INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA president Mark Emmert detailed the steps Thursday that the association plans in response to charges of bribery, fraud and corruption in men’s basketball.
In his first speech to the NCAA membership since the September arrests of assistant coaches at four schools and the firing amid scandal of Rick Pitino at Louisville, Emmert said the responsibility falls on the leaders in college athletics to restore faith in their mission.
“Scandals that call into question our commitment to academic integrity make whatever praise we have of our highest graduation rates ring pretty hollow,” Emmert said in his address on the state of college sports at the NCAA convention. “And we have to recognize that we can’t dance around those things. We can’t make excuses for them.
“How do we respond? Well, I think first of all, by not retreating from it. By not getting under our desks.”
Even as the federal investigation continues, Emmert said the NCAA leadership is finalizing its schedule to act quickly. The independent Commission on College Basketball plans to report findings and issue recommendations to the NCAA board of governors on April 25. In response, the governors will direct the Division I board of directors and the Division I Council to draft legislation, with the intent to pass it in August — ahead of the 2018-19 basketball season.
“We’ve all made a commitment to have meaningful change, not trivial change, in place by tipoff 2018,” Emmert said.
The Commission on College Basketball, directed by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has met regularly in recent months and sought input on the sport’s relationships with professional leagues, agents, apparel companies and youth basketball.
“When Secretary Rice agreed to do this,” said Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson, chair of the board of governors, “one of the things she asked was, ‘How serious is the NCAA about this process? Are you going to take the recommendations seriously? Do you have plans to implement them?'”
NCAA leaders expect to release a statement soon to illustrate their seriousness about change. Peterson said the board of governors has directed financial resources to address necessary changes in the sport.
“What we saw with that FBI investigation is Exhibit A for demanding action,” Emmert said. “A coach, allegedly, who takes a bribe in order to steer a student who has placed his trust in that coach — to steer that young man to a financial adviser who is going to bilk him out of money is disgusting.
“It’s corrupt. It’s just wrong. And it feeds all the cynics.”
The cynicism, Emmert said, reflects a societal problem. “What we would all recognize about the world around us right now is we’ve got higher levels of doubt, cynicism and anxiety in our society over pretty much everything,” Emmert said. “The reality is that some of the criticism is justified. We’ve got to look those problems straight in the eye.”
As a result, he said, it’s time for the NCAA to create a new strategic plan, a task it last attempted in 2004. The association tabbed Henderson State president Glen Jones to lead the effort. Such an undertaking is overdue, Jones said.
“If you look at the issues of the day, they just didn’t exist 14 years ago,” Jones said. “We weren’t talking about diversity and inclusion. We weren’t really taking seriously discussions surrounding sexual harassment. Online gambling did not exist. All these things have come on the horizon, and I think they’ve resulted in the NCAA being on the defensive and being very reactionary.”
The larger fix, Emmert said, starts with tackling the problems in basketball.
“It’s one thing to make a decision here in a convention in a committee meeting room,” he said. “It’s an entirely other thing to make it stick on game day, when there’s pressure on you. We have to fight against that drift, because the core values of college sports are worth protecting.”