Office of the President

For anyone who believes in the power of sport to bring people together, the World University Games this summer in Taipei, Taiwan, was a testament to the universal quest for competition and sportsmanship. The participating NCAA student-athletes represented not only Team USA, but the spirit of American college sports.

The games brought students together from 131 countries to participate in 22 sports in the world’s second-largest multisport event behind the Summer Olympics. Founded in 1959 by the International University Sports Federation, the biennial World University Games – also known as the Summer Universiade – celebrate sports hand in hand with learning.

For more than 300 NCAA student-athletes, the 12 days of competition represented the kind of opportunity college sports is all about. International travel, interaction with competitors from throughout the world, cultural experiences in Taiwan – together, they created memories and lessons that will last a lifetime for the coaches and college athletes who took part.

Dozens of those students even experienced the games with their home teams. Complete rosters from several teams – Purdue men’s basketball, Maryland women’s basketball, Iowa baseball, Houston men’s and women’s track and field, and UCLA men’s and women’s tennis – swapped their jerseys for the red, white and blue of Team USA. Competing in the games together as a team, no doubt, adds a dimension of camaraderie and shared experience as those teams train for their NCAA seasons. Altogether, student-athletes from more than 70 schools participated in the games.

The most striking aspect of competing internationally beside other countries’ student-athletes, however, is the extent to which the rest of the world and its university systems look to the United States as a model for how to combine the student experience with the athletic one. Walking the line between academics and athletics is a perennial balancing act.

The NCAA has tried to strike that balance by making its priorities clear: We strive to make decisions that prioritize academics, promote the physical and mental well-being of college athletes, and advance fairness.

Ours is not a perfect model. The thrill of the World University Games had barely worn off when the college sports community was jolted in September by the announcement of a federal investigation into alleged criminal activity in college basketball. The nature of the allegations is an assault on the core values of the Association, and our ability to carry on in their wake with the good work of college sports will be challenged as investigators continue to discern the breadth and depth of the alleged wrongdoing.

But anyone who doubts the importance of that work did not see thousands of Taiwanese and spectators from around the world, filling a 14,000-seat stadium at the World University Games to cheer on Purdue. Those fans had no allegiance to the Boilermakers; they were applauding a well-executed game of college basketball.

When the international community, at these games and other forums, asks again and again what makes the American college sports model special, the best answer is that our collegiate athletics experience is rooted in students’ – not just student-athletes’ – cultural identity, a lifelong bond they develop with an alma mater or an American region and their fellow fans.

The foundation of college sports is part of the broader American experience, built on personal and collective growth through education. We owe it to the world to keep working to make that model better.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President