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Nice Work If You Can Get It: NCAA President Does Crappy Job, Gets Extension

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NCAA president Mark Emmert has asked the U.S. Congress for help in finding a path, running the organization, defining itself in regard to what amateurism is and whether college athletes should be paid and able to make money off their name and image.

You know, stuff an NCAA president would do.

Meanwhile, the NCAA’s enforcement division is no longer able to uncover anything and has no teeth. I’m not even sure it has gums anymore, as the FBI keeps dredging up slime in college basketball. And let’s not talk about gender equity and the public humiliation the NCAA suffered by providing a weight room for women athletes that included a few dumbbells and some yoga mats during the NCAA Tournament.

You know, stuff an NCAA president should be on top of. So everyone was a little shocked that Emmert got a two-year contract extension Tuesday, as well as at the way the board of directors announced it, with one sentence deep in a press release about several things, under the category “Other Business”: “Additionally, the board voted unanimously to extend NCAA President Mark Emmert’s contract to Dec. 31, 2025.’’

That’s all that Mark Emmert is now. Other business. It’s all the NCAA is, too, other than a branding label for a great basketball tournament and gambling opportunity. Do you want to know why he got an extension when everyone around him and everyone in the media are calling him a failure? Two reasons:

  1. He pulled off the NCAA Tournament during a pandemic. That is the entire purpose of the NCAA and its revenue stream now.
  2. He stays out of the way of college football and the powers that run it. By that, I mean ESPN execs. The NCAA doesn’t run college football.

That’s it. That’s the job description. Emmert is basically just a party-planner now, and an overseer of lawsuits. He’s doing great at those things. So his extension should’ve been no surprise at all. 

The big news in college sports, happening at the same time that President Other Business got an extension, is that the four-team College Football Playoff might expand all the way to 12 teams.

Now that’s big business. The reason is that all the Playoff spots have been going to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma every year. Those four teams account for 20 of the 28 spots in the last seven years. Meanwhile, college football is not exactly set up for parity — with all the money going to the blue bloods. And of course, all the top recruits want to play on TV for the top programs.

So college football is becoming a regional sport. The Pac-12 hasn’t gotten in in four seasons. The Big 12 has missed three times, when Oklahoma isn’t good enough. The Big Ten has been left out a few times.

The risk of expansion, of course, will be in alienating the fan base, the way NASCAR did several years ago in trying to draw in the north.

And Alabama coach Nick Saban voiced his objections to Paul Finebaum, who is very well known in college football country.

“The more playoffs we have, the less significant bowl games are going to be,’’ Saban said. “It’s really not for me, and I don’t even think I’m capable of judging how significant the positive self-gratification that players, programs and coaches get from being able to go to a bowl game.

“Now, everything has shifted to the four teams in the playoffs, and the bowls seem to be pretty insignificant. I think if we expand the playoff, you’re going to see a continuation of that trend. . .Maybe these things can’t coexist. If they’re going to coexist, maybe we should try to leave them pretty much the same.’’

Saban is right about all of that, of course. For players who aren’t on the nation’s elite programs, bowl games provide lifetime memories and validation. But the bowls are already insignificant in college football. They exist now only as content for ESPN. 

Top players skip minor bowl games so as not to risk injury before the NFL draft. But they won’t miss the Playoff, because that will add to their exposure and personal brands.

And how will college football’s governing body feel about expanding the Playoff? Yes, I’m talking about ESPN. Well, it would get eight additional important games to televise and to promote to gamblers. And don’t be surprised if ESPN keeps the bowl games anyway. It still needs content, and gamblers will bet on anything. 

Assuming all major conference champions would be guaranteed a spot in the Playoff, that would increase the coverage footprint for ESPN, and even make conference championship games more important.

For college sports, this is only going to make things bigger and better. It is a no-brainer. And speaking of which: How does President Other Business feel about it?

Hah! Who cares? He is already busy doing the things NCAA presidents now do. He’s planning next year’s NCAA Tournament party. Note to self: bring extra yoga mats.

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

6 Comments

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  1. Name a college athletic administrator – Not Named Barry Alvarez – at any level … AD, Conf Commish, NCAA et al who is “liked” by anyone not in his/her immediate family ???

    Every goggle-eyed galoot in the cheap seats is sure he could do a better job … and, in many cases, they are probably correct.

  2. Nothing will change until bottom lines are affected. Outside of the loss of the NCAA tourney last year (in retrospect an idiotic decision) they keep printing money at the expense of the players. As long he keeps being the “face” to take the blame, they will keep him around. Just like Goodell through all the NFL scandals.

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