INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA President Mark Emmert is taking a stand.
He still intends to make swift, sweeping changes in college sports regardless of the uproar it creates.
Emmert told The Associated Press that he believes that two significant new rules — a $2,000 stipend toward the full cost of attendance for athletes and a four-year scholarship rather than year to year renewals — will survive override efforts at this week’s annual NCAA convention.
“They make great sense,” Emmert said. “They were adopted in a very clear effort to support our students, and I think, in the end, they will do that. Whenever you move as big and as quickly as we did, you have people that want to make changes. But you don’t go back on the principle.”
It has been six months since Emmert convened a summit involving more than 50 university presidents and chancellors, and not everyone is satisfied with the moves since then. Though most schools strongly support the tougher academic standards backed by Emmert, 161 of 355 Division I schools signed an override measure against the stipend — enough to suspend the rule for now.
Some contend providing extra money to athletes is a clear violation of the NCAA’s own amateurism rules. Emmert has said it’s more like a stipend, which other students can get, but some argue that $3,000 to $4,000 is a more realistic total to help with living expenses beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.
The pushback on the two hot-button issues suggest to some that Emmert has a full-fledged revolt on his hands. But override motions occur every year and these are the only two that have generated more than 10 signees this year.
“Any time you engage in significant or dramatic change, there’s always going to be a good bit of debate and discussion about it,” Emmert said. “I don’t think it reflects any more than that. This division is so diverse and people have so many different views I see it as part of a healthy debate.”
Even the governing body’s biggest critics believe the NCAA is starting to do the right thing.
“I also compared it (the allowance) to other students who are getting stipends to provide a service for the university. I don’t look at it as anything different than what many other students are getting,” David Ridpath, past president of The Drake Group, an NCAA watchdog, said in October. “I’ve always said we should give multi-year scholarships, and not that those can’t be taken away, but right now the athlete has no right. The coach can cancel those for any reason, and the reason usually is they find a prettier girl to bring to the dance.”
With the stipend currently under suspension, the Board of Directors has three options: Rescind it, modify it and send it back to the membership for another 60-day comment period or allow the full membership to vote. If the full membership votes, it would take a five-eighths majority (221.9 votes) to scrap the rule.
Emmert believes the board will modify the stipend’s two provisions that have caused the greatest concern — Title IX compliance and the budget-busting impact of immediate implementation.
He wants clearer language regarding how the $2,000 allowance would apply to women’s athletes and sports with partial scholarships. Emmert also said the start date for the allowance could be delayed to give athletic departments time to adjust their budgets. If there is a delay, recruits who signed national letters-of-intent in November with the promise they would get extra money will still receive the payout, the NCAA has said.
Either way, Emmert is convinced the allowance is here to stay.
“There are some very legitimate concerns,” Emmert said. “I expect that (the modifications) to gain the support of the board. But there has been no diminution of the support for the $2,000 allowance.”
While the stipend will be the hottest topic when the convention opens Wednesday, it won’t be the only one.
The four-year scholarship, approved in October, also is under attack. Eighty-two schools signed an override petition, enough to make the board take a second look at the rule. Previously, schools renewed athletic scholarships annually.
“The working group is going to recommend that the rule not be modified and that they stay the course as it is written,” Emmert said. “I’m very supportive of that position. There are people that have objections to it, but I think it makes great sense for our student-athletes, and I think it is, again, one of those principles we need to stand by.”
It’s only the start.
By August, Emmert wants to edit the massive 439-page rulebook, create a new multi-tiered penalty structure for rules violators and provide quicker enforcement proceedings after a tumultuous year plagued by scandal, each seemingly worse than the previous one.
Though there have been complaints that Emmert is moving too fast, the NCAA president insists he’s doing the only thing he can in today’s rapidly-changing college sports environment — moving forward quickly.
”We got an enormous amount of work done in October, and we are going to do the same thing in April and August as well,” Emmert said. “We are moving quickly, it is something people haven’t seen from the NCAA before. I think it caught them a bit off-guard. My hope is that as we move forward, people participate and pay close attention to what we are doing because it will make an impact.”