Office of the President

Our championships test a student’s athletic skill, highlighting the drive, determination and dedication college athletes apply to both school and sports. Those of us who work in college sports understand how the behind-the-scenes pieces of the puzzle — the practices, the study sessions, the team workouts — teach lessons that carry our student-athletes through successful lives and careers. But to college sports fans, our championships create moments to cherish and celebrate. We must use those moments, when fans are paying attention, to remind them why we do what we do.

This season created some spectacular moments in sports. The Maryland men’s lacrosse team, for instance — runner-up in the Division I championship four of the past six years — brought the title home to College Park for the first time since 1975. In Division III, the Messiah field hockey team — which had been to the final round of the championship eight previous times since the birth of women’s NCAA championships in 1981 — won its first title over Tufts in a 1-0, penalty-strokes victory. And who could forget the exciting final seconds of Mississippi State’s win over UConn in the Women’s Final Four, which sent the Bulldogs to their first appearance in the championship game and silenced critics who said UConn’s 111-game winning streak was bad for the game?

Our two premier championships — Division I men’s and women’s basketball —
attracted some of the highest numbers of viewers we’ve seen in years. The men’s championship game garnered a live audience of 23 million, with another 9.6 million streaming it live. The women’s final drew a live audience of nearly 3.89 million viewers, with another 59,000 streaming the game. The women’s championship continues to grow — the TV audience for this year’s final game was 29 percent higher than last year’s — and we are excited that more and more fans are able to appreciate the beauty of college sports.

These championships are only two of our 90, but their success helps support the others throughout our three divisions. The triumphs in March enable us to enhance the championship experience across all sports — and we must leverage that excitement toward reminding college sports fans that we work to prioritize academics, fairness on and off the playing field, and the health and well-being of college athletes.

Our sense of purpose allows academics and athletics to go hand in hand. The NCAA Elite 90 Academic Recognition Award Program was created in 2009 — so many years ago that we’ve added two more national championships since then, and the name has evolved from what was once the Elite 88. The award honors the student-athlete with the highest GPA at the final competition site for each NCAA championship. This year, one student-athlete reached the pinnacle of both college and sports: Marie Coors, an economics major at Saint Leo, was the Elite 90 winner at the Division II Women’s Golf Championships and went on to win the individual title. Coors graduated this spring with a 4.0 GPA. That’s quite an impressive feat, and we must continue to highlight and celebrate successes like hers.

I am proud of what we as an Association have accomplished this year. Our on-field success has mirrored our success off the field, where graduation rates continue to rise and schools continue to use new research to keep student-athletes safe. I look forward to another year of improvements and memorable moments — off the field, of course, but also on it.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President