NCAA leadership lacking when college athletics needs it most


NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks at the NCAA convention Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks at the NCAA convention Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

It’s astonishing to me how college football, which operates under the NCAA umbrella and has done so gainfully and successfully for decades, can be so segmented during a time when conferences need to come together to find a way to play during the pandemic.

There’s no one to blame but NCAA leadership for that.

Instead of one voice tying all of these conferences and football programs together, it’s been up to the conference commissioners to take the lead, with athletic directors, coaches and even a handful of players having more to say than the powers that be at the NCAA.

Instead of one medical expert or team of doctors gathering and sharing data that can be used coast to coast to help make and shape decisions about playing college sports this fall, the individual conferences and universities have had to rely on their own medical experts to corral enough information to make informed decisions. Or at least to delay making them.

There’s nothing wrong with using those resources. Many universities, especially at the Power Five level, have elite medical schools that are more than capable of providing quality, cutting-edge research and data about COVID-19.

But the opinions of the medical professionals who work and teach there should be used as enhancements and validations of a bigger voice, not as the driving force behind a bunch of individualized plans.

After all, this is new territory for all of us. And trying to tackle it alone is not the advisable path.

There is strength in numbers and a strong national plan about how to attack the fall sports seasons would have been golden.

Instead, we’ve been left with colleges and conferences operating on some sort of lost battleground, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 saying one thing, the SEC and ACC saying another and the Big 12 biding its time and trying to wait until the last possible minute to make a monumental decision that carries a heavy financial burden with it.

In a very strange way, that reality has painted the picture of a group of conferences at odds with one another.

Real or perceived, what good does that do?

I get the big picture here. We’re in the middle of some scary times in college athletics and no one — at any level — wants to be the one to make the decision that leads to huge financial loss or, worse, to serious medical issues or even death.

But does that fear justify doing nothing? Not when your job is to govern college athletics and to help guide your members through issues of all kinds, from rule changes and realignment to a 100-year pandemic and everything in between.

The most recent update we've heard from NCAA president Mark Emmert came last Tuesday, when he pushed his update on the fall sports situation to Wednesday and then said very little.

I'm not saying Emmert and the rest of the officials in Indianapolis aren't working hard behind the scenes to try to help figure some of this out. I'm sure they are. But they're certainly not leading in any way.

The NCAA has failed its members in this area and the worst part of all is that we’ll probably never get even a decent answer as to why.

I’m sure they have their reasons. And some of them might even be valid. But if they’re valid enough to keep NCAA leaders quietly standing on the sidelines during one of the most critical moments in college sports history, doesn’t that lead you to wonder what good the NCAA is anyway?


Gordon Penny 2 years, 3 months ago

I think you are way off base here. I do not think a national approach to anything relative to this pandemic is appropriate. The pandemic is affecting different parts of the nation in very different ways. A one-size-fits-all approach might benefit some schools but harm others. I think it is admirable that each conference is allowed to make its own decision, or even each school. The conferences are not at odds with each other; they are finding a solution that works best for its members.

Matt Tait 2 years, 3 months ago

That's certainly a fair point.

The bigger issue, to me, is not whether there should be one approach, but whether the NCAA is at all necessary if they're not at the forefront of whatever moves and solutions are being made.

I agree that it's good to give conferences their own freedom to act as they see fit, but they could still have that within the framework of being led down the right path by their governing body.

Interesting stuff either way. No easy (or good) answers.

Len Shaffer 2 years, 3 months ago

I totally disagree, Gordon. I think Matt is spot on.

And the NCAA's lack of leadership reminds me of a certain president who shall remain nameless.

James Hubin 2 years, 3 months ago

No Bee Bee. The one that promised six percent GDP growth and watched 30% of our American Gross Domestic Product disappear in a quarter. BIGGLIEST EVER!

Mo Meza 2 years, 3 months ago

I agree with Matt, and I would add that the NCAA should be dismantled and replaced with an effective and less costly to manage organization. The new organization would operate with transparency and overseen by athletic directors from the Power 5 universities. This organization would also report to a US Senate committe as needed.

Gordon Penny 2 years, 3 months ago

I totally agree that the NCAA needs to be dismantled and replaced with something different. But, that is a different discussion than the one presented in the article.

Stuart Corder 2 years, 3 months ago

The Supreme Court just dealt another blow to the NCAA by not stopping a hold on student athlete benefit disbursements to collegiate athletes.

This not only flies in the face of recent sanctions against KU and other notable programs, but when taken into context with Oklahoma vs. NCAA (1984), strengthens a university’s authority to negotiate its own terms - with media and with their players.

Why must KU wait and be a follower when we can instead be a leader in this fog of uncertainty?

Aren’t Kansas public schools returning this month? Aren’t KU students returning for fall semester already required to be tested?

If coaches/staff and players want to play, why must the program wait for permission?

Why can’t universities independently schedule willing/able opponents and compete? Perhaps even negotiating big media deals for television rights since the conferences and NCAA are refraining from action.

The issues surrounding this pandemic must be resolved regionally based on individual circumstance, rather than a nationwide “one size fits most” policy.

People seem to be acting as if NYC/Chicago and Lawrence, KS are the same place.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 3 months ago

In order to lead, others must be willing to follow. That goes for the NCAA, nation, ...

Dennis Strick 2 years, 3 months ago

Matt, you need to get the ball rolling on this by asking the question of Power Five Presidents and AD's. Riddle me this Mr. President, Mr. AD? Based on their spineless, rudderless, leadership since before the Final Four is it time for the Power Five Conferences to leave the NCAA behind, let them govern Division II and III schools&athletes and leave the rest to the grown ups in the room to form a new, Power Five Conference with 4 Regional Divisons and Championships in all sports governed by themselves alone? Matt you will win a Pulitzer if you do a story on how impactless the NCAA was in all of this and they showed their true colors as merely Money Changers who hover outside of Sports Temples taking advantage of schools, teams, players, coaches, and fans. All of their money changing tables need to be turned upside down.

Matt Lindaman 2 years, 3 months ago

Did you see the DeSantis press conference today? No way that group is taking care of DII and DIII.

Matt Lindaman 2 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the article, though I disagree with some of the points here as the article assumes the NCAA has power over the Football Power 5. This is the hierarchy order for power: 1. Football Power 5, 2. NCAA rules over basketball, volleyball, and other D1 sports, 3. NCAA rules over DII and DIII championships. Some want the NCAA gone for various reasons, but another line of argument is they need more power in this situation to deal with the emergency. Matt did note Emmert was working behind the scenes. I argue he did about as much as he could and was actually pretty effective (though those wanting to continue sports will not like the position he tended to promote). This included a bit of a propaganda effort with a week long USA Today series about the difficulties and dangers of playing. I work at a DII institution and from that perspective can tell you the NCAA stepped in and cancelled all fall championships (for DIII as well). I'm not sure if they also ended championship for the sub-division? This effectively made the decision for the presidents/AD's and coaches. It is certainly not popular to play a shortened/no championship season (the historian in me sees this as an option as it is what was done in days of old) as coaches and players don't want to burn an eligibility year if so called nothing is on the line. With DII, DII, and the sub-division out, the smaller D1 conferences started to fall. Therefore, I argue the position of too dangerous and complicated to play was acted upon. I also very much recognize this may not be the most popular result with some. I also hope the athletes impacted can find peace and wish them future success on the playing fields, which I hope can be savored all the more. In summary, I think the bigger issue here is the NCAA does not have full control over football Power 5 and therefore is hard to expect leadership on the difficult issue before them now.

Scott MacWilliams 2 years, 3 months ago

Maybe best to just take a year off from all the sports, get a vaccine out and distributed, and then get back to it. Assuming there's a vaccine available in that time frame...
From what I've read, there are some serious after-effects from the virus, besides death, and the younger people are NOT entirely spared in this. Seriously compromised immune systems, stroke, etc.

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