NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday the time is right to consider a decentralized and 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 a catalyst to “rethink” what college sports has been 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, which was founded 115 years ago and oversees more than 450,000 athletes.
“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 homogenous approach to the way sports are governed and rethink the current 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 the University of Washington before taking the NCAA job in 2010.
Last month, the NCAA waived its rules prohibiting athletes from earning money off their fame for things such as online endorsements, sponsorship deals and personnel 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 NIL laws, such as Florida and Georgia.
In states were there are no laws to set NIL guidelines, schools have been instructed to craft their own – a dramatic change for the NCAA. Since July 1, college athletes have been diving 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 immediately wondered if the NCAA will look at other approaches as a result and Emmert’s comments this week suggest change is certainly on the table.
“I think this is a really, really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, ‘You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?'” Emmert said. “What would we change? What would we expect or want to be different in the way we manage it. And this is good. This is the right time.”