Opinion: NCAA has essentially made Mark Emmert king for life, and he hasn’t earned it

In the most literal sense, NCAA president Mark Emmert’s contract was extended by just two years Tuesday, a nugget of information buried under the heading “Other business” in a late evening news release about the NCAA’s Board of Governors meeting earlier in the day. 

But symbolically, the college presidents who approved the contract might as well have made Emmert king for life. 

If you thought the last 12 months of NCAA missteps might finally be enough for influential college presidents to finally shove Emmert out of the plane with a golden parachute strapped to his back — a theory that had been banging around the athletics world over the last few weeks — you have severely underestimated their capacity for tolerating embarrassment. 

It’s now clear there’s no amount of incompetence coming from the chief executive of the NCAA that won’t be rewarded with even more job security and many millions of dollars shoved in his pocket. 

Emmert is coming up on his 11th full year as NCAA president, and the contract extension awarded to him Tuesday will take him through 2025, when he will be 73 years old. 

In the real world, endorsing more years of Emmert’s leadership would be the product of a job well done and a distinguished tenure that elevated the organization he has been charged to lead. Instead, it looks like a big, fat, sloppy kiss from a group of spineless, out-of-touch academics who are too clueless about the dilapidated state of the NCAA to know any better. 

Mark Emmert's latest extension will take him through 2025, when he will be 73. (Photo: Matt York, AP)

BOARD VOTE: Mark Emmert gets contract extension on unanimous vote

What is Emmert’s signature accomplishment in his decade at the helm of the NCAA? Can you identify one? 

If the only job of NCAA president is to be the piñata through a series of crises, Emmert has more than served his purpose. Whether it was the debacle of the Miami football investigation, the FBI uncovering more corruption in college basketball in one summer than the NCAA’s enforcement staff has in its entire history or more recently the shoddy treatment of the women’s basketball tournament, Emmert is always there to take the blame and promise to do better.

But actual leadership and vision? That’s not really his thing. 

If the NCAA had an effective chief executive at the helm, it would have seen the onslaught of antitrust cases coming its way and shaped a series of reforms to modernize the organization. Instead, the NCAA has allowed the courts to chip away at its model, with the Alston case (which deals with restriction of benefits tied to education) now in front of a Supreme Court that seemed quite skeptical during oral arguments of how the NCAA conducts its business. 

Instead of figuring out how to allow college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness — an issue that had been simmering for well over a decade — Emmert has steered the NCAA into such a morass that it is practically begging Congress to rescue them with a federal law and an antitrust exemption. 

These are existential issues for the NCAA, and Emmert has failed to steer the organization in a way that allows them to determine their own fate. That alone should have been enough to send him off into a well-paid retirement, never mind the fact that nearly four years have passed since the FBI investigation into college basketball and there isn’t a single meaningful punishment that has been handed down. Never mind the gender equity issues that have come to the surface in the past few months in how the NCAA conducts championships. Never mind the fact that Emmert, as a Yahoo! Sports story last month pointed out, left a huge amount of cash on the table by extending the NCAA’s contract with CBS to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament rather than taking it to market. 

Instead, the presidents who make up the Board of Governors looked at the mountain of shortcomings during Emmert’s tenure and concluded that they have the right man for the job. 

Of course they did. Emmert is not only one of their own but has been willing to take the criticism they don’t want to answer for themselves — along with the big paycheck he gets for his trouble. 

At some point, though, that isn’t going to be good enough. The majority of conference commissioners and athletics directors at the highest levels of college sports have no confidence in the direction of the NCAA or in Emmert’s leadership. When the extension was announced Tuesday, angry text messages from administrators came in from every corner of the country, bewildered and resigned to the notion that there’s no remedy to Emmert’s reign of incompetence. 

Against all logic and evidence, the group of college presidents who run the NCAA decided Tuesday that Emmert has done a good job and that he should continue as long as he wants. Long live the king. 

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