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Emmert, NCAA leaders discuss issues facing Association

Discussion about issues facing all divisions kicks off Opening Business Session at the Convention

By Greg Johnson

NCAA President Mark Emmert shared the stage with other NCAA leaders for his annual State of the Association address at the Opening Business Session of the 2014 NCAA Convention in San Diego Thursday night.

While each of the divisions has its own set of goals, the leaders of the decision-making bodies in the NCAA governance structure took turns answering questions from Emmert about the topics that can help the Association reach its long-standing mission centered on student-athlete success.

Joining Emmert for a discussion of the pressing issues facing the membership were Lou Anna Simon, president at Michigan State University and chair of the NCAA Executive Committee; Nathan Hatch, president at Wake Forest University and Division I Board of Directors chair; J. Patrick O’Brien, president at West Texas A&M University and Division II Presidents Council chair; and Jack Ohle, president at Gustavus Adolphus College and Division III Presidents Council chair.

“It is a good reminder that this is a membership association,” Emmert said. “The issues that are confronting intercollegiate athletics are ones that the members have to struggle with, and to have the elected leaders of the Association talk about those big questions made sense to me.”

Emmert began the session with a question to Hatch focusing on the makeup of a new Division I governance structure and how student-athletes can benefit from it.

Hatch said it is important for the Division I Board of Directors to become more engaged.

“We will be spending more time on student-athlete well-being,” Hatch said. “We will be more focused on issues like academic standards, graduation rates and, are students thriving in all dimensions of their life? And are they being prepared academically and socially for the professions they choose after they leave college?” 

The leaders discussed how the Association can help student-athletes who want to study abroad but are strapped for time. O’Brien believes Division II is headed in the right direction in that effort.

“In 2005-2006, there was action taken on the part of the presidents and chancellors of Division II, who wanted to have a clearly articulated statement of what Division II was all about,” O’Brien said. “In the first paragraph of our strategic positioning platform our guiding principles state, ‘The educational experience of student-athletes is paramount.’”

For Division III, Emmert and Ohle turned the conversation toward that division’s debate on the best way to go find a solution on recruiting seasons.

Currently, the lack of an established recruiting calendar allows year-round recruiting in Division III, which can lead to work/life imbalances for coaches. Additionally, time spent on the road recruiting takes time that could be used to help current student-athletes on campus.

The issue is a challenging one to solve.

“We have around 450 institutions, and they are all different,” Ohle said. “We have 45 voting conferences and 175,000 student-athletes. It is my hope that we can be an example of how we recruit those student-athletes that understand the unique opportunity it is to participate.”

At the end of the discussion, Emmert asked Simon about the pay-for-play questions that continue to come up for Division I. Emmert asked Simon about the possibility of a miscellaneous expense allowance to assist student-athletes.

“In intercollegiate athletics,” Simon said, “almost all of us use institutional funds and not profits from athletic events to pay for all the opportunities we are providing student-athletes.”