ST. PETERSBURG — ESPN analyst Desmond Howard compared NCAA president Mark Emmert to President Barack Obama on Thursday, saying Emmert has inherited a multitude of high-profile problems at "probably the worst time in the history of college sports."
Speaking at the Black Coaches and Administrators convention at the Renaissance Vinoy, Howard lauded Emmert, whose plate recently has been full of an investigation into allegations of major violations in Ohio State's football program; Auburn winning the national football championship amid concerns about the recruitment of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton; and a $1 million fine levied against the Fiesta Bowl, whose CEO resigned amid controversy.
Howard had the first question during a Q&A session with Emmert, and he was blunt: "What have you seen that made you shake your head in sadness, and how do you correct what you've seen?"
Responded Emmert: "This is the hardest part: You quickly realize that you cannot write enough rules, you cannot hire enough enforcement people, you cannot have enough cops on the street to get people who are bound and determined to be wicked to be otherwise. At some point, our success in college athletics depends upon our collective goodwill. It requires us to remember why we do this."
Emmert has spent decades as a college administrator, so he has ample experience with the temptations facing coaches who want to do everything they can to build a winning program.
"I'm not naive about the pressures. I know it full well," he said. "Dealing with those pressures in a forthright, honest way is one thing. Kind of sliding over to the dark side is another. If you get over there, we don't have enough rules to prevent somebody who really wants to take advantage of kids, or take advantage of the system or be self-serving, all the things our parents taught us not to be. If you go over in that direction, that's saddening, because there's not a lot anyone of us can do to reel that person back in. You just have to find those people and weed them out, just say, 'You can't be part of this anymore. Your values don't match up with us. Just go away. Do something else for a living, but you can't be near our kids.' "
Emmert addressed many topics Thursday, including:
The need to educate athletes on the reality of whether they can make a living from their sport after college:
"Young men and women have grossly unrealistic expectations of what's waiting for them in the world. Think of this statistic for a minute: We got this data this year. Half the men playing Division II basketball — 50 percent — believe they are going to make a living playing professional basketball. Division II. The truth is, I don't know, half of 1 percent (will make a living at it)? The fact that they love basketball is wonderful. We want them to love their sport, have a great experience. For that half of 1 percent … we want them to reach for the stars and live their dream. But the other 99.95 percent, whatever the number is, we want them to get a great education and develop as young men, to become teachers and doctors and lawyers and citizens. We want to make sure students … use their sport as a vehicle to develop the skills and abilities to be successful in life."
The huge amount of money that comes into NCAA schools for the benefit of athletes:
"We will provide $2 billion — with a B — in scholarships to student-athletes this year alone through intercollegiate athletics. (There is) more scholarship money in athletics than anything other than the federal government, which is very impressive. Having that money to support college athletes is great. But along with that come opportunities for all kinds of bad behavior. This is the history of economy. When there is opportunity for wealth, people occasionally do stupid things, sometimes just plain wicked things. … We have to make sure we have our incentives and our values lined up right and we have to remind ourselves of those values all the time."