Cash rules everything around Mark Emmert

Given the hundreds of member schools and billions of dollars passing through its balance sheets each year, it's easy the forget the NCAA is a private, non-profit organization. As such, it is not legally required to provide its tax returns (or much else in the way of financial disclosures) to the public.

So when USA Today asked the NCAA to pass along a copy of its 2011 tax return this month, it could have told the newspaper -- the same one, by the way, that dug into president Mark Emmert's professional past just days before April's famously testy Final Four press conference -- to kindly buzz off. But it didn't! Instead, in a surprisingly transparent twist, the NCAA handed over the forms.

On Wednesday, the paper published its findings. And what it found was that Emmert is out here getting shaded under a money tree:

NCAA President Mark Emmert was credited with nearly $1.7 million in compensation during the 2011 calendar year, according to the association's new federal tax return. The return, which the NCAA provided Wednesday in response to a request from USA TODAY Sports, shows that Emmert received: $1,201,159 in base compensation, $234,300 in retirement and deferred compensation, $214,947 in other reportable compensation, [and] $23,689 in nontaxable benefits.

What do you know about that deferred compensation life? That nontaxable benefits life? You can't even see Marky E right now. Fake hustlers go home.

Jokes aside, that salary -- which is 46 percent more than Myles Brand earned in his final year at the NCAA helm -- has already earned Emmert the predictable smattering of criticism. Which, on the one hand, is unfair: It's not like Emmert forced the NCAA membership to appoint him president, and it's not like he forced them to pay him almost $2 million a year in compensation. Besides, that kind of money is not unheard of among major university presidents, of which Emmert was one before his appointment.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio State's E. Gordon Gee made $2 million last year. Penn State's Graham Spanier banged home $2.9 million in 2011-12 even as he was losing his job in the disgraceful wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. According to the Chronicle, the average university president's salary is under $500,000, but it is not uncommon to see salaries flirt with the $1 million mark. In theory, Emmert's position as the leader and public face of NCAA membership's massively important athletics cartel organization is probably worth an eye-popping salary.

Of course, that's the same argument grotesquely overpaid CEOs make, and their companies aren't non-profits that derive much of their value from unpaid performance. Man oh man are the optics bad. They'd be bad in a vacuum. In the wake of all this, and with the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit bringing more attention than ever to the queasy legal justifications for amateurism, it couldn't look worse.

Speaking of O'Bannon, USA Today also found this:

The association reported nearly $9.5 million in legal expenses during a fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2012 – more than what it reported for that spending category in its two previous fiscal years, combined.

That's still not half as much as in 2006-07, when the NCAA paid its lawyers a cool $20 million, but it was more than the two previous years combined. As the feted O'Bannon legal team chips away, who knows how much they'll be spending in the future.

Anyway, yours truly is not a hater by trade; with a few glaring exceptions here and there, I tend to believe people's salaries and how they spend them are their own business, and are more or less in line with what the market has determined their value to be. It would just be nice if college athletes had the same luxury.