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By Josh Weinfuss
For a few minutes Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert relived his days working on a college campus.
He stood in front of about 70 Division III swimmers and divers in Eskenazi Hall on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), giving them an opportunity to talk openly about the NCAA and their student-athlete experiences while offering his perspectives about the future of the Association and in particular, issues that are facing student-athletes.
It took a few minutes to instigate discussion, but the former professor and university president was soon able to energize the student-athletes.
NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks with about 70 DIII student-athletes.
After a brief introduction by Bob Wright, the president of Franklin College’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Emmert gave the group a brief lesson on the history of the NCAA, which dates back to 1906.
But it wasn’t just history that he talked about.
“Most people don’t understand what the organization is about,” Emmert said. “All those rules are not set by me as president and not by my staff, but by your college presidents, your athletics directors, your coaches. Everyone comes together in a very democratized process.
“We spend a huge amount of time to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t; what works for your colleges and what doesn’t.”
Emmert then opened the floor for questions from the student-athletes.
Eight questions came Emmert’s way, the first asking him what he’d change about the NCAA.
“It’s not so much about the NCAA, it is people’s attitude toward sport,” said Emmert, who continued to talk about how too many kids look at sports as a path to fame and fortune rather than an education.
Emmert also received questions about the limited media coverage for Division III athletics; the logistics behind multi-division schools; and whether the NCAA has considered incorporating community colleges into its structure.
Emmert educated those in attendance by weaving in facts and figures.
The NCAA, he explained, has two revenue sources: the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, which makes about $720 million annually, and all the other sports, which account for about $50 million. The vast majority of that revenue is then redistributed to member institutions in two forms – directly (through cash) and indirectly (through championships).
Emmert talks with a Division III student-athlete from The College of New Jersey.
Emmert explained to the student-athletes that Division II and Division III are on a fixed-revenue stream. Division III schools annually receive 3.18 percent of the pot, which added up to about $25 million in 2011-12. Division II receives 4.37 percent.
“So you all have to have a vested interest in the success of the men’s basketball tournament,” Emmert said to a room of laughs. “If the goal was to make money, we’d only have football and men’s basketball. But it’s not. I’m in favor of big media contracts because that allows us to do everything else.”
Caitlin Lehberger, a senior swimmer at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., walked away from the “huddle” with a newfound understanding of Division III.
“I learned a lot about Division III and also the other divisions,” she said. “A lot of the money stuff I didn’t know about. It was very interesting hearing it right from the source, so I thought it was a very good experience that I would never get a chance (to see) if I weren’t here.”
After answering questions from the audience, Emmert turned the tables and asked the student-athletes a question – If you could change one thing about your athletics experience, what would it be?
The responses included more time to study, getting some of the same benefits that Division I student-athletes receive and more athletic trainers.
Two coaches in the audience asked Emmert about the NCAA stepping into to avoid schools from eliminating athletics programs and about putting restrictions on Division III recruiting, which currently is a 365-day process.
“First of all, I wasn’t surprised by the students’ concerns,” Emmert said following the session. “It’s almost always about time and focus and the resources that are available to allow them to be successful. It was nice to have those things reinforced. Some of the comments that came from coaches were also reinforcing of issues that we’ve been talking about, so that’s a nice confirmation to have.”
Colorado College freshman Matthew Nadel, who is swimming the 200-, 400- and 800-yard relays at this week’s NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships, was impressed that Emmert held the first “huddle” at a swimming event.
“Swimming doesn’t get a lot of media attention to start, even in Division I athletics, so it’s really cool that he held this to get the opinion of Division III swimmers, and not just us asking him questions but him asking us questions as to what we think would be best,” Nadel said.
Wednesday’s “Student-Athlete Huddle with NCAA President Emmert” was the first of its kind, with future events already scheduled for the Division II National Championships Festival in May.