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Emmert challenges members to confront issues

NCAA leaders urge schools to stand together to fix college sports programs

With two of the NCAA’s highest-ranking committees committing to take swift action to correct issues facing college basketball, NCAA leaders called upon their members Thursday to own the challenges facing them and to set college sports on a path guided by its long-held values.

Glen Jones, president of Henderson State and a member of the Board of Governors, joined Emmert to explain that the importance of the strategic planning process will be to renew the answers for why college sports exists.

In a packed room at the Indiana Convention Center, NCAA Board of Governors Chair G.P. “Bud” Peterson and NCAA President Mark Emmert challenged members gathered for the 2018 NCAA Convention to act consistently with their commitments to academics, fairness and student-athlete well-being and use them to clean up the problems undermining the foundation of college sports.

“We tend to say, ‘No it’s not me; it’s that other school,’” Emmert said. “But the fact is that’s just a little too convenient for all of us. It’s a little too easy. … When we have issues like those, we have to stand up together and say, ‘We have to fix that.’”

Read the full transcript from the NCAA Plenary Session: State of College Sports >

The direct and, at times, blunt statements came at a time when members of several college basketball programs are being investigated by the FBI for corruption. Those charges led the NCAA to establish a Commission on College Basketball to explore the issues and recommend necessary changes. The independent commission will present those recommendations in April.

The Board of Governors, the highest-ranking Association-wide governance group, and the Division I Board of Directors — that division’s top committee — promised this week to take quick action on those recommendations. The Board of Governors on Wednesday committed $10 million this year and an additional $2.5 million annually starting in 2019-20 to help implement the commission’s recommendations. In addition, the Board of Directors on Thursday promised to act on the recommendations by the start of the 2018-19 basketball season. Both committees stated their support for the commission’s work in a joint statement released Thursday.

Emmert urged school representatives to follow that lead. Standing behind college sports’ stated values should not be looked at as being out of touch with modern-day realities, he said. Rather, it’s about leading college sports ahead through the foundation that has provided its respected position within higher education.

“We can’t run away from change,” Emmert said. “We need to be the leaders in managing change, not getting whipsawed by it. But we always have to do that by reminding ourselves that this is about providing our students with opportunities to succeed.”

To emphasize that importance, Emmert introduced Alaina Woo, the chair of the Board of Governors’ newly formed Student-Athlete Engagement Committee. That committee, composed of members of some of the key NCAA committees and each division’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was formed to help better connect student-athletes with national policymaking.

Alaina Woo, the chair of the Board of Governors’ newly formed Student-Athlete Engagement Committee.

Woo, a former student-athlete at Pomona-Pitzer and an assistant basketball coach at Tufts, described how important she and her peers feel about their identities as student-athletes, and that it’s important to them to have their concerns recognized and understood by their professors, coaches and administrators. She urged NCAA leaders to continue their progress in including student-athletes in national policy discussions.

“Our identities as student-athletes are incredibly important to us,” Woo said. “Feeling like the professors and the NCAA understand that is important. And that’s the intent of the Student-Athlete Engagement Committee.”

But meeting these goals can’t be done without a plan, Emmert said. So Emmert pointed to the work being done to update the NCAA’s Association-wide strategic plan. Emmert stressed that while those words can be dismissed as a bureaucratic exercise, the NCAA already has seen positive results from past efforts. The strategic plan was last updated in 2004 to focus on academic reform, leading to improved tracking of graduation rates and the academic performance of athletes, and led to penalties for programs that failed to meet standards. Today, student-athletes are performing at an all-time high academically and graduating at record rates.

Glen Jones, president of Henderson State and a member of the Board of Governors, joined Emmert to explain that the importance of the strategic planning process will be to renew the answers for why college sports exists, to create new opportunities to express the Association’s values, and to establish college sports as a leader in the day’s most pressing issues.

“I’d like to use this process as a time to reestablish how we think, how we feel about this thing we call the NCAA, to elevate the conversation around it,” Jones said. “If you look at the issues of the day, they didn’t exist 14 years ago. All these things have come on the horizon, and they’ve resulted in putting the NCAA on the defensive. I’d like to use this process to propel us into a role of a leader. I think it’s a great opportunity. I think society is looking for a leader, and I think that’s what we do best.”

But as Emmert agreed with the vision Jones displayed, he also stressed that the work points back to the values upon which college sports is built and illustrates the positive outcomes that result from making decisions based on those values.

He closed by challenging the NCAA’s colleges and universities to take ownership of the issues regardless of whether they feel responsible for them and to turn the resolve demonstrated by the Commission on College Basketball into their own resolve.

“People don’t want words; they want to see action,” Emmert said. “We’ve got to fix it together. Nobody thinks it’s going to be easy. In fact, I think it’s going to be really hard. But we’ve got to get on with it. We’ve got to put our actions where our words are.”