San Antonio — NCAA president Mark Emmert faced his share of tough questions on Thursday in his annual press conference at the Final Four.
With action set to begin on Saturday night with Michigan taking on Loyola-Chicago followed by Villanova against Kansas, Emmert and Eric Kaler, the president at Minnesota and chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, talked about the NCAA’s response to recent FBI investigations, the idea of players being compensated and whether there should be changes to transfer rules.
They also weighed in on the ongoing scandal at Michigan State in the wake of the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former doctor who sexually assaulted hundreds of girls and young women, some of them students at Michigan State.
“It’s obviously a very, very complex circumstance there, and there’s a lot of investigations going on,” Emmert said. “There’s local, state, federal investigations going on, and I don’t want to complicate any of those things. But the most important proactive things we can do around issues, especially like sexual assault, is try and work on the preventive side to make sure that everybody knows what the right policies and procedures are, that universities have in fact in place the policies and procedures and systems that should protect students and others from that kind of behavior.
“So that’s really where the (Board of Governors) has been focused and my staff has been focused. In terms of the role of the association in these kind of issues, that’s one of the big debates, I think, that’s going on right now in society is who is ultimately responsible when institutions fail at their responsibilities.”
Emmert and Kaler were also asked if they believed if Michigan State is a safe environment for students.
“I’m certain that the people there now are hypersensitive to what occurred and are vigilant about monitoring for other kinds of behaviors,” said Kaler, who also chairs the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. “But again, it’s an unfolding scenario. Right now, with the arrest of Nassar’s supervisor this week, it’s going to be a challenge for the institution for a long time.
“And I’m very sure the governing board recognizes that. I’ve had a conversation with their president. He understands that. For the good of athletics in higher education in general you hope for their success in righting that ship and taking care of their student-athletes.”
On Tuesday, Nassar’s former boss, William Strampel, was accused of using his position at Michigan State University to harass, discriminate, proposition, sexually assault and solicit pornographic videos of female students, investigators said Tuesday as they announced criminal charges against him. The 15-year dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, who took medical leave in December, is also accused of failing to enforce or monitor protocols put in place for Nassar in 2014 after a female patient alleged inappropriate sexual conduct.
Don’t want to pay players
As the NCAA caps off its biggest money-maker — the men’s tournament will bring in more than $860 million this season — Emmert and his colleagues were asked about basketball players being compensated in a way that Olympic athletes are.
Emmert didn’t say, specifically, whether he’d be open to that model for basketball players, instead reinforcing the fact the NCAA membership does not want to be in the business of paying players.
“I think the most fundamental principle here is whether or not we want to have college sports as it exists today, that’s student-athletes playing student-athletes, or whether we want to move toward a model where these are employees that are compensated whether directly or indirectly for their performances,” Emmert said. “And universities and colleges are have consistently said they don’t want to have student-athletes become employees of a university.”
Emmert did indicate, however, he’s in favor of getting rid of the one-and-done rule and allowing players to go straight to the NBA.
“I personally think that there needs to be more room for individuals who want to pursue professional sports to be able to do that, particularly in basketball,” he said. “There needs to be the ability for a young person and his family to say, ‘You know, what I really want to do is just become a professional ball player.’ And they ought to be provided that opportunity if they don’t want to go to college.”
Report to follow probe
Emmert said the Board of Governors is expected to receive a report from the commission on college basketball chaired by Condoleeza Rice in late April with recommendations for changes in the wake of recent FBI investigations into corruption surrounding the game.
“On April 25th (the Board) will receive a report of the commission,” Emmert said. “ ... The intention is that the board will then take those recommendations, working with the rest of the NCAA governance structure and move forward to address those issues before tip-off next season.”