Mark Emmert’s greatest value to the NCAA as president is the fact that he can say just about anything with a straight face, no matter the ridiculousness of his statement. In March of 2012 he said paying college athletes is “so antithetical to what college athletics is.” He made that remarkt in Houston less than eight months after Texas A&M announced that it was leaving the Big 12 for the SEC — the earthquake that began the typhoon of conference realignment that has Rutgers in the Big 10, West Virginia in the Big 12, and in a few years, Oklahoma and Texas in the SEC. Because athletes traveling across time zones to increase the price of conference television rights is what college athletics is all about.
At today’s Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, Emmert was still on message with his concern about athletes receiving money for helping the schools make money. Mind you, he’s speaking about college athletics at a forum about business in sports, not academics in sports. He said that there are concerns about the new NIL money in college sports being used as a recruiting inducement.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Emmert would say something as tone deaf and lacking of self awareness as what Action Network’s Brett McMurphy tweeted out earlier today — Emmert saying that being a University president “is the hardest job in America.”
I’m not here to call anyone’s job easy. Even people who test video games for a living aren’t spending all day trying to improve their Call of Duty ranking. They’re making sure that game experience will be as enjoyable as possible for the consumer. However, I don’t know that I can go as far as that’s the hardest job in America when I see the construction workers next door to my apartment outside all day, working on a new building with cement trucks. I most certainly won’t go that far with a job that is climate-controlled and paid Emmert $762,000 in 2004 when he held the job at Washington, but maybe he feels that because throughout his career, when he’s in charge it’s a safe bet that there’s going to be a problem.
In 2013, Brent Schrotenboer reported for USA Today on some positions that Emmert held prior to becoming NCAA president in 2010. His findings do not portray Emmert as an outstanding leader at a university. At UConn he was in charge of a $1 billion construction project that was launched in 1995 that was littered with fire code violations and various mistakes that were estimated to cost the state at least $100 million.
According to Schrotenboer’s report,there were hand written concerns about the direction of the project from Emmert, but when the project was audited in 1998, he said there were no concerns. In 2005, when the problems came to light in an investigation, Emmert had already left UConn six years prior. One of the lead investigators believes that Emmert could have “blown the whistle but he didn’t,” and also said that when Emmert was questioned he said, “I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was taken care of.”
There were also problems with Emmert when he was provost and vice president of academic affairs at Montana State, when the NCAA ruled that the school was guilty of lack of institutional control due to academic fraud on the men’s basketball team. The ruling came down again after Emmert had left. There were also academic fraud issues when he was a Chancellor at LSU. The football program was accused of “systemic academic fraud” by LSU instructors. Emmert led the school’s investigation of itself and the NCAA accepted LSU’s findings that whatever fraud took place was minor. However, two people did sue LSU, claiming that they had to leave their positions at school after they reported the fraud.
As president of the NCAA, Emmert has made several missteps, but the Miami/Nevin Shapiro situation will always stick out. The NCAA launched an investigation into players receiving illegal benefits from Shapiro, a convicted ponzi schemer. Some NCAA investigators would later pay Shapiro’s defense attorney — the defense attorney for a convicted ponzi schemer — to help get information it could use against Miami. The NCAA was then forced to investigate itself and Miami received a slap on the wrist punishment.
I’ve never been a university president, nor do I desire to be one. It seems like a lot of managing budgets and making wealthy people feel special. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take Emmert at his word that the position is the most difficult in America. It probably is for him, because whenever he is in charge, there’s probably an investigation on the horizon.