As negative PR continues to hinder the NCAA as it absorbs body blow after body blow, the president continues to put himself out there each and every round, broken ribs, cut lip, cut above the eye and all.
In a way, it’s impressive. It takes a unique kind of individual to take this repeated public abuse. Of course, a yearly salary of $1.7 million is probably the most effective ringside cure, but his ability to throw himself onstage—knowing the pummeling will follow shortly after—is admirable. Not to Emmert, though.
For him, this is part of the gig. This is what he signed up for. This is, in many ways, what’s he’s supposed to do.
Criticizing Emmert for what he says on a nationally syndicated radio show is like criticizing the pilot for missing your connecting flight. You can blast one person for your larger frustrations—which we tend to do—but the picture is so much more significant than that.
In recent weeks, the turbulence has been intense. The most recent Emmert media tour was the opposite of a smashing success. He struggled to answer questions to pressing issues, refusing to give in on many key areas being targeting by outside entities.
The #askEmmert hashtag that surfaced on the NCAA president’s visit with ESPN’s Mike & Mike turned into the Twitter version of a nuclear explosion. The replies fell somewhere between hilarious, sad and downright evil. Most of them also carried a lot of truth.
Mormak (@DevilDan09) April 18, 2014
His appearance on NBC Sports’ Dan Patrick Show wasn’t much better. The ancient system that he stands guard of was taken to task, and his defense was not satisfactory to the host or his listeners. It was nothing new or out of the ordinary. It was simply more of the same at a time where the natives have grown restless.
Emmert just said athletes shouldn't be able to capitalize on their own likenesses because of "competitive fairness." Yes. He really did.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) April 21, 2014
These appearances prompted an elbow off the top rope from Bryant Gumbel, the host of HBO’s Real Sports, who cut through the president’s reputation like a Ginsu knife [via The Patriot-News].
Finally tonight, a quick note of thanks to Mark Emmert, who’s been looking like an odds-on favorite to soon be the ex-head of the increasingly troubled NCAA. Emmert has lately been on a media tour of sorts and to say it’s been a disaster would be giving it and him a ton of undue credit.
In an effort to defend a system that has become ethically indefensible, Emmert has recently shown himself to be hopelessly tone-deaf and as a result added fuel to a wildfire that now seems certain to drastically alter, if not flat out destroy, the very system he fronts.
Gumbel’s points are valid, scathing and, most importantly, difficult to argue with. In unloading on Emmert, however, he reminded us of a very critical aspect of this situation that is often lost: Emmert is more mouthpiece and mascot than anything else. The term “president” jumps out, but this isn’t your typical overseer.
He has been thrown into an impossible situation, and he is compensated handsomely for defending a system that has been deemed unfair in the court of public opinion.
It’s this system that nets schools across the country Scrooge McDuck-like piles of money, and he has been tasked with guarding the golden goose with press releases, podium visits and non-answers that he knows won’t satisfy. He is a frontman in every sense, the lone communication between the universities quietly hoping the legal battles disappear and the masses demanding change.
Emmert doesn’t work for us, nor does he require our approval. Would he like things to be in better standing than they are right now? Of course he would, but we don’t write his checks. So why panic?
Despite the NCAA’s latest PR woes, business is still booming. That’s important. Schools are cashing in under his guidance and are able to keep the majority of the profits in-house, or, more specifically, out of the hands of the student-athletes.
Our outrage with this is real and personal, but it hasn’t put a dent in the assembly line.
This could all change, of course. The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit is poised to rock the system, and the regurgitated practice of defending the indefensible could be put to a halt. Before that, if the PR situation gets bad enough, perhaps Gumbel’s prophecy will be realized and Emmert will be replaced with someone else to save face. If you think the replacement will suddenly open doors, crack piggybanks and demand we sing “Kumbayah” together, however, you are mistaken.
This is not a defense of Emmert, the NCAA or the key issues suddenly in limbo. It’s a reminder that the relentless hate and #askEmmert jabs are missing the overall point.
He’s an easy target—almost a little too easy—and the schools standing silently behind, arms folded across their chest in their $5,000 suits, like it that way.