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Emmert praises student-athletes, addresses key issues in college sports

Media videoconference also covers Supreme Court case, morning discussion with student-athletes

NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke with media via videoconference for the second time in as many days today, praising student-athletes for their dedication to compete safely during a pandemic and emphasizing the historic nature of the issues currently surrounding college athletics.

Speaking from Indianapolis at the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, Emmert reinforced the significance of what student-athletes have accomplished this year after a tumultuous season played amid COVID-19. And he congratulated the teams that advanced to the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours.

“For all of us at the NCAA, it’s been an honor to be able to provide an opportunity for the athletes who have just ground out an incredibly difficult year,” Emmert said. “The perseverance and the commitment they have demonstrated this year has been really something remarkable. We are very, very gratified that they are here, and they are playing.”

Emmert again discussed the gender equity issues at this year’s Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in San Antonio. He stressed the NCAA’s commitment to addressing the issue and encouraged student-athletes and anyone with concerns to contact Kaplan Hecker & Fink, the law firm overseeing the external gender equity review of all NCAA championships.

He also noted Wednesday’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about the NCAA’s authority to determine rules regarding benefits tied to academics that student-athletes can receive. A decision is expected this summer.

“Yesterday was a really important moment in the history of college sports. We had an opportunity to plead a case in front of the Supreme Court that we’ve all, frankly, been waiting for a decade — for the opportunity to get in front of the court and make our case,” Emmert said.

A link to the transcript of today’s news conference is here.

Working with college athletes

Emmert met with three men’s basketball student-athletes earlier today about concerns they had regarding issues around name, image and likeness and gender equity in college sports. 

In his comments to media, Emmert stressed the importance of students using their voices and the prominence of their roles in the NCAA decision-making process. Student-athletes currently serve on top committees and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committees in all three NCAA divisions.

“These three student-athletes that I met with, they are individuals who’ve been talking a lot to their colleagues. They’re elite athletes. They’re upperclassmen. They’ve got a lot of experience, and they’ve thought through these things,” Emmert said. “I was incredibly impressed with their thinking on all of this. They represented, I think, the views of many athletes very, very well. I want to personally continue that conversation with them.”

Future rules on name, image and likeness

Emmert  also discussed the NCAA’s work with the federal government on efforts to modernize name, image and likeness rules for student-athletes. NCAA members in January postponed votes on new name, image and likeness legislation after the U.S. Department of Justice raised antitrust questions.

“We planned on passing it in January,” Emmert said. “My hope is that we can get to a place where we understand their concerns and we can move forward shortly. We also, of course, need to make sure that we’re doing what we can in conjunction with Congress. There are bills that have been introduced in both houses that would address this issue. We very much want, and frankly need, a preemptive bill that would say that there’s going to be one rule for the country, not 50.”