To the casual observer, the NCAA has a lot of seeming problems: Gender equity issues, the impending wave of name, image, and likeness legislation from states, a potentially crushing ruling from the Supreme Court waiting in the wings ... all leading to a public perception that it’s a tone-deaf organization that refuses to face the realities of the year 2021.
So, the NCAA board of governors — made up primarily of university presidents up and down the various divisions — did the only logical thing: Retain the man who has overseen the blossoming of these seeming problems for the last decade by extending the contract of its president, Mark Emmert, until 2025. His current contract runs until 2023.
It’s a move that was met with widespread surprise across both the media landscape and on campuses, which then led to near universal derision.
Yahoo!’s Pete Thamel: “The NCAA poured another layer of cement on its reputation as the most dysfunctional and rudderless organization in sports.”
The contract extension for Mark Emmert is a big middle finger to ADs, Commissioners, and those that value competence and results. Clearly, the NCAA A just doesn’t care. https://t.co/k25kpm7ygl— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) April 28, 2021
Here’s the thing, though — something I’ve always said about the university presidents and athletics directors who so often are the subject of scorn from fans: These are not dumb people. These are very smart people!
Which usually then begs the followup question: How can such smart people do something so seemingly dumb?
The answer is simple: The NCAA is functioning as intended under Emmert’s leadership.
The NCAA is made up of member schools. If the member schools wanted the various “problems” listed at the top of this page “fixed,” they’d have been changed long ago. In truth, this extension — like everything else the NCAA does — clearly signals what matters to the member institutions:
Maintaining the current model until its last possible dying breath.
Emmert’s extension, though clumsily timed, is just about the least-surprising thing in the world if you understand how this stuff works. Why anybody found it hard to believe that the Board of Governors would want to keep him in power is way more hysterical than the Board of Governors actually voting to keep Emmert in power.
He’s perfect for them!
This is a man who traded his soul years ago for a multimillion-dollar annual salary — someone who sacrificed his integrity to protect, as much as he can, the status quo. Don’t ever forget: just because you think he’s terrible at his job doesn’t mean they think he’s terrible at his job. In truth, Emmert has forever been doing what these people want him to do, which is, among other things, stall on any meaningful reform when it comes to name, image and likeness rights for student-athletes. Have there been blunders along the way? Yes, too many to count — most recently the debacle that was how the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament was funded and run, which makes the timing of this announcement, at best, tone deaf. But, blunders and all, the Association’s top governing body is more than happy to continue to pay Emmert well because he’s willing to be the face of their greedy desires.
He’s a comfortable whipping boy. It’s as simple as that.
This is the face that the NCAA’s highest governing body wants as its representative. It is not who athletic directors would choose. It is not who commissioners would choose. It is not who athletes themselves would choose. But in a system designed to stagnate, he was apparently the only viable option — which says more about the system than it does about Emmert himself. And that is what those who claim to love college sports will have to live with.
There are a lot of organizations, systems, and processes around this country that we classify as broken.
Might I submit that the NCAA, just like all of them, is functioning exactly as it was designed?
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