by John Bauernfeind
IU Student News Bureau
ARLINGTON, Texas – Addressing the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to allow Northwestern University football players the right to organize a labor union, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Sunday the implications threaten the institution of collegiate athletics.
“If you move to a model where you have labor negotiations between management — that would be coaches and athletic directors and student-athletes — to determine everything about what that relationship should be, is a wildly different notion than saying these are students,” Emmert said. “It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics. There are some people that think that would be fine. I don’t think that represents the views of anybody up here right now.”
Emmert spoke at a news conference at AT&T Stadium, site of the NCAA Final Four, with members of a steering committee that plans to introduce its reform initiative later this month. He was joined by Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 conference commissioner; Nathan Hatch, chair of the Division I Board of Directors and president of Wake Forest University; Michael Drake, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, and incoming president of Ohio State University; Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University; and Rita Cheng, chancellor of Southern Illinois University.
Emmert emphasized the need for movement in a reform effort that began with a summit meeting of university presidents in the summer of 2011.
“I mean, it’s time to act,” he said. “It’s time to get on with demonstrating the will of the membership. It is an association. It is a group that makes decisions in a ponderous democratic process.
“These people to my left are trying very much to change the decision-making structure,” he added, “so that they can make decisions much more rapidly and address things in a much more real time way. I think that is exactly the goal.”
Schulz maintained student-athletes should have a voice in the process, but was concerned that adding responsibilities to an already demanding schedule should be managed carefully.
“Let me give a cautionary part to this,” Schulz said. “We have huge demands of our student-athletes. They’re full-time students. On top of that, they have almost zero social life. They’re doing all these things to make sure that they’re competing at the highest level, generally year round, and we got to be careful. They need a voice, but we can’t add too much to an already full slate.”
Hatch said one of the possibilities the NCAA has considered has been to have a post-graduate student representatives, “because they would have more time to devote to these issues.”
The discussion covered a range of concerns. Bowlsby discussed the process of recruiting.
“I don’t know that there’s any reason why we can’t use FaceTime and Skype for some of the early recruitment process things instead of going in and disrupting high schools for a high profile student-athlete,” he said. “That disruption is really quite extraordinary.”
Emmert addressed Final Four games being played in football stadiums.
“There may be people that would like to be in a tighter arena,” he said, “but not the 60,000 that wouldn’t be there.”
As a former provost and chancellor at the University of Connecticut, Emmert said he was pleased to see the Huskies reach the national championship game one year after they were barred from the tournament because of the sub-standard academic performance of the athletes.
“And to see that team hold together, I think it’s a commitment to those young men on that team that they hung together,” he said. “They could have bolted for other programs and they didn’t.”
Bowlsby acknowledged the need to address flaws in the NCAA legislative process.
“By the time we take a legislative proposal through the system,” he said, “it doesn’t look at all like the thoroughbred racehorse that we thought we were inventing, and instead it turns out looking like a three-legged camel that really doesn’t serve anybody’s interests or needs. We need to find a way where we can do better than that.”
Emmert, who was named NCAA president four years ago this month, said athletic success has taken precedence over academic success in recent years.
“Yeah, I think we have, in fact, seen too much of a shift toward athletic success and not enough on the success and the preparation to be the kind of people they will be when that athletic career is over,” he said.
“So we’re trying to make sure that we are focused on that as tightly as we can. I agree with Bob, I don’t think the association membership lost its core focus, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be adjusted constantly. You got to pay attention to that, because the competitive urges of everybody are such that you are constantly trying to find more ways to compete. We have to be sure that we’re providing opportunities for them and requirements that they be serious students.”