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NCAA president Mark Emmert: It is time to decentralize college sports

The recent Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA along with the lifting of restrictions on athletes monetizing their fame should be catalysts for action, he says
Howard University president Wayne A. I. Frederick, left, speaks with NCAA president Mark Emmert as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee prepares to hold a hearing on athlete compensation and federal legislative proposals to enable college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness June 9 at the Capitol in Washington.
Howard University president Wayne A. I. Frederick, left, speaks with NCAA president Mark Emmert as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee prepares to hold a hearing on athlete compensation and federal legislative proposals to enable college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness June 9 at the Capitol in Washington. [ J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP ]
Published Jul. 16

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday the time is right to consider a decentralized, deregulated version of college sports, shifting power to conferences and campuses, and reconsidering how schools are aligned.

Emmert said the recent Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA along with the lifting of restrictions on athletes monetizing their fame should be catalysts to “rethink” what college sports is about.

In a 30-minute interview with a small group of reporters, Emmert stressed he was not putting forth a mandate or even a recommendation. But he laid out a vision for the future of college sports that puts fewer limitations on athletes and de- emphasizes the role of a national governing body like the NCAA.

“When you have an environment like that, it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place ever on college athletes. And it should be the bare minimum,” Emmert said.

Emmert said the NCAA’s more than 1,100 member schools should consider a less homogeneous approach to the way sports are governed and re-examine the three-division structure, which includes 355 Division I colleges.

The NCAA’s rules and regulations have long been criticized, and court challenges have been mounting in recent years.

“We need to be ready to say, ‘Yeah, you know, for field hockey, field hockey is different than football. Wrestling is different than lacrosse,’ and not get so hung up on having everything be the same,” said Emmert, who was president of LSU and Washington before taking the NCAA job in 2010.

Sports serve different functions at different schools, Emmert said, and the NCAA needs to govern in a way that is more reflective of that. The NCAA should not shy away from a small percentage of athletes using college sports as a path to professional sports, he said.

As of July 1, the NCAA waived its longstanding rules prohibiting athletes from earning money off their fame for things such as online endorsements, sponsorship deals and personal appearances. The move allowed athletes in states that did not have so-called name, image and likeness laws — designed to usurp the NCAA’s previous restrictions — to capitalize similarly to those in states with those laws, such as Florida and Georgia.

In states were there are no laws to set those guidelines, schools have been instructed to craft their own, a dramatic change for the NCAA. Athletes have jumped into the new market with deals big and small.

The Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA last month was also seen as a bombshell, a 9-0 decision upholding a lower-court ruling in an antitrust case related to caps on compensation. Legal experts and college sports observers immediately wondered if the NCAA would look at other approaches as a result.

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