NCAA president praises activism, says minority hires must increase

SAN ANTONIO -- NCAA president Mark Emmert praised student-athlete activism during his annual speech Thursday at the NCAA convention.

During his 20-minute address at the NCAA's opening business session, Emmert urged schools to continue to emphasize academics, fairness and the health and well-being of student-athletes.

Emmert didn't mention specific cases of activism, such as the boycott by Missouri football players in November that led to the resignation of the school's chancellor and president. But he did acknowledge he is witnessing a level of activism he hasn't seen in decades.

"Student-athletes are also saying we're part of the student body and we want to have a voice in social justice issues," Emmert said. "We want to be part of that conversation. And I applaud that. I know sometimes it causes stress and some strain, but it's exactly what we want our student-athletes to do as members of our campus community."

Emmert did express concern that women and minorities are not being given a fair shot to become coaches and administrators in college athletics. Of the 26 head-coaching vacancies in FBS this offseason, only five jobs have gone to African-American candidates; Frank Wilson became the fifth Thursday night when a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that Wilson was hired by University of Texas at San Antonio.

Emmert said instituting a policy like the NFL's Rooney Rule is impossible at an NCAA level, but solving the problem must be a priority.

An organization representing minority coaches has proposed an Eddie Robinson rule that would provide more opportunities for minority candidates to earn coaching and leadership positions.

South Carolina president Harris Pastides, the chairman of the Division I Board of Directors, experienced a one-day protest at his school in November, during which African-American students staged a walkout and demanded greater campus diversity.

He said he expects protests to become a presence again now that students are returning from winter break.

"It is a renewed period of activism," Pastides said. "For me, it's about channeling it into productive ways, not just about the hot air and complaining. The students want to work with us. They're concerned about diversity and inclusion and campus climate.

"Look, if you work in a university, if you're a college president, if you remember the '60s and the '70s, you knew this day would happen again. And I do anticipate it's not over."

Emmert said he expects the fairness of the time demands placed on student-athletes to be an important topic assessed during the annual convention, as well as better education about their chances of playing professionally.

The Division I council adopted a proposal Wednesday that allows men's basketball players to return to school after the NBA's draft combine and enter/exit multiple NBA drafts without jeopardizing eligibility.

Said Emmert: "What keeps me up at night is that we all know there's a huge number of our student-athletes who have grossly unrealistic expectations of playing professional sports.".