August 15, 2018

NCAA president Mark Emmert: T-shirts of my likeness are ‘clever’

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GRAPEVINE, Texas — NCAA president Mark Emmert laughed when asked Monday if he saw the story about a former college athlete selling Mark Emmert T-shirts for $25. Yes, Emmert has seen this new business venture.

The backstory: Former North Carolina reserve quarterback Caleb Pressley decided to make a point about the NCAA preventing college athletes from making money off their own names, images and likenesses (NILs) — an issue the courts are deciding. So Pressley created a ”Likeness” line of 16 shirts featuring cartoon images that bear a striking resemblance to current college football players. There’s even one shirt of a smiling Emmert standing in front of large stacks of cash and a logo that resembles the NCAA’s except this one says ”Likeness.”

”I thought it was funny,” Emmert said. ”I won’t be engaging with him and I can’t imagine it’s a hot ticket. I hope he’s not banking on that for the rest of his career. I thought it was clever.”

Emmert came to Texas on Monday for a talk at the Division I faculty athletic representatives conference during a period when the NCAA continues to try to define what it is and what it is not. Depending on the NCAA’s appeal in the Ed O’Bannon case, schools could be allowed to provide about $5,000 per year in deferred money to players for use of their NILs. The Martin Jenkins case, led by attorney Jeffrey Kessler, seeks a free market for athlete payment and has a class certification hearing on Oct. 1.

”The fundamental principle that’s under adjudication is certainly one that should go to the Supreme Court and we’ve assumed that should it wind up there, we’ll go there,” Emmert said in an interview with reporters after his talk. ”In the case of the Jenkins case, the principle there is pretty fundamental so we’re certainly positioning ourselves to do that if need be.”

Emmert said he supports the concept in a Pac-12 proposal that would allow college athletes to use their NILs to promote their own non-athletic business ventures. The proposal will be vetted by NCAA members in the coming months and potentially voted on at the January convention.

”I think we need to find a workable way of doing that,” Emmert said. ”The devil’s in the detail, as always, but it certainly doesn’t strike me as fundamentally problematic to have somebody be able to do that. We have for a long time had a waiver process in place that’s allowed students to do things like that. If a young woman is making a movie or is a musician or has some sideline business that’s utterly unrelated to their sport, I certainly have no problem with them being able to be successful with that.”

The obvious follow-up question: Why not then be allowed to make money off your name for athletic purposes? ”You know all arguments for that,” Emmert replied.

After Georgia star running back Todd Gurley was suspended four games in 2014 for making money off his autograph, Emmert said he hoped schools would revisit whether NCAA rules related to autographs are still proper. On Monday, Emmert sounded like the members want no piece of changing that rule.

”The challenge is always around the recruitment process and when does selling of a likeness around your sport become in fact an employment-based model?” Emmert said. ”And that’s the line that has to be drawn here.”

Emmert noted several times Monday recent comments in The New York Times by Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, that Notre Dame would leave elite college football if schools become a vehicle for athletes to be paid.

”Perhaps institutions will make decisions about where they want to go — a semipro model or a different, more educational model — and I welcome that,” Jenkins told The New York Times. ”I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, and I think there would be schools that would do that.”

Emmert contends there are other schools who would try to find a new model as well. Division I presidents ”want to define their future,” Emmert said. ”They don’t want it to be defined for them by a legal process. The notion of converting students into employees to play a sport is something a great many — maybe most, maybe all — university leaders find antiethical to what universities are about. If under one model they were forced to do that, I suspect they’d work hard to find another model. That could be inside the NCAA. We have a lot of schools that don’t provide scholarship support that play sports in very different ways.”

This is the never-ending tension of college sports in America. We’re the only country in the world that tries to blend higher education with commercialized sports, bringing a sense of community — and a whole lot of cash and exposure — to campuses while also placing pressure on the need to win.

On the one hand, one faculty representative complained to Emmert and the media that 97 percent of athletes do things the right way and their positive stories aren’t being told. Emmert agreed and said it’s not newsworthy when an athlete graduates because the media reports on abnormal stories.

On the other hand, Emmert acknowledged legitimate academic concerns in college sports and lamented that the NFL doesn’t have a minor league system. (Why should the NFL create a minor league when the NCAA has produced a terrific one for free?) One faculty member pointedly questioned Emmert as to why the NCAA seems to promote professionalism by not penalizing schools’ Academic Progress Rate scores when an athlete leaves school early for the pros and awards the school if that athlete later returns and graduates.

”My first question is why did we bring them into this in the first place?” Emmert responded. ”With basketball one-and-done, we have a system that requires a young man to go to campus to promote his brand by playing for a team for a season or two and then fly off. ”_ If they want both (an educational experience and preparation for the pros), nobody can do it better for us. If they want just one, it puts you all as educators in a very difficult place. I think it’s a tough question.”

Good luck getting a coach or school to turn down a potential one-and-done player. It’s called competition. Coaches are paid based on wins and losses and schools hear from fans if there are too many losses.

A sensible, recent NCAA proposal would allow underclassmen to enter the NBA’s pre-draft combine and possibly return to school after getting feedback on their draft stock. Under the proposal, players could test the waters multiple times and still return to school as long as they did not sign with an agent.

”If a student realizes, ‘I didn’t even get invited to the combine, or gee, I did and they ranked me 75th, maybe I’ll stay in school, maybe I’ll become a coach,”’ Emmert said. ”Those are good outcomes for that person.”

But as athletic directors gain a greater role in governing the NCAA, there’s a growing divide with faculty members who feel disenfranchised. Some faculty athletic representatives privately say their role on campus is becoming obsolete as ADs grow in stature and farm out their daily duties to chief financial officers.

Several faculty reps questioned Emmert why fewer of them are involved in major decision-making committees in the new NCAA governance. One faculty rep told Emmert that faculty reps feel ”disenfranchised” within the NCAA.

”It seems once again faculty is seen as having a voice only in academics, when in fact what happens with championship decisions and all the other decisions that are made impact academics, whether people want to believe that or not,” the faculty rep told Emmert. ”Unless we feel as if we’re part of the system, we’re going to increasingly feel we’re not part of the system, and I think what you’re going to see is an antagonistic orientation toward athletes, rather than a supportive environment.”

Emmert said he agrees faculty play an important role. He suggested they help solve problems on the committees they are on and lobby conference offices for representation. ”Coming out of most of these conferences, I’m just telling you the facts, there was active lobbying to get ADs appointed as conference reps,” Emmert said.

Jo Potuto, Nebraska’s faculty rep and a former Division I infractions committee chairwoman, said that though athletic administrators do a good job seeing the campus side of issues, more faculty reps are needed for that perspective. ”Given all the external pressures on college athletics today, and all the efforts the NCAA and conferences and institutions have said that these are students who are also athletes, the new structure, at least in its framework, belies that,” Potuto told Emmert.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, the chair of the NCAA Division I Council, told faculty members he can’t defend their low representation on committees. Phillips said some lower-resourced conferences don’t have qualified faculty willing to be representatives on committees.

”It’s not a good place right now,” Phillips said. ”I’m going to very disappointed if my time runs out as chair and we haven’t made a better dent in this thing. You have me on record on that.”

This is very much an ”inside baseball” discussion that average fans don’t care about. And yet it’s another example of the never-ending tension between academics and commercialized sports.

It’s a place where many well-intentioned people want to both educate athletes and entertain the masses with highly-publicized athletes. It’s a place where the adults can be paid and athletes can’t make money off their own name. And now, humorously, it’s a place where a former athlete is selling T-shirts of the $1.8 million-a-year NCAA president.

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