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Mark Emmert echoes need for major change

On Tuesday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive spoke with the Associated Press in advance of SEC media days. In doing so, he gave some rather vague predictions -- namely, that he believed the NCAA needed to, and was willing to, make fundamental changes moving forward. Slive didn't list the reasons for this safe prediction, but he didn't need to. Fill a Google Chrome tab with a college sports news site. The stories -- violations investigations, pay-for-play arguments, cost of attendance scholarships, lucrative conference TV deals and so on -- are all around you.

The biggest question isn't whether the NCAA needs to change. Let's be clear: It does. The question is whether the NCAA -- with its deserved reputation for staunchly traditional, idealistic governance -- would be willing to make those forward-thinking changes.

Which is why it's good news to hear NCAA president Mark Emmert say things like this:

“The integrity of collegiate athletics is seriously challenged today by rapidly growing pressures coming from many directions,” Emmert said. “We have reached a point where incremental change is not sufficient to meet these challenges. I want us to act more aggressively and in a more comprehensive way than we have in the past. A few new tweaks of the rules won’t get the job done.”

That quote comes from a release in advance of Emmert's planned presidential retreat in August. The NCAA president is hosting conference commissioners, university presidents, athletic directors, faculty representatives and "other consultants" for a wide-ranging discussion on Aug. 9-10. Emmert says many of the officials he's invited have agreed to attend. What issues, specifically, will be on the docket? A little of this, a bit of that. From the release:

Emmert has made clear that the need for change is not about specific incidents that have happened on campuses. They are about fundamental concerns that commercialism is overwhelming amateurism; that some student-athletes’ and coaches’ behaviors are fundamentally at odds with the values of higher education; and that we need an even sharper focus on educating student-athletes through athletics.

This is where the press release goes a bit haywire. Reading between the lines, it's hard not to think Emmert is focusing on the wrong things, or at the very least girding for some sort of idealistic battle. Yes, commercialism is overwhelming amateurism. Put another way, people -- perhaps especially the players themselves -- are having a hard time understanding why big-time revenue-producing college athletics departments can't find a way to cut players in on some portion of that copious dough. Why are athletes' and coaches' behaviors "fundamentally at odds" with the values of higher education? Why is it so difficult to foster a sharp focus on education?

Is "money" the answer? What about amateurism itself? Rather than hunkering down, Emmert -- who has repeatedly said he doesn't believe in the idea of paying players -- and the members of his retreat ought to focus on legitimate, real-world ways the NCAA can address these issues wholesale. The recognition is there, and that in and of itself is a major step forward. But this goes beyond vaguely recognizing the need for major change. It's about identifying the right problems. It's about a willingness to reconsider deeply held beliefs. And, as Emmert says in the release, it's about molding bold new changes to NCAA policy in a way that can benefit not only major revenue-producers but small, revenue-bereft participants, too.

None of this is easy or uncomplicated. And again, the idea that the NCAA is willing to consider big-time changes to its rules can only be considered a positive.

Still, at some point, you've got to man up and tear off the bandage. Peeling it slowly only increases the pain.