After three days of “legal stuff” involving the sports world, I am tired of that refrain – even though there is more on my clipboard – and so, I am going to address something else today. Recall about a week ago that Dr. Mark Emmert announced that he would be stepping down as the president of the NCAA in June 2023 or when a new president is named if that happens before June 2023. Likely, many readers here did not read Sally Jenkins’ column on this subject.
Suffice it to say that Ms. Jenkins is not a fan of Dr. Emmert. If you were to host a dinner party and invite the two of them, it would not be advisable to seat them adjacent to each other. Here is a link to her column; I recommend you take about three minutes and read it in its entirety.
For those who did not read the column, Jenkins believes the NCAA is a salvageable institution despite its current condition. She stakes out her position clearly:
“The job of NCAA president is not nearly as tough as Mark Emmert made it look, with his powdered wig arrogance and dull ducal lethargy. Emmert’s NCAA was a stagnant moated castle at a time of accelerating change, but the worst part of his legacy is the cynical loathing he bred for the institution. Emmert made the organization’s leaders seem like cake-eaters incapable of fixing their own tumbled walls while the mob gathered with torches.”
“It’s difficult to summarize the combination of doziness and density with which Emmert led the NCAA on just about every front. But the main harm he did was to make the NCAA seem unfixable and its presidency undesirable. It’s not. It just has been led by an unqualified blockhead for so long that we came to think of it that way.”
Her solution to the problem is to find a new president for the NCAA who is a demonstrated leader, and her nominee is Dr. Robert Gates. When you read Gates’ CV, you come away with the very certain impression that he has tackled jobs with far greater challenges and responsibilities than exist for the NCAA. Here is a summary of Dr. Gates’ life:
- CIA Intelligence Analyst
- National Security Council Staff
- Deputy Director for Intelligence (CIA)
- Director of Central Intelligence
- President of Texas A&M University
- Secretary of Defense (under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama)
- Chancellor, College of William and Mary
Dr. Gates is involved with the NCAA too. He was the person in charge of getting a new constitution for the NCAA and he managed to do that with the support of more than 80% of the NCAA membership; he is a known quantity to many of the “power brokers” who exist in the world of intercollegiate athletics. Jenkins’ nomination seems to be a powerful one with one caveat:
- Dr. Gates is 78 years old. The NCAA is wading into terra incognita on several fronts and those problems are not going to resolve themselves in the next several years. So, is this a challenge that Dr, Gates wants to take on for what could be the balance of his professional life?
The biggest issue – I believe – for the NCAA and its new leader is how to keep even a semblance of a level playing field among the schools in these times of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) payments to “student-athletes”. Reports say that Texas A&M (Dr. Gates was President there, remember) boosters pooled money together in the amount of $25M to go and “recruit” a football team this year.
- Assume that is true; tell me how teams in the MAC are supposed to compete with that.
- Assume that is true, tell me again about how these are “student-athletes”. Along this line, I read another report that a high school recruit will arrive as a freshman with a $7M NIL deal in place.
- Assume that is true, tell me how an organization whose “investigators” seem unable to find their asses with either hand is going to maintain even a patina of control even if there are new rules put in place.
In case anyone misinterprets here, I am not opposed in any way to athletes being able to make money from the use of their name, image and likeness. What I am opposed to is the credibility-stretching limits that this practice has gone to in just a year or so. The idea of NIL rights is that the player would be compensated by a company for using him as an endorser or “influencer” of their product/service. No problem there until you try to convince me that local businesses find that it makes legitimate business sense to pay a high school football recruit several million dollars in “endorsement money” even before he finds his way to the student union.
NIL deals have quickly morphed from endorsement deals into the creation of semi-pro teams at big schools. The old NCAA model was outmoded and hypocritical; the current model is newfangled and hypocritical. Somehow, I don’t count that as a great leap forward.
Finally, the NCAA member schools are educational institutions. So let me close today with this view of education from the philosopher, Bertrand Russell:
“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………