|'We don't want another 2011,' Mark Emmert says on Thursday. (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- The smile was slightly excessive, all but a few strands of gray hair perfect, the cheeks slightly rosy from too much makeup but Mark Emmert stood in front of the assembled administrators at the NCAA Convention and bluntly said what many in and outside the room were thinking following one of the roughest years in the association's history.
"We don't want another 2011," the NCAA president said. "We don't want another year like that."
Who can blame him?
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Since taking office, Emmert has maintained that it is up to the actions of the organization to regain the faith of the public that has turned from trusting to doubting. The last calendar year has certainly put more strain on things than anybody can remember. There was the high profile Cam Newton investigation, a school hit with major violations holding up the men's basketball championship in Connecticut, conference realignment that stretched the notion of geography in order to cash in on media rights and the most disturbing scandal to hit college athletics at Penn State.
In 2012 there would be less talking, Emmert insisted Thursday evening, and plenty more walking.
"I've heard some people say all we have to do is just blow up the NCAA and everything will be fine. I'm not enamored of that suggestion," he said. "There is not a magic solution, there are no silver bullets, there is no 'easy button' to press that solves all these problems for us. We have to deal with these realities.
"We really are at a point in the history of intercollegiate athletics where we have a fork in the road."
The state of the association he was addressing is not a pleasant one as it sits at that fork. It's the reason Emmert convened university presidents and chancellors to a retreat last August and has pushed hard -- and fast -- for the reforms that have emerged since. Multi-year scholarships, higher academic thresholds, a new enforcement structure, multiple cost-cutting measures and other proposals have emerged to bring the NCAA up to speed with the modern era, while taking care of student-athletes better than ever.
The Howard Beale moment has passed and, finally, what was coming out of the NCAA convention was some actual progress.
"I wouldn't describe it as a line in the sand. These are really a continuation of issues we've been talking about since last August," he said. "I would better describe it as a continuation."
Former NCAA president Walter Byers was the man behind the curtain while Myles Brand spoke in measured tones and only when forced. Unlike his predecessors, Emmert has never shied from the spotlight and has been a shot in the arm for reforms at a place where change is normally measured in years, not months. The brisk pace -- less than three months from consideration to adoption of some proposals -- and lack of input from smaller schools has ruffled feathers but things continue unabated with out signs of stopping anytime soon.
On Saturday the board of directors will vote on an unmodified proposal to allow schools to provide multi-year scholarships, despite enough override votes from the membership to force it to be reconsidered and reworked. The presidential working group responsible did slightly modify the proposal, allowing for up to $2,000 in the form of a stipend to cover full cost of attendance to take into account equivalency scholarships to address Title IX concerns.
Make no mistake about it, the reforms are happening come hell or high water.
"We're on the right track," said Emmert. "We've seen a very difficult year in many respects and people are ready for consequential change. We're moving in that direction. We're no doubt moving faster than those people are used to and that's intentional."
But for everything that helps Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck fulfill their goals, there is a Jerry Sandusky or Nevin Shaprio lurking over the NCAA's shoulder. Conference realignment was about making more money, failings at Penn State pointed to lack of control over athletics departments on top of multiple infractions cases that added to the myth that everybody cheats and coaches care only about winning.
"The summary of all those story lines is essentially that there's no ethics and there's no ethics and no integrity in collegiate sports and that the whole system is broken," Emmert said. "But here's some really bad news, there's some truth in those criticisms. We can't hide from all the facts and criticisms."
As a result, no matter how much progress there is this week out of the NCAA, there is still a very long and bumpy road ahead. Facts are facts and while the organization has finally pulled its head out of the sand, the microscope on Emmert and others will never be greater. It is not hyperbole to state that the next six months could determine the fate of intercollegiate athletics for decades -- something all involved understand.
"We have to let the world know what fork we have chosen," he said. "By the time we get together next year we have a very different story line than the one we had this year. I know we can do that."
It's a beginning, an encouraging one at that, but there's still plenty left for the NCAA to address. The definition of the agent was broadened to close one loophole but the rulebook still remains as thick as a phonebook. Perceptions are changing about the NCAA but, as Emmert looked back and looked ahead while pacing the stage, the uphill battle to fix a broken system became very clear.
"It was a year which, in very fundamental ways, shaped a lot of people's opinions -- reinforcing or disproving their views of intercollegiate athletics in pretty profound ways," he said. "The stories that have been told and the story lines that have evolved over the past year have been pretty loud and pretty clear."
Not another 2011.