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March 31, 2011
BOB WILLIAMS: Good afternoon and welcome to Houston. I'm Bob Williams, NCAA vice president of communications. Thank you for attending NCAA president Mark Emmert's Final Four press conference this afternoon.
President Emmett will start out with comments and remarks and then we'll open it up for questions.
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Thank you, Bob.
Let me first of all point out that we have a number of your colleagues in the media finishing lunch. I'm sure they'll be coming in shortly, but I wanted to begin on time or close to it.
I wanted to first congratulate all the teams that made it into this tournament. All 68 teams have had a remarkable experience, the coaches and players have handled themselves magnificently. It started off as a very, very fabulous tournament.
We have one group to thank for that in particular, and that's the Men's Basketball Committee, a number of whom are sitting here in the back of the room. They put together a bracket that is showing itself to have been very, very interesting and it's wound up here in the Final Four.
The other part of the tournament that I'm extremely pleased with is the new partnership between the NCAA and CBS and Turner for the delivery of all of these games to all of our fans and colleagues around the country and beyond.
As I'm sure most in the media are aware, the ratings this year have been extremely good. We're up about 15% in the total ratings, the best we've seen in I guess it's 18 years now. The total viewership is up more than 11%, almost 100 million people have watched our games during the tournament. We've seen a 60% increase in viewership and participation in March Madness on demand.
The digital platforms have been extremely successful because of this partnership and we've seen an exciting, vibrant look to the way the games are being broadcast and put on the air. I think everyone is enjoying it remarkably. I know I am.
This is now my sixth site. I've taken in games at a variety of different venues, loved every one of them, gotten to see some incredibly exciting and dramatic basketball. It's been a joy for me to watch all of the players competing so wholeheartedly. And the coaches that have been participating, the drama, the agony of defeat and joy of victory has been on full display.
For everyone involved in the tournament so far, congratulations to all of you. I think it's a great success.
I also thought that the 68-team format has shown itself to be a really good vehicle for this tournament. The competitive equity is pretty manifest when you have two very exciting mid-major teams in the Final Four. The first four to a Final Four story of VCU is a good indicator of what we might see in the future because of that format. The new format I thought worked very nicely.
I was in Dayton for those early rounds and thought they were very, very well conducted. Of course, there was some good basketball played.
I want to now talk about, if I might, not just the games that are going on this weekend, but also what they really represent and the role that they play in the collegiate model of athletics.
In my first six months now as president of the NCAA, I've had a chance to talk with people all around the country, people who are athletic directors and coaches and student-athletes, university presidents, people in the media, all the affiliated associations that we work with in various forms around the country.
It's become increasingly clear to me, something that I always believed very deeply as a university president and faculty member, that collegiate sport in America is a very unique and distinctive and extraordinarily valuable enterprise and something that deserves our full attention and full support to maintain the integrity and the consistency of what it means to have intercollegiate athletics.
We have long ago established some of the core values of what collegiate athletics stands for and what they really mean, recognition of the fact that we are talking about students who happen to be athletes, not just athletes.
This is an enterprise that is fully embedded in the experience of higher education, that it's a part of our universities and colleges. It's not just an ancillary activity that goes on on the side, but it's something that's fully part of it. And that the role of the integrity of these games and the role of fair play and providing as high a level of competitive equity as we possibly can really, really makes a difference. That is all worth preserving and working hard at.
The fact, though, of course is that we've achieved an amazing number of things through that model. We've had hundreds of thousands of young men and women have a chance to play sports, go to college, get an education, go out and start their lives. We've had the ability to provide for our universities and their communities some spectacular levels of competition for years and years and decades and decades.
That success and the successes going on right now often get lost in the wash. When we get excited about this great set of championships that we're having right now, nobody loves those games more than me, but we also have to remember that that's just part of what we do. What this is really about is helping those young men and women have success at student-athletes, have success in the classroom, have success in the development of their skills and abilities, to compete at the very highest levels of their capabilities. But we also want them to go on and be successful and young men and women. That's what we see again and again and again.
But that success doesn't mean that we don't have challenges and issues. One could argue that right now there are some very serious assaults on that collegiate model, and that the collegiate model requires all of us in the NCAA office, in higher education, on the campuses, everybody who is inside intercollegiate athletics, it requires that we work extremely hard to protect and defend that model of collegiate athletics.
If you look at the successes we've had in academics, they've been remarkable. In men's basketball alone, we've seen over the past three or four years the highest rate of improvement in APR ratings and the academic success and a decline of penalties around academic shortcomings of any of our sports. While there are reasons to be concerned about and critical of academics, men's basketball has shown remarkable resilience and improvement.
We have a ways to go, though, no question about it. We need to make sure that academics is fully embedded into our expectations in athletics. We need to make sure that we're attentive to initial eligibility, something we're going to be spending more time on, whether or not we have the right kind of requirements for men and women to come into intercollegiate athletics and compete in our games.
We need to spend more time on the junior college transfer issues, the 2-4 transfer issues, because we know that's where we have significant problems with the success rates academically.
We need to look at the APR. I think it's been a wild success, but it's not producing the kind of graduation rates we really want. We need to decide whether we need to recenter it, adjust it in some fashion. But we need to make sure that having successful APRs leads to what we really want, and that's graduation of our students at the end of that process.
We all know that the collegiate model is under constant pressure from essentially the commercial model, folks that see intercollegiate athletics not as an integral part of higher education, but something more of a commercial enterprise. That's not what it is.
Are we happy we have great commercial partners, pleased that we have revenue to support all of our student-athletes in those programs? Of course.
Do we like working with the our corporate partners and having the success that we're seeing like here this weekend? Absolutely.
But that's not our business. That's not what we're all about ultimately. And we need to make sure we don't forget that fact.
At the same time we've also got to worry about the financial underpinnings of our athletic departments at all of our campuses around the country. Many of them are under significant strain and stress. We have to work with them to make sure they can continue to provide opportunities for the 400,000 student-athletes that are out there.
But if I've learned anything in the six months, the single biggest concern that I have among the threats to the collegiate model is simply the threat of integrity. I've heard concerns expressed by people all around the country about the integrity of intercollegiate athletics right now, that people are seeing things that they don't like and that I don't like and that many people are concerned about.
As they see those things, they extrapolate across a whole enterprise of intercollegiate athletics. On the face of that, that's inherently unfair because the vast majority of what goes on inside intercollegiate athletics is done by people who have extraordinary integrity, have extraordinary concern for their student-athletes, and people who want nothing more than to have intercollegiate athletics be successful in all the ways we all want it to be.
But there are those occasions where we have people from top to bottom who don't spend enough time and care in the conduct of this business. And we see that while we have an understanding about a lot of our values, sometimes we're lagging in that integrity. We need to be sure that we restore it. We need to make sure that people understand what we stand for. We need to make sure that we're willing to stand up behind that. And when we have people that don't want to conduct themselves consistent with the integrity of these games, we need to be ready to deal with that appropriately.
We've been working very hard in the offices right now to, for example, improve the way that the enforcement office is done. We have Julie Roe Lach sitting here. She has been doing a spectacular job working with all of her people to make sure her operations, the way they go about their business is fully well informed, that they understand what's going on out there in the world, that they're being as fair and forthright and speedy as they can be while still doing their work effectively in the interests of our association.
We have to make sure that we have penalties that line up in a fashion that actually serve as useful deterrents. We cannot have coaches, administrators, parents or student-athletes sitting out there deciding, Is this worth the risk? If I conduct myself in this fashion, and if I get caught, it's still worth the risk.
We don't want those kind of cost benefit analyses going on. If our penalties and processes aren't providing sufficient deterrents, then I need to sit down with the board of Division I and others and fix that and make sure that our penalty structure and our enforcement processes serve as a deterrent so people conduct themselves with integrity and forthrightness.
We have to make sure as we also go forward, those processes have integrity in and of themselves, that we inside the office of the NCAA do our jobs in a way that we have great, great confidence in.
I've come to know over the past six months the people of the NCAA office. They're great folks. I've been so incredibly impressed with their commitment, their dedication, values, love and passion for intercollegiate athletics. But we also have to make sure that we're doing our jobs as well as we possibly can and that we're serving the interests of the NCAA as well as we can.
So what am I going to do? What can I do in my position? Well, when it comes to issues of integrity of intercollegiate athletics, what I can first and foremost do and will do is be doggedly persistent, constantly raising those issues, working with our leadership groups to improve on it, constantly making sure that when people see NCAA events and NCAA student-athletes, all of the people who work inside of it, that they assume everything is being done properly, they assume everyone is following the rules, they assume that the games are being conducted the way they're supposed to be, not the inverse.
There are too many great people in this enterprise, there are too many student-athletes who do so many good things to have their reputations besmirched by the tiny fraction that don't. We're going to make sure that happens.
With that I'll pause and take questions on those or any other subjects.
Q. You just addressed it, but what in general is the perception of the NCAA right now to the point that it was a bad Wednesday yesterday? We had Ohio State, HBO, LSU. What is the overall public perception of rules adherence and compliance?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: I'm not sure I'm the best person to speak to that. You could probably answer that well yourself.
What I want to make sure, again, having seen firsthand now and come to understand all of the things that are right in intercollegiate athletics, I don't want that to get lost because of a small portion of things that are wrong.
Like it or not, the things that are wrong often wind up being highlighted. That's not a shot at the media; that's just the way the world works. We need to, therefore, make sure that people understand if there are things that are awry, we will put them right.
It's not that we'll ever create a world where things don't go wrong. People need to know that, yeah, that was inappropriate behavior over there, but I have confidence in the NCAA and people who run intercollegiate athletics, that they will fix that and make it right.
Q. How concerned are you that the president's outsource of championship, the most popular and lucrative sport, to an organization that looks like was involved in criminal activity?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Are you talking about the Fiesta Bowl?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: The Bowl games have always been relatively free-standing enterprises. The Bowl games were created mostly by local communities. It's evolved over a century, I guess. They've always had this sort of parallel existence with the NCAA.
What I know of the Fiesta Bowl is obviously I've read their report, or at least scanned their report. It's very big. I didn't have that much time, but I looked at it. I talked to the chairman of their board who called me to talk about their issues.
My sense is that the Fiesta Bowl board is doing the right things. They're obviously taking this extremely seriously. They're certainly embarrassed and upset by it, as should anyone be. Assuming that report is accurate, what's gone on there is utterly unacceptable. It's the kind of thing that, again, spreads exactly the wrong interpretation on what goes on in intercollegiate athletics.
You can't indict the entire Bowl system because of what's gone on there. My hope is that it will also serve as I guess a warning shot that every other board in every other community that runs a Bowl game makes sure that they're doing the oversight, compliance and due diligence to make sure their Bowl games are well-run. We have no reason to believe that's not the case.
Q. Will the Bowl system survive what happened to the Fiesta Bowl, the BCS Bowls? Is it time for the NCAA to start considering assuming control of that post-season? I don't know how you do it particularly, but is that a thought?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Well, I'm confident the Bowl system, I'm not sure I'd describe it as a system, but Bowls as they exist will continue. Again, the problems of the Fiesta Bowl as repugnant as they are, shouldn't be used as a broad-based indictment of all the Bowls.
I don't think it will materially affect all the other Bowls.
The NCAA has responsibility for licensing those Bowls. We want to make sure that we're doing that appropriately. It remains a limited role, but one we need to take seriously. We need to make sure that we include in that process the assessment that the Bowls are being run consistent with the values of intercollegiate athletics and the NCAA.
Q. You talked about wanting penalties to be enough of a deterrent that nobody is out there assessing risk/reward. Where do you think penalties are right now in regard to that? Do you think there is room for toughening and need for toughening to get to that point?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: I don't know exactly yet. But it's certainly something we need to be very cognizant of and do a very thorough assessment of.
I think we also need to look at whether or not the breadths of our penalties and our categorization of different infractions is right. In my opinion, we have them at sort of polar extremes, secondaries and then majors, and we may well need something in between. If you were going to use a criminal metaphor, not necessarily a good one, but you might say misdemeanors and felonies, but we don't have gross misdemeanors in the middle.
I think we need to make sure we have a system that makes good sense in today's context, that everyone understands it, and that everyone knows that those will be sharply enforced.
Q. I read in USA Today that you personally received threats from Kentucky fans. Can you talk about the nature of the threats and how you feel about that.
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: I can't really quote them without having them bleeped out (smiling).
We received enough communication that it was sufficient cause for people who worry about that to add additional security.
I'm not sure how I personally react to that. Obviously it's not something that you like or enjoy. I most certainly appreciate passionate fans. The last thing you want is people not to be passionate about sports.
But we do have to be careful that they don't become the cause or the excuse for, rather, repugnant behavior. That's true everywhere.
Q. The NBA lockout coming up, one thing they may discuss is a change in making players stay in college two years before going to the NBA. How concerned are you about these one-and-done kids using college basketball just to get to the NBA and only staying there for a year? Does that concern you at all?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Well, first of all, I don't want to, nor do I have a role, nor does the NCAA have a role, in the labor negotiations between those two bodies. As you're well aware, the so-called one-and-done rule is embodied in their Collective Bargaining Agreement. So my comments shouldn't have any bearing on any of that.
I'm in favor of anything that encourages people to stay in college. If there's changes that encourage students to stay in school, develop and grow, that's great. The so-called one-and-done phenomenon I think has taken on a bigger-than-life I guess position in people's minds about collegiate basketball.
There were last year, I don't know, 14 or something like that, 14 out of 5500 Division I basketball players, there were 14 one-and-dones.
Back to the question of what's the perspective on that and the perceptions of the public out there. They would say, All the kids are one-and-done, when in fact it was 14 or 15 young men that did it.
I would very much like to not have that become the image of intercollegiate basketball, even though there are some that do that, which is fine right now under our rules and the way we play the game. But I'd certainly like to have kids stay in college and prepare themselves for the rest of their lives.
Q. A lot more employees coming forward saying they knew about violations prior to. Are there any second thoughts about letting the Ohio State players play in a Bowl game?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: I'm not going to comment on, nor should I comment on, any specific cases. The fact is that our staff does an exceptional job, in my opinion, of getting the facts they have at hand, and then making thoughtful judgments about it along with their work with their committees.
In that case, everyone made the best judgment they could with the information that was at hand. I supported them.
Q. You talked about athletics being a part of the college experience. At Kentucky, the coach makes several million dollars a year. Staff and faculty haven't had a raise in three years. Just wondering how comfortable you are with that?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Well, I've always found the entire labor market in most places a bit hard to comprehend. If I were king of the universe, I'd make sure teachers and nurses were paid a lot are than they are.
We respond to labor markets as we find them, not as we create them. The fact is that basketball coaches at high-profile programs, like a number of other professions, are highly sought after and highly compensated positions. It's a very competitive labor market out there. Every college and university has to make a decision about what every one of their employees is worth.
Kentucky and a number of other universities have decided that their coaches deserve to be well-compensated, that that's a good investment for the institution, and I'm not second-guessing them.
Q. You talk about public perception. Can you get into the exaggeration, if there is one, are things worse in terms of following the rules than they've ever been, better than it's ever been, or are we the same as we've always been?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: I've been on the job six months, so I'm not sure I'm the best guy to give historical perspectives on anything.
What I do know is the public perceptions about a number of things are in error. Now I'm speculating because I don't have the hard data. But many people believe that student-athletes aren't good students when, in fact, they're better students than the non-athletes. The graduation rates across the NCAA, Division I, are significantly higher than the non-athletes. That goes for men and women and students of color.
So student-athletes are successful students, much more successful than the public believes. The data are clear, but yet the perception is quite the opposite.
There's a perception that every university plays sports so they can make money, when, in fact, all but a handful of schools have negative cash flow when it comes to their athletic departments and are struggling how to continue to pay for them.
There's sort of a lot of mythology out there like that that we need to work hard to turn around because it colors the way people think about everything that goes on. There are going to be millions of people that watch these wonderful games this weekend and say, That's intercollegiate athletics. It's a very small portion of intercollegiate athletics, but it is what will shape most people's view of what we do all the time.
Q. You also touched on enforcement and punishment. Any consideration to an adjustment or increase of punishment for schools for failure to report athletes or representatives of athletes who request funds?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: We need to figure out how to do as good a job as possible attacking all those threats to the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. We could sit and go through a laundry list of potential violations of our rules and bylaws. We probably agree that many of them need to be addressed. We'll keep doing that.
The kinds of thing you're describing we take very seriously. Our enforcement staff looks into it very aggressively. When we have tangible evidence that something is amiss, we'll pursue it and enforce the rules. Whether we need changes in those rules or not is something we could debate all day.
That's what I'm talking about looking at: making sure we have rules in place that are clear, which we have now, but also penalties and enforcement of those penalties that serve as sufficient deterrents that people follow our rules and are not sitting there saying, Doing this is okay because it's a cost of doing business. That's not acceptable.
Q. You talk about the perception that maybe we write and talk about things when they're bad. It seems like a lot of these cases have come because your enforcement staff has done a very good job of digging them out. Have they gotten a bit better? Was that a point of emphasis when you got there?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: It's clearly a point of emphasis. As I mentioned, Julie Roe Lach right behind you is working hard to make sure we have the right organization, structure, practices and policies and resources in place so we can keep doing that. We've been focusing resources in areas where we think there's real challenges, where there's emerging challenges, where we need to develop more understanding and knowledge of what's going on in those areas so we can try to get ahead of some of these curves instead of always reacting to them. Some of those things I think are starting to make a significant difference.
There's a Catch-22 here. When we find and discover more issues, they get written about. That's fine. It gives a perception that, Oh, my God, things are really out of control, when, in fact, what it is is really good enforcement work.
Q. You talked before about perception, mythology. One of the perceptions that your organization combats most is the perception of your role. You are looked at by some who don't understand it as if you're Commissioner Stern or Commissioner Goodell. What I was going to ask you is, do you need to do more to educate people about what your role is or would it work better if you had that kind of power to make more decisions yourself?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Yeah, I try very hard to explain what my role is all the time as I go around. You're quite right, there is a tendency to confuse and conflate those roles.
In higher education, in the NCAA as an association, we have a very different model because we're quite different than Major League Baseball or the NBA. We're not a business with a handful of owners that have neatly unified interests. We're a loose-knit confederation of around 1100 colleges and universities with a constant struggle to find the right balance between autonomy of those institutions, something very highly valued at universities and colleges, I can attest to that, and then the authority that we want to lend to a central organization that we're all a part of called the NCAA.
Striking that balance I think is one of the real challenges as we go forward. It always has been in the past. We'll need to constantly need to make adjustments in what that model looks like. It is by definition quite different than the job of David Stern or Roger Goodell. Whether or not we're at the right balance or not, again, I think is something that will be evolving over time.
Q. Is it fair to say you changed your stance on compensating players and why?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Absolutely not. I have been saying since October, when I first started the job, that one of the issues that I wanted to take up with the membership was whether or not it made sense to move toward a grant-and-aid model that covered full cost of attendance, which is a completely different notion than compensating players.
If you're a merit scholar at many universities, you get full cost of attendance as your scholarship package. Student-athletes get tuition fees, books, room and board, and supplies. That's been the model since the 1950s.
Well, do we want to now say, Okay, can we close the balance of that gap? This is just a ballpark number, it tends be to be a couple of thousand dollars at most schools.
The answer may be that that doesn't make sense today and we don't want to do it. But it's an important question that at least we raise among the membership and we talk about. I've been saying that since October. There's been no change of heart whatsoever in my position on it.
Q. Is it a recruiting advantage that USC may have a bigger cost of attendance than Akron?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Whenever you give a scholarship that covers the cost of tuition. It's free tuition. Whether that tuition is $45,000 or $5,000, I don't know that it matters to an individual student, they just want a tuition grant. So I don't know. Public institutions seem to recruit just fine.
What we don't want to do is create a model where there's huge competitive advantages because somebody has a lot of money they can throw at students. That's what we're trying to avoid.
Q. You mentioned trying to find a way to deter of cost of doing business. Is holding coaches directly accountable one of the things you're trying to do? We've seen suspensions directed right at coaches. Is that something we're heading toward?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: We have to hold everybody in the enterprise accountable, whether they're administrators, coaches, ADs, players or parents, anybody involved. Coaches are no different than anyone else in that process.
Coaches in collegiate sport have a different role than coaches in professional sport. Again, by definition these are student-athletes. So a coach is not just a coach, they're also a mentor and a teacher. That brings with it responsibilities that are different than being an NBA coach or an NFL coach.
Q. We've heard of prominent football institutions, the formation of a group to look at issues there. Is it fair to say that football needs better scrutiny than it has lately?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Julie and her colleagues have been giving particular attention to football and basketball. Those are the two sports, of course, that get the majority of scrutiny. They are the two sports also where the commercial pressures are the greatest on everyone around the sport because of the professional opportunities that are beyond the collegiate life of a student-athlete.
So, yes, we've been focusing a lot of attention there.
There's been a basketball issues committee. We've been working specifically with football around agents and third party issues. Need to do the same thing on the basketball side. So you'll see more activity focused in those arenas.
Doesn't mean we're going to ignore the others, but...
Q. You had said you were pleased with the 68-team format so far this tournament. Do you think VCU's run may get the ball rolling for further expansion sooner rather than later?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Well, I don't see that. I think the 68 model, first of all we're not even a full season into it, right, so we ought to give it a good whirl, and that means more than one season. But I've been very pleased with it personally.
I think adding the first four was a really nice addition. It obviously worked out very nicely for VCU. But I don't think it changes the equation about looking at expansion beyond that.
Q. There's been a few instances where student-athletes have provided false information. How serious of a violation does the NCAA see that?
PRESIDENT MARK EMMERT: Well, as you're probably aware, for anyone involved in intercollegiate athletics, ethics violations are something we take very, very seriously and always have. So those fall at the top of a long list.
Thank you very much. Enjoy the Final Four.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports