NCAA in full PR mode with Penn State, other recent issues

Call it a PR-conscious NCAA, or maybe self-preservation.

In the last four months, the NCAA, often labeled as tone-deaf, has been reactionary the last two months. 

Consider these examples…

*Two days after ESPN analyst Jay Bilas pointed out on Twitter the NCAA was selling nameless jerseys with the numbers of popular players on its web site, Mark Emmert said the NCAA decided to “exit” the jersey-selling business.

*Steven Rhodes, the Middle Tennessee State player and ex-Marine ruled ineligible after playing in an intramural game, was reinstated after the NCAA absorbed a day of heavy public vitriol.

*Fourteen months after dropping the hammer on Penn State, the NCAA is restoring scholarships because of what Emmert calls “solely a recognition of the very good work that has been done by the Penn State leadership.”

Perhaps that’s NCAA language for ‘mea culpa’ after the original sanctions were heavy-handed for a coaching staff that had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky.   

Since the well-publicized flub in the Miami case, the NCAA has upped its PR game as a reaction to growing concerns from the membership – concerns the NCAA created.

The NCAA might have no choice. There’s always the threat, real or perceived, that lack of self-awareness in Indianapolis would prompt the conferences to take their multi-million-dollar kickballs and play elsewhere.

“Clearly public relations are on the front of their minds these days, no question,” Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson recently told me, before the Penn State news. “Before it was, ‘Well, we’re in an investigation and we’re not going to comment on that.’”

When its power was less in question, the NCAA was playing with house money. Now it’s playing from behind, so it must welcome at least some level of public discourse on most issues.

For all the knocks on Emmert, his strength is supposed to be public relations. So as the NCAA seems in a well-orchestrated back-pedal, and Emmert is Bradley Roby.

It’s hard to blame the NCAA. It’s been a rough couple of years for the organization. Just ask C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky.

“It’s been a rough last couple of years,” Banowsky said.

The involvement of Sen. George Mitchell played a major role in lessened Penn State sanctions. But perhaps the NCAA’s announcement Tuesday was another example of the NCAA trying to settle things down, right wrongs and avoid problems.

That's good news for the Miami Hurricanes.

APU has O’Bannon’s back on the pay-for-play model. Concussion litigation is headed for mediation in Illinois, with more plaintiffs in the Tennessee case looming.

The College Football Playoff might as well be the football branch of the NCAA considering the money involved.

The governance restructuring that should take flight in early 2014 as a nod to the high-resource schools looking for more spending flexibility.

“As long as the organization can function and be a basis for finding solutions to the problems and addressing the problems and being in a competitive regulatory system, it will be fine,” Banowsky said. “Things settle down, we get in a better rhythm as members to the association. If we can’t, we’ll have more problems.”

It appears the NCAA is listening to the groans. It has to.


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