You are here

Emmert calls 2021 a ‘seminal year for college sports’

NCAA president emphasizes the need to focus on student-athletes despite challenges ahead

While last year provided NCAA members some of the most difficult challenges they have ever faced, 2021 offers the chance to showcase the membership’s values and reinforce its mission.

NCAA President Mark Emmert used his annual State of College Sports address, which was delivered virtually Tuesday during the 2021 NCAA Convention, to set the stage in what will be a critical time in the history of college athletics.

Emmert emphasized that 2020 provided some good lessons.

“The biggest one of those is when we cooperate, remarkable things can happen,” Emmert said. “And, sadly, we’ve also learned that when we’re divided, we simply fail, and sometimes catastrophically.”

Emmert stressed the importance of members continuing to act consistently with the Association’s values and in the best interest of student-athletes.

“The single most important outcome for all but a tiny fraction of our athletes is to graduate from college with a meaningful degree. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be naive,” Emmert said. “One of the big issues for me, and I know for you, isn’t whether or not sports produce big revenue; it’s what do we do with the revenue. Do we line it up with what we care about?”

Emmert’s presentation comes days after the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the national office stating its interest in restrictions on college athlete transfers and athletes’ use of their name, image and likeness. Emmert responded the following day, welcoming the opportunity to consult on upcoming changes in those areas. He has encouraged each division to delay its vote on name, image and likeness legislation so the Association can continue to review external factors and consider next steps.

All three divisions “are ready to take a big step in the transition to support our students in our actions around name, image and likeness,” Emmert said. “We have paused on this progress, and I’m very disappointed in that. More importantly, all of our college athletes are profoundly disappointed and I suspect even angry. But we need to make clear, we’re still committed. We’re still determined to move forward with name, image and likeness modernizations and certainly with changing Division I transfer rules.

“We promised this to our students. We’re going to get it done,” Emmert said. “Let me be clear, our commitment to the modernization of our rules and doing what’s best for our student-athletes remains resolute. And in that context, 2021 is a seminal year for college sports.”

Looking ahead to the next year, Emmert emphasized the need to move modern legislation for name, image and likeness to the finish line. He also highlighted the need to diversify coaching and administrative positions, bring more accountability to the infractions process, and protect the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.

“We’ve got to deal with COVID-19, and we’ve got to make sure that in 2021, we’re persistent, we’re disciplined, and we follow the science,” Emmert said. “We’ve got to stay the course until society is safe and our students and coaches can reengage in athletics in the way that we all want to.”

He closed by underscoring the need to ensure student-athletes are supported academically, even after they leave campus.

“We need to put our money where our mouth is on academic success,” Emmert said. “We need to provide academic support while student-athletes are playing, but we also need to continue that support after eligibility is over. Post-eligibility support should be the norm, not the exception.”

All of this points toward a historic year for college sports in 2021.

“We want to get back to college sports in full form in 2021 in a better way than before — not just returning to what we were, but being better than we were before 2020,” Emmert said.