, the fan base have in any one community is a consideration in where we determine to play these games.
So in that context, as I've made clear in many places, here in Texas, indeed I chatted with your governor about this, it will most certainly be one of the variables as the committee makes these decisions. It simply has to be. It's simply far too important to all of our member schools.
Q. Mark, the slogan at the Final Four is, 'The road ends here.' There are a lot of North Carolina fans, coach, administrators, those outside of their fan base who want to know what's the end of the road, when's the end of the road in their investigation?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Obviously a very complex circumstance. I'm not going to comment on the nature of the case itself. It's been moving along very well. The university's been very cooperative, will be at a place where my staff can issue allegations or notice of allegations in the very near future.
Other than that, it is premature to say when that will occur, but they're certainly getting to the end of the road on it.
Q. The investigation at Syracuse has always been completed. You've handed out the sanctions. As you look back on it, that was an investigation that took several years and involved some very serious academic malfeasance, to say the least. Putting them in the field this year, do you have any reservations about that sending a message that says it's okay to do that because after a brief absence from the tournament, you'll be right back in?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Yeah, sure, I understand why optically people have a lot of questions around all that. It makes perfect sense that they might.
The reality is, is that the Committee on Infractions handed down, which is a group of individuals from the membership, as you know, handed down their sanctions on Syracuse University. The university dealt with those sanctions and this group of young men that are playing right now had nothing to do with any of those violations the.
From Joe's point of view and the committee's point of view, their job is not to determine who is eligible or not, that's up to the members to make that determination. They saw Syracuse as having responded appropriately to the allegations that were against them and having dealt with the penalties that the membership imposed on them.
So we've got a team that's playing right now that, again, had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions, and they should be allowed to play.
It shouldn't impact these young men. That's what the judgment of the membership was. I support it.
Q. Mark, I saw a document recently where your general counsel was quoted as saying that if the NCAA, if your amateurism rules were seriously in jeopardy by the court on anti-trust grounds, you would go to Congress and get your 'constituents,' i.e., athletic directors, coaches, and university presidents, to get Congress to pass an anti-trust law for the NCAA. Is that, in fact, the plan?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: No, it's not at all a plan. The reality is, as you well know because you reported on it, there are a number of lawsuits that are out there right now that are charging anti-trust violations against the NCAA.
We have had one ruling in the 9th Circuit that, indeed, did say there were anti-trust violations only up to the extent that there were constraints on students being students and supported as students, not as employees.
Then there have been a number of rulings at the Circuit level and below that have said the opposite, that indeed our rules weren't anti-trust violations.
The point is that the state of the law is equivocal right now. We're discussing with the board and debating within our membership whether or not to take an appeal to the Supreme Court. But at some point it may well be we wind up with a case in front of the Supreme Court to ascertain what the ultimate state of the law is and what the Supreme Court thinks that collegiate sports should look like in America. Then we'll see where that goes.
Right now there is not a plan to go before Congress.
Q. A lot of talk recently about transfers, whether schools should be arbitrarily putting restrictions on transfers. When autonomy was passed, there was a lot of talk that there needed to be an urgency to get this done. Some people I've talked to think that maybe the autonomy group wants to let the clock run out so they can take it instead of the larger Division I governance. Where does it stand and why is there, at least from externally, seems to be not any urgency on doing something about transfers?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Let me answer, then Harris can add in, and Joe may actually want to weigh in on this one, too.
I don't think at all -- first of all, there is a deep sense of urgency. I just came from an NABC executive board meeting. The issue of transfer rules, whether it's for undergraduates or graduates, is one of the most hotly debated and discussed, I think, in sport right now, whether it's football or basketball.
The challenge is, it's really hard to figure out a right way to resolve this issue. There's opinions on pretty much every side of the debate, again, whether it's graduates or undergraduates. Now it's been complicated by the fact there's been a couple class-action lawsuits filed against the existing rules with undergraduates.
It isn't so much that one group wants to settle it and another doesn't, it's that it's hard. It's a tough one to find what the right outcome is.
As I said, everybody's got opinions. I certainly have mine. But the membership is addressing them. There's active debate going on right now and will continue to be at this upcoming meeting this next month with the Division I council. It will be debated throughout the course of the summer.
I have to tell you, I don't know exactly what the outcome will be. But don't hear the lack of a final resolution as a lack of keen interest. Quite the opposite.
HARRIS PASTIDES: Just briefly, it's a very, very important matter. The council is studying it now. We're going to hear back from them in the near future. Personally I think we've got to do something about it.
I would like to guard against the extreme on both ends, by the way, of the curve, if you will. The extreme actions of preventing students who, for good reasons, be they athletic or non-athletic, want to go to a different university. I think they should be allowed to and encouraged to.
On the other hand, we don't want to promote the miscreant coach, if you will, who wants to get rid of a kid and say, You ought to go somewhere else when they're thriving as a student, if not as an athlete.
But it is complicated. If it were a matter of saying, Just throw the door wide open, we would have done it already. It's a priority for the board, and I think you'll see some action on it in the next few months.
JOE CASTIGLIONE: Having experienced every aspect of the transfer rule, whether a student-athlete is transferring or trying to transfer within the conference, outside the conference, coming from another institution, transferring to our institution, someone who has signed a national letter of intent and there's a coaching change before they enroll, the graduate transfers.
Having experienced all of that, I do know that while there are certain philosophies that hold true in the vast majority of cases, they can't always hold true in every single case because of sometimes the complexity or uniqueness of the case itself.
We even are still managing a transfer of a non-recruited walk-on student-athlete who has been entangled into the intraconference transfer rule.
I do think while it is challenging to find a better place for our membership, I do think that there is a way to make it possible for student-athletes to consider reasons why they are at a certain institution, why they should stay, or why they should be better moving on to another institution.
I do go back to the experience of having to deal with those on a case-by-case basis and trying to make the decision that quite candidly is in everybody's best interest, including the student-athlete.
So I'd be happy to answer any questions along that line.
Q. I saw a little news item that DraftKings and FanDuel were suspending their college activity. I wanted to ask you what the thinking was behind that negotiation. Also, can I directly ask you, do you think daily fantasy is gambling?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: So let me answer it in reverse order.
First of all, I don't know whether it is or is not gambling, per se. That's up to individual states or the Federal Government to determine.
We know that under the rules of the NCAA, we label any game, including a fantasy sport game, in which there is an exchange of things of value, as sports wagering and therefore against the rules of the NCAA and the bylaws of the NCAA.
Our approach from the very beginning has been not to get embroiled in what the legalities of that are. That's for somebody else to participate in. But we have been steadfast from the very beginning, indeed, this last fall, when this first, I don't know what else to call it, but deluge of advertising hit the marketplace for these two companies. I and the 10 commissioners from the FBS conferences wrote a letter to both of those companies asking them to cease and desist games that involved student-athletes.
Right after that I met with my team and the leadership of both of those companies, engaged in conversations with them, made clear the fact that we don't think that these activities should involve student-athletes, whether it's college or high school or little league or anyone else. That if they want to do it with professional sports, the professional sports leagues want to work with them, that's between them, not us.
We've continued to make that case. We've worked with individual state legislators and legislatures across the country as individual states are trying to set up regulatory regimes to say, Fine, if that's what you want to do, that's your business, but carve out student-athletes from these contests.
State legislators are very, very amenable to that every place we've met and talked to them. We've continued to talk all along with both of these companies, and also with the smaller companies. You may have noticed an association of the smaller daily fantasy sports businesses also just announced that they would work toward getting legislative carve-outs for college sports and high school sports in the state legislation.
I'm delighted FanDuel and DraftKings has done this. It is a very good step forward. We hope collectively we can get colleges, high schools, little leagues, whatever, anything other than professional sports, out of this arena.
Q. The North Carolina issue. There are states in the process of considering either similar religious freedom laws or in the case of Missouri, I believe it's possibly trying to amend its constitution by vote to put in similar laws. Is there anything that you or the membership could do to sort of actively engage in thwarting this movement towards these types of laws before they're enacted or is it sort of a reactive position that you'll be in where you'll see if the law passes and then will make a decision on what to do?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: I'm going to ask Harris to respond also.
The Board of Governors so far, which is the ultimate oversight committee that Harris sits on, has not taken the position that we should proactively go on and lobby one way or another on these issues, but to express the great concern that we have as they're working forward, that these laws are, depending on the circumstances -- it's, of course, very complicated. There's many, many different kinds of laws with lots of nuances to them. In some cases they're really inconsistent with the values of higher education.
Remember that the NCAA is an association of 1100 colleges and universities. There's a huge diversity of institutional missions and political values that are represented by that membership, as well.
So what we have been doing is stating the case very clearly, what does or does not seem consistent with our values as laws have been working their way through the process.
We took a position in Indiana this last year, for example, where there was consideration of a number of bills, one of which would have changed the civil rights laws to include LGBT protections, we were supportive of that. We were very supportive of it.
Also Indiana is where our employees live and where we recruit to from all around the country and beyond.
We're trying very hard to be situation-specific, to represent the views and values of intercollegiate athletics and higher education aggressively and to make people understand that we think some of these laws are movements in a direction that are not supportive of what we stand for and make it very, very hard, if not impossible, for us to operate in those states or those municipalities.
HARRIS PASTIDES: I think the membership is inching toward a more proactive stand on this issue. Mark said it well, though. It is a consideration for choosing locations for post-season competition. To try to be more proactive is commensurate and compatible with NCAA core values, but values of all member institutions.
To answer your question, I'm sensing among the membership and the board a greater interest in making our viewpoints and values more widely known.
How that plays out on Main Street around the 50 states, we'll have to wait and see. But I think it's something that is a very, very important issue for us all.
Q. Mark, I'm going to quote Jim Boeheim. He said, Cheating to me is intentionally doing something, like you wouldn't want to get this recruit, you arranged a job for him, or you went to see him when you shouldn't. You called him and you got an edge in recruiting. That's cheating. I think if something happens that you're not aware of that it doesn't really affect the recruit, I don't look at it in the same way. He basically was standing up for what he had done, what happened at Syracuse was not cheating. Do you agree with what he has said?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Well, look, the Committee on Infractions looking at the facts in that case. It was a voluminous set of data. It took far too long for all the information to be collected and gathered. I think everybody agreed with that.
When the data were put in front of a Committee on Infractions -- this is a body of members of the association that aren't paid employees of the NCAA. They're conference commissioners. They're athletic directors. There's a former Attorney General of the United States. A former university president. It's a cross-section of the membership.
When those folks looked at the facts, they reached the conclusion that, indeed, violations of our rules and bylaws had occurred and imposed sanctions that were consistent with their view and that behavior.
I'll let Coach Boeheim define that how he wants to. But the committee determined these are clear violations of the rules and that, therefore, it warranted some pretty significant sanctions, and they were imposed.
Q. You're relying on what the committee did. Are you saying you agree lockstep with what their definition of cheating is? I'm trying to get your opinion on what Boeheim said.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: I have enormous confidence in the Committee on Infractions. I think that process works remarkably well. It's the closest thing you're going to see to 'a jury of your peers' model for as broad an association as this one that includes a wide collection of institutions and members.
I have complete confidence in what that body did in this case.
Q. Thank you for your explanation on the first Syracuse question regarding eligibility. Considering what you said and how the Penn State case washed out, is it a fair assumption to say that the NCAA is out of the business, it doesn't want to be in the business of sanctioning athletes, present athletes, with no eligibility issues, for transgressions that have happened in the past? Is that a fair assumption to say that's kind of the way it's going to be moving forward?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: I think in talking with all the members of the Committee on Infractions, talking with athletic directors, university presidents, everybody I've been around in college sports, no one ever likes imposing sanctions on students who had little or nothing to do with whatever an infraction was.
They don't do it gleefully. They do it very, very regretfully.
Nonetheless, having said that, it's also an agreement among the majority of members of the association that post-season bans can serve as an effective deterrent. There are few things that universities, coaches, athletic departments dislike more and feel more sanctioned by than a post-season ban.
So the membership has not, I want to be really clear, the membership has not said, We're out of the business of post-season bans.
I'm going to come back to Syracuse in just a minute.
They certainly don't like the fact that student-athletes who may have had nothing to do with an infraction are being punished or in some way handicapped.
I think that the members of the board, the members of the Division I council, the Committee on Infractions will continue to debate and discuss whether or not it makes sense to impose those kinds of post-season bans. It's a difficult, hard sanction for people to levy.
Having said that, in the Syracuse case, the difference is, I want to be really clear, Syracuse was sanctioned at the level that the Committee on Infractions imposed sanctions. They served their time, if you will. They did all the things that the committee asked them to do.
They appealed to another committee, an appeals committee, that reduced some of the sanctions on Coach Boeheim, changed the way those sanctions played out. Other than that, they did everything they were called upon to do under those sanctions.
That their team should participate in post-season play at this stage is perfectly sensible and a natural outcome of them serving through those sanctions.
So they're quite different issues in that sense.
Q. I think in the past year we've seen a trend of some of the most prominent athletes kind of staging protests for various reasons, obviously most prominently at Missouri, and Oklahoma in a different sense. I understand the NCAA's general stance towards unions. I'm wondering, is that stance driven primarily out of opposition to the notion that athletes would be identified as employees, or would you be opposed more broadly to any sort of kind of, call it what you want, conglomeration of athletes who can meet amongst themselves and negotiate with the university, even if it's over things like, We're upset about something on campus and we may not want to play, that kind of thing? I'd be interested in Joe's perspective on that, as well, as someone who dealt with that situation.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: It might be useful for President Pastides to respond as well.
I think you're commingling a couple of really different issues. I see where you get them together. But the notion of athletes as employees who are unionized to negotiate for, you know, pay and benefits like any employee does, is to me, and I'm speaking more as a recovering university president, is dramatically different than a group of students expressing their views and opinions on a social justice question.
I'm fully in favor of student-athletes having lives that are as much like the rest of their student body as they can be. That's difficult in some cases because of the time commitments they put in and a variety of other things.
But in terms of their ability to and their personal desire to participate in social action or in public debates or policy debates, I think they ought to be able to do that like any other student on a campus. I would want and expect that of my students.
So I've been very supportive of students doing those things.
If it is an issue where a group of student-athletes have concern about treatment of student-athletes or some other issue around athletics, then I most certainly think those students ought to have a voice and a forum in which they can be heard, whether it's with their coach, inside the athletic department, any other venue inside the university.
And, in fact, every university in the NCAA, and college, has a student-athlete advisory committee. They have organized student organizations inside the athletic department so that there's a vehicle by which that can occur.
Then every athletic department, we have a number of athletic directors here I see, they all try to keep open lines of communication so they know what their student-athletes need and what their concerns are.
I would like to hear what Joe and Harris have to say on this point.
HARRIS PASTIDES: Let me add that student-athletes must have voices. I absolutely encourage them to be organized, if you will. We do have, as Mark said, a student athletic advisory council. They meet with the AD all the time and with me less frequently.
They're concerned about big issues, they're concerned about the nation, they're concerned about sexual assault, social issues. They have a right to be heard and should be heard. I think in that context, we teach all of our students to be heard and civically engaged. Why not student-athletes?
On the other side of things, when you talk about unionization, that's a totally different thing. I remember hearing a story about Bill Walton, he was playing for Coach Wooden, wanted to grow a beard.
Coach Wooden said, Not having a beard.
Bill Walton said, I'm going to go protest that.
He said, You go right ahead.
He went upstairs, found a barber, shaved his beard, after he didn't find any recourse, came back because he wanted to be on the team.
I think there's a lot of different ways to look at this topic. But student-athletes absolutely need to have a voice, as big of a voice as every other student on campus.
JOE CASTIGLIONE: I'm often asked, you know, about that very issue like it's a surprise that the student-athletes now have a voice. I say, Shame on you. Maybe it's the first time you've noticed, but the student-athletes that I know have had a voice for as long as I've been in this business. People I've worked around and people I've worked for, and certainly since I've moved into the leadership role, have always tried to engender ongoing dialogue with student-athletes so they feel completely comfortable in expressing concerns, whether it's their own personal concern, Mark, or something that they're representing on behalf of other student-athletes.
When we have certain situations on campus, like the one we encountered a year ago, it was a shock to all of us when it happened. But I'm very grateful that the student-athletes joined with the fellow students to try and more clearly understand what the best path was. First, to bring the right kind of attention to the core issue, related issues, as well as what they were going to do going forward.
They wanted to use it as a teachable moment for others. It wasn't the easiest thing. They had so many different feelings and thoughts, some they had never had before, and they didn't understand exactly the right way to express it. But they knew one thing, and they knew it could be expressed in a very safe and secure environment.
I really can't say enough between what our president David Boren did to immediately address the situation that developed, to the way that he and other members of the administration and the faculty were right there shoulder to shoulder with every one of the students to try and openly discuss what next steps should be taken. Then moreover, to make sure when the plan is put in place, there's follow-through.
Even to this day, we have an even more engaged campus. People are talking about ways to improve, cultural experiences to improve opportunities, to make even more visitors on our campus feel welcome.
So it's a very active engagement, nothing just something that happened and the page was turned and now people are on to another thing.
Even though we might have the presence of open dialogue, it's a consistent focus for us to always, if you will, encourage more conversation so people feel comfortable bringing things forward, so they don't get to the point in those cases of feeling like a protest is their last resort.
Hopefully those conversations have been rich and ongoing to try to find best resolutions for everyone. That doesn't mean always saying yes to the requests, but educating people on the options that might exist, and sometimes just a dialogue is the vehicle to working all of that out.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: One of the other things that has occurred in the past 18 months is at all of the various levels in the decision-making process in Division I now, Division II and III have had this previously, there are now students that are sitting in each of those bodies, right up to the board of directors that are voting members of those bodies now.
There had been a lot of engagement and discussion with the student-athlete advisory committees before that, but Harris and his colleagues added not just voices, but votes to each of those bodies.
For me, it's fun to watch the students sitting in those meetings and having a very open, active debate with university presidents. They hold their own just fine. It works really well.
Q. A lot of people have talked about the presence of Syracuse and UNC here, noted that the risk of breaking rules seems well worth the reward. I wondered if you think the current penalty structure is at all an adequate deterrent and if it's a concern of yours?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: It's always a concern of ours that the rules that the members have put in place strike that right balance between being deterrence from behavior that nobody wants to see, to also being too punitive and impacting students, for example, that didn't have anything to do with it.
I would disagree with those observations that people have. The fact of the matter is that Syracuse, as I have said several times now, went through an exhaustive process. It went through a hearing on infractions. It dealt with the sanctions that were put in place.
This current group of student-athletes had nothing to do with those sanctions, and they happen to be a very good basketball team.
I think to conclude from that that there was no impact on the university is simply wrong. I think they disagreed at that time, and I think they would disagree today that there were no penalties that were inflicted on them.
Then, of course, the UNC case, as I just said earlier, we haven't even gotten to a place where there have been allegations delivered to the institution. So we can't make any comment, observation about them one way or the other.
BOB WILLIAMS: Thank you very much for joining us.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Thank you very much for being here.
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