Emmert talks NCAA present, future at Tech

Photo courtesy of NCAA

Mark Emmert is the personification of college athletics. The current president of the NCAA carries a great deal of power over how Tech and other universities handle their athletic departments. On Thursday, March 2nd, Tech leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa hosted one of their Talks@Tech events with Mark Emmert as the featured speaker.

Emmert began the event by going through his history, how his career has brought him to Tech and the opportunities he had to work with President Bud Peterson. The former public policy professor has spent time at University of Washington, Syracuse and LSU.

He began his speech by recounting his time as president of LSU. The university has a partnership with several French schools as a way of branching out and establishing international relationships. While giving a tour of campus to the president of Paris-Sorbonne University, Emmert stopped at a football game. He recalled how engrossed the president was in the game and the festivities that went with it.

The story highlighted the difference between American universities and those outside of the country, that difference being the emphasis Americans put on sports. After the double overtime game against Tennessee finished, Emmert turned to the president.

“I went, ‘What do you think?’” said Emmert. “And he finally said, ‘I only want one thing. I want people to shout, ‘Go, Sorbonne, Go!’’

Beyond demonstrating the uniqueness of American collegiate sports culture, Emmert discussed what the NCAA has done during his tenure and what they plan to do in the future. Emmert mentioned overturning outdated restrictions on student-athletes’ access to university-provided food and recent measures to give athletes more free time. Additionally, he described how punishments worked as an example of how the NCAA and universities around the country are in more of a symbiotic relationship than anything.

Another big issue Emert addressed was where the NCAA generates most of its revenue. By far, the most profitable venture for the NCAA is the March Madness basketball tournament; most of the other NCAA tournaments run even or at a loss. The revenue from those tournaments is then turned over to colleges and conferences and distributed from there. This segment of Emmert’s speech was already publicly known information and was simply a setup for the question and answer session with the audience that followed.

After going through his speech, Emmert opened the floor for questions. Emmert and the NCAA can be very polarizing figures due to the power they hold (and various opinions on the validity of the student-athlete model as a method of fairly compensating competitors for their contributions to the university), and the questions he received reflected that. The first question was about the punishment process that the NCAA is currently going through with UNC and Ole Miss and went through in the past with Syracuse.

“It’s a collaborative process with the schools,” Emmert said. “Rather than this being a prosecutor and defendant approach, the member long ago said this ought to be the university with the association national office trying to find what were the real facts here and agree on what the facts are, and then turn it over to the committee on infractions.”

Other questions were based around the ongoing debates on whether college athletes should be paid. Emmert addressed this during his speech but went into greater detail when faced with multiple questions on the issue. The biggest point Emmert made on the issue was that he and the NCAA do not want college athletics to become a lesser version of each professional league, from the NFL to the NBA.

Finally, the questions concluded in a way fitting of the nation’s view of Emmert and the NCAA. The last revolved around a USA Today article written in April 2016 that claimed Emmert still owed former employer University of Washington $49,000 for a scholarship fund. While there have been no updates on whether Emmert has fulfilled the promised amount, he responded, “No as a matter of fact I don’t,” he said, “… I paid $51,000 at the time and I have since paid it off.”

Emmert’s talk to the approximately 50 students and faculty present was very indicative of the current attitude towards the NCAA. The speech and following questions centered on NCAA practices and how they might change in the future. At the same time, there were  critics in the audience who felt that Emmert, the NCAA or both are not prioritizing athletes’ interests when making decisions.

That did not conclude Emmert’s day in Atlanta. He then visited Tech athletes and coaches and his afternoon ended with a conversation in the Athletic Association’s Edge Building. This talk included athletic director Todd Stansbury, university president Bud Peterson and a number of faculty.