Mark Emmert aims to change perception

ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Not too long ago, new NCAA president Mark Emmert met a college athlete who wondered why the governing body couldn't fund an "Ultimate Frisbee" championship.

"You make money on every sport so why couldn't you do that?" Emmert was asked.

And that's a perception Emmert plans to change. The NCAA does not have a "tsunami of cash," he said Friday, despite the organization's new, 14-year, $10.6 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting for the men's basketball tournament.

"There's confusion about that because the numbers look big and people see a football stadium with 105,000 people in at Michigan or somewhere and do the math in their head and say, 'Well, this is all about money,'" Emmert said Friday.

But Michigan, Emmert pointed out, was among just 14 out of more than 1,100 NCAA member schools who made money on athletics last year. "The rest didn't," Emmert said.

The NCAA's new leader was at Winthrop University, the keynote speaker for a celebration of the Division I school's greatest athletic teams.

Emmert spent his tenure identifying issues the NCAA should tackle. One was what he called the distraction of commercialization.

People think the NCAA is a business group chasing money. "We hear that all the time," he said. "All they care about is money. They shape everything around money."

The revenue that does come in, Emmert says, goes largely back to the student-athletes who play all NCAA sports, not just football and basketball. "That's a good thing," he said.

Emmert said 96 percent of the $700 million the NCAA will make from its new broadcast contract will go to member athletic departments in support of athletes.

The NCAA has started airing public service announcements centered on where the group's money goes, Emmert said.

"We've got to bring attention to that so they know we're the conduit from how the money flows," he said.

The NCAA puts on 88 championships, many in sports you're not likely to see in prime time the first Monday in April. Men's basketball, though, "is how we pay for those," Emmert said.

The sustainability of member athletic departments is also a hot-button topic Emmert hopes to get his arms around. He remembers as University of Washington president cutting men's and women's swimming teams.

"I could make the argument right now there's not enough money in college athletics," he said.

That might be difficult for many to believe with rising ticket prices and fees to watch marquee sports at colleges across the country. Emmert understands, but says those funds are essential to departments offering a full complement of NCAA sports.

"It's like I used to say at the U of W or at LSU, 'Look, if you like gymnastics, buy football tickets. If you like volleyball, buy football tickets. If you like crew, buy football tickets because that's how we pay for those things,'" he said. "At the NCAA, it's all about driving revenue around the basketball tournament."

Emmert has seen his share of critics since October, especially after high-profile NCAA enforcement decisions regarding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's pay-for-play allegations and the Ohio State decision to suspend five football players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, next season instead of for the Sugar Bowl.

The new guy has taken it in stride so far, accustomed through 30 years as a college administrator to passionate fans not fully versed on all facets of the decision.

Emmert commented to his staff that the attention was better than the alternative.

"It could be a lot worse if we made a decision and everyone just shrugged their shoulders. The fact that people care and get emotional about it is not inherently a bad thing," he said.