Interview Mark Emmert
Emmert is the president of the NCAA. Before starting the job in November 2010, he was president of the University of Washington and chancellor at Louisiana State University. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 14, 2011.
What is the NCAA? How big is it? Who belongs to it? What is its purpose?
I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, actually, out in the world about what the NCAA is and what it isn't. It is a voluntary association of around 1,100 colleges and universities with something on the order of 400,000 student-athletes participating across the country in all NCAA sports.
It's an organization that was founded over 100 years ago for the purpose of protecting student-athlete well-being, providing the approximation of a level playing field and providing safeguards around the nature of intercollegiate sport. And it's done that through this voluntary, high democratic process ever since in a really remarkable fashion. It's a very unique enterprise.
And it's a nonprofit?
Yeah, absolutely. Yes.
What is its annual income, revenue?
Well, its annual revenue from all sources is somewhere around $700 or so million from the major tournament, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. But of course, that revenue flows out to all of the memberships, so every institution of those 1,100 members benefits from the revenue that comes into the NCAA. Parts of it go to the smallest Division III liberal arts institution up to the largest Division I institution.
And it's part of the larger business of college sports.
It's certainly a governing entity that shapes and defines the nature of intercollegiate sport for all of our members.
I've seen estimates [of] $4 to $8 billion?
I don't know really what that total number would be. I know that NCAA athletics provides $2 billion in scholarship support to student-athletes. So you've got at least $2 billion going directly out in scholarship money, so surely it must be somewhere in that $3 or $4 billion range, I would assume. ...
OK. So with that in mind, looking at the issue of the SportsBusiness Journal, and they have a readers' survey, and it says, "Biggest challenge facing new NCAA President Mark Emmert: Commercialization of student-athletes." What do you think they mean by "commercialization of student-athletes" in a nonprofit operation?
I think the biggest challenge that faces intercollegiate athletics right now is, in fact, trying to protect the notion of intercollegiate athletics as a place where student-athletes compete. That doesn't mean that the things that support those student-athletes are amateur or not professional.
Just as a student in a physics lab doesn't want amateur professors or amateurs setting up their laboratory or building the facility that they are educated in, you certainly want students who are competing on the field to have professional coaches, professional trainers, professional support staff that they have. And we want them to compete inside facilities that are appropriate to their level of competition.
So when we talk about the creeping commercialization of it, what we're concerned about -- what I'm concerned about -- is making sure that we maintain that preprofessional amateur status of the student-athletes while recognizing that there's increasingly greater interest in the whole nature of athletics in America.
So it creates sort of commercial pressures that get placed on institutions to be competitive while we're still trying to protect the student-athlete as a student and recognize that they are not professionals; they are not employees; they are, in fact, our students.
Now, when this issue comes up, the focus appears to be on Division I sports, particularly men's basketball and men's football, right? Those are the revenue sports.
That's where the commerce is, really.
That's exactly right. So if you look at this past year, for example, there were only about 14, by our count, only 14 universities in America that actually had a positive cash flow under their athletic departments, out of the 1,100 or so that participate in NCAA sports. And in those cases where the revenue stream is sufficiently large to sustain the athletic programs, the revenue is almost entirely driven by football and men's basketball.
All the other sports, in virtually every case, are financial losers, if you will. They cost institutional dollars; they don't generate institutional dollars. So when you're looking at the pressures around commercialization, for the most part, it's around football and men's basketball.
But we don't expect most departments, or almost any department, in a university to produce money, right? I mean, they are educational institutions, which you expend money to teach students.
Virtually every university has academic departments who break even or better in their financial model, or the institution would go broke. So if you looked at [UC] Berkeley, for example, or any other large research-intensive university, and you added up all the tuition dollars and the state-support dollars per student, the psychology department would have positive cash flow; the music school would have heavily negative cash flow.
So the institution has to make a decision: "Are we going to have a music school, even though it's a financial loser?" And the answer is, "Sure, because that's what it takes to be a comprehensive university." And athletic departments do the same thing. They might want to have a football program, and they might also want to have a water polo program, knowing full well that one is going to potentially generate cash and the other is not.
But it's the peculiar character of athletic departments in Division I of NCAA sports that is the center of controversy.
Yeah, for the most part. You know, the controversies that occur around issues of commercialism or issues of student conduct or rules violations tend to be in Division I. But that's also, of course, where the cases get the most attention, because that's where the media spotlight is, in those institutions that play sports at the very highest levels.
And that's where the money is.
Usually, yes. Sure.
So how dependent is the NCAA itself on, for example, Division I men's basketball?
Division I men's basketball generates about 96 percent of the revenue that flows into and gets distributed out to the institutions through the NCAA. So it is by far the dominant revenue stream for the NCAA membership.
We're watching March Madness this month. That's the activity. That's the tournament that funds you.
Yeah. The media rights that come out of the NCAA tournament provide, as I mentioned, 96 percent of that total revenue that comes into the organization. Of the revenue that flows into the NCAA national office, about 94, 95 percent of it flows back out to all the 1,100 members either directly in cash allocations out to those schools and members or in direct support for all the other tournaments that we run.
So the NCAA runs 88 national championships, but it is men's basketball that allows the golf championship to go on or the volleyball championship to go on, because those, of course, don't generate that same kind of revenue.
So it's men's basketball that essentially subsidizes the rest of these championships.
Yes. That's exactly right. ... Ninety percent of the revenue that flows into the NCAA comes from the media rights and ticket sales for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
And what's the value of that [media] contract? It's with CBS, right?
It's with CBS, and it's running about $700 million a year now. And it has some modest escalator -- it's with CBS and Turner [Broadcasting System], a really innovative combination that they brought forward to bid for the media rights. And it's a 14-year contract.
Seven hundred million dollars. That's a lot of money.
It is. It is, yes.
And it's been growing over the years.
It has. The contract going forward will grow about 3 percent a year. So the revenue will continue to expand, but not dramatically, at roughly the rate of inflation.
When we were talking with people about the commercialization of college sports, many people pointed to the moment many years ago, 30-odd years ago, when corporate sponsorships entered the world of the NCAA. Do you remember when that was happening, when you were an academic?
Well, I remember that the broadcasts of my youth, when I was just a youngster, were predominantly radio and television. And of course, as soon as we started broadcasting intercollegiate athletics, there were media rights associated with that, and there would have been commercials associated with each of those broadcasts. So it's something that's been growing since the advent of radio and television, and continues to do so today.
I mean, corporate sponsorships or payments, particularly from the apparel industry, the shoe manufacturers, to colleges and universities or to the coaches, right, that started to change the nature of the business.
There's certainly a variety of corporate sponsorships that go on that are usually around marketing rights, whether they're from a shoe manufacturer or from a beverage dispenser or whoever wants to try and build a partnership with the university or a conference or with the NCAA and use that for promotional purposes for their products.
Again, the same thing occurs with advertising around broadcast rights. And we see it pretty ubiquitously.
Do you know the name Sonny Vaccaro?
Remind me who Sonny Vaccaro is.
He's known as the shoe guy in the world of basketball. He's the one who was the Nike marketing person --
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's where I know the name. Sure, sure.
-- who actually began signing up coaches and paying them directly 30-some odd years ago. You know who he is?
He says he used to just simply pay coaches directly.
Yeah. I think there were, in the early days of that process, because it was new, there was a clear lack of regulation and constraint in that whole process. You know, today, all of the contracts that I'm familiar with with coaches include whatever the revenue stream is for those commercial activities in that coach's contract.
So a lot of times when you see a coach making a multimillion-dollar contract, the component that's paid out of institutional university revenue is a modest part. Another piece is for some broadcast revenue. Another piece is for some commercial support from one of those commercial activities. So it's usually a package of different revenue streams, and that's monitored by and inside the control of the institution, rather than a coach out here cutting his or her own deal.
As I understand it, for about a decade, they made these payments directly to coaches.
That could be. I'm not aware of that, but I'll take his word for it.
Well, in our own just reporting and reading. And then in 1989, Nike signed with a university, became a university-wide sponsorship, if you will, or endorsement of a particular product. Don't you see that as sort of a movement toward commercialism?
I think, again, all of those things have been from the beginnings of broadcasts, where you've got commercial support of radio/TV broadcast, and a variety of other media outlets, all of that has been an evolutionary process. ...
What struck us is that the contracts involve the athletes, the student-athletes, wearing these uniforms, wearing the corporate logo, having a particular kind of shoe on. Does the university and the NCAA, when you get involved in these contracts, guarantee that the players are going to wear the corporate logo?
Institutions make a commitment like that, again, just as they might in other contexts with their student body and with services that they provide. So in many cases, if a shoe company makes a contract, then yes, they will have an expectation and indeed a requirement that the uniforms or shoes would be provided by that institution.
Same thing might be true of the soda that's poured in the student union or the coffee that's served anywhere on the campus. So that's not a uniquely athletic-related issue. It just is much more prominent because you see it on every Saturday.
I'm told it includes the ladder that the player uses at the end of the Final Four when they cut down the net.
I haven't seen that one. (Laughs.)
I'm just reflecting on it maybe because in the [UC Berkeley] Graduate School of Journalism, we don't have any corporate sponsors. I don't have to walk around in a sweatshirt that says or a T-shirt that says "Pepsi" or "Nike" and so on. Isn't it quite different from the academic side to the athletic department?
Well, it's different in the sense that most academic departments don't attract very, very large audiences for their particular activities. So the finest journalism professor can't fill a stadium with 75,000 people paying $40 to come watch them. But on the other hand, that will happen for a football game, and it will get broadcast live to millions of people.
So therefore, that creates a commercial opportunity for someone who wants to use that to promote to market some particular good or services. That then presents a potentially positive opportunity for a university to make an arrangement that's not in violation of their core values, but generate some revenue that supports their athletic programs. ...
Vaccaro, as an example, says that for him, the game was over in terms of amateur sports when in 1989 he was able to sign the University of Miami, and then all the other universities wanted in on it, to dispense the money that he was giving out from Nike. As he put it, "They violated their own amateurism code by making a deal with the companies, with Adidas, with Nike and so on."
I couldn't disagree more with him. The issue, again, isn't whether or not the coach is an amateur. The coach is unequivocally not an amateur. The coach is a professional, just as the professor in the journalism department is not an amateur; he's a professional.
The status question is about the student, not about the coach or the professor. And our student-athletes remain student-athletes. And they are preprofessional. They are not professional in anything. They are getting ready for their life after college sports. Some very tiny fraction of them will, in fact, go on to become professional athletes. The vast majority of them will go on to become journalists and doctors and lawyers and teachers and nurses.
So to say that, "Well, because there's a commercial interest over on this side that's providing a university with some resources, therefore it's no longer an amateur endeavor for the student-athlete," is a non sequitur to me, [no] more than if a great donor came along and endowed an academic department and put his or her name on it that the students inside that department are no longer amateurs. I think those two things don't follow at all.
You don't see the contradiction that many have pointed out that when we're watching March Madness, when we're watching these games, you may have a coach who's being paid six figures, maybe seven figures in some cases. Everyone is being paid -- the athletic director, everyone you can see on the screen and many people you can't -- are being paid as part of this, but the students aren't. The athletes who are actually performing are not paid.
No, I don't find that contradictory at all. Quite the contrary. I think what would be utterly unacceptable is, in fact, to convert students into employees. The point of March Madness, of the Men's Basketball Tournament, is the fact that it's being played by students. We don't pay our student-athletes.
We provide them with remarkable opportunities to get an education at the finest universities on earth -- that's American universities and colleges -- to gain access to the best coaches and the best trainers, to develop their skills and abilities, so if they have the potential, that small proportion, to go on and play in professional sports, we're helping them develop those skills, and they can go do it.
If they choose to not go on, or if they don't have those skills or abilities, then they get to go on in life and be successful as a young man or a young woman. I find that to be a perfectly appropriate balance. And indeed, most people in the world do, because there are many, many, many students around the world who would love nothing more than to be able to come to an American university and gain access to American intercollegiate athletics, because it's such a great place to develop skill and to have that great experience.
In fact, it is a unique system, right, to have --
Utterly unique, yes, yes.
There is no other country in the world that has a system connected with its major universities that, in fact, has that level of play going on, that much money involved in terms of sports.
Well, quite independent of money, it's a uniquely American phenomenon, and it was before there was any commercial activity associated with it. For complicated social and historical reasons, American universities conjoined cocurricular activities and athletics, whereas the rest of the world largely didn't.
Interestingly, we've been contacted by a number of nations, leaders of educational enterprises in other countries, that are fascinated by the American collegiate athletic model and think it may be part of the secret sauce that allows Americans to have greater intuition, greater leadership, greater creativity. We've been approached by China, by Mexico, by European colleagues saying, "Gee, come educate us about this, because we find it fascinating."
You mean the phenomenon may be spreading?
It may be. Just as sport is penetrating most social structures around the world, it may well be the case that the notion of intercollegiate athletics is a global phenomenon in 10 or 20 years.
Just so I understand, when you're talking about amateurs in the definition of the NCAA, that's not the same as the requirements, for instance, to be on the Olympic team, right? They're not amateurs in your definition.
Well, they can be. I mean, the Olympics has their definition of amateurism, and that's fine. They get to establish what that means.
But amateur athletics in terms of the Olympics, you can make money at that sport or take endorsements --
-- and so on --
Things that your players can't.
That's correct. And in our case, what amateurism really means, again, is this preprofessional notion that these young men and women are students; they've come to our institutions to gain an education and to develop their skills as an athlete and to compete at the very highest level they're capable of. And for them, that's a very attractive proposition.
You know, there are major universities -- and I'm thinking of the University of Chicago, for example -- that don't participate in Division I or even Division II.
They're at the level of basically: "We're playing athletics for the sake of athletics. There isn't big money involved." Why is that?
The NCAA is a highly decentralized enterprise, with each institution being very autonomous in the decisions that it makes about the level at which it wants to participate. So there are more Division III schools than Division II, more Division II than Division I.
Now, the Division IIs and IIIs have more students participating in more sports, but they rarely do it on television, so the world doesn't see that. Indeed, the world doesn't see most of Division I athletics. It predominantly only sees men's football, men's basketball, and some women's basketball and some other sports that get played. But that's what attracts the most attention.
If Chicago or any other university decides that it wants to participate at Division III, that's perfectly fine. Those are institutional decisions that they get to make, and I think that makes great sense. ...
So what percentage of your student-athletes who are in Division I men's basketball and football actually make it to the NBA or the NFL?
Under 2 percent. So again, it's a very small fraction who actually move from intercollegiate athletics in those sports into professional sports. And then if you looked at the breadth of all of our sports, of course, the number who move into any form of professional sport is even lower. So across all intercollegiate athletics, it would be a fraction of 1 percent.
And you said that 14 of the hundreds of schools that are in Division I actually make money or break even. Is that right?
Yes, that's correct.
As I understand it, they lose an excess of $10 million apiece, each? That's sort of an average, or more than that?
Well, [they] subsidize the programs significantly, in the millions of dollars on an annualized basis. And they have made decisions that the value that their university gains, the impact it has on their campus environment, the support that they garner from a stronger affiliation with their alumni and the opportunities they're providing the individual students on their campuses are worth that investment.
I just read a report by Moody's [PDF] that says that it's very unclear that participation in Division I sports helps any of these universities; that what guarantees the bonds primarily, the bond rating, for instance, when they want to build a stadium, is the fact that it's guaranteed by student tuition or maybe a state legislature. But it has very little to do, if anything, according to them, with the success of a team or the NCAA Division I program.
I haven't seen that report, obviously.
Is there a study that shows that it's advantageous to a university?
I've not seen one. And I don't know that it would be an appropriate -- it might -- now you're just getting my own personal bias. I don't think it would be appropriate for an institution to decide it's going to embark on an athletic program solely for the purpose of trying to improve its bottom line at the Division I level. ...
Well, some institutions -- I'm thinking of University of Chicago, whose former president said: "Why should we have a football team? We might as well put our colors on a jockey and have a horse that somebody can bet on. At least a horse doesn't have to pass a history exam." I mean, there's great resistance to this model that we're talking about, because it appears to be, in some people's view, demeaning the academic enterprise in American universities.
Well, obviously, I disagree completely. If you look at the realities of the success of student-athletes academically across all of the programs, their academic success is in general higher than the student bodies of which they are a part. That success ratio and graduation and academic progress is sustained throughout their careers. If you look at the 10-year data on the graduation rates for student-athletes, it's nearly 90 percent.
The notion that student-athletes are somehow less successful as students is simply a misnomer. It's absolutely inaccurate. Of course there are high-profile examples of it. Of course you can find student-athletes who are predominantly interested in going into professional athletics and who leave early. But that's a tiny slice of the student-athlete pool, and one shouldn't generalize from all of that. That's simply a fallacy.
I remember we talked a little bit earlier about football. Football has its own conferences and organizations like the BCS [Bowl Championship Series], but that's not part of the NCAA, right?
The BCS is not part of the NCAA. Most -- not most -- all of the conferences are NCAA members, but they do their own business in terms of organizing their own schedules, and they all work their own work of individual conferences.
But they only distribute money to the members of their group. They're unlike the NCAA subsidizing Division III or Division II championships and so on.
That's right. But they also, depending upon the rules of individual conferences, they spread revenue in a relatively equal fashion. So if you looked at the SEC [Southeastern Conference], for example, all of the bowl winnings from SEC games are pooled together, and they're passed out in equal shares, so Vanderbilt gets as much as Alabama. And they do that in order to sustain the competition in those institutions.
And does the money that you pass on, for example, or those funds go to academic programs, or does it usually stay within the athletic departments?
They go to institutions, and universities themselves make those decisions. We don't tell universities how to spend money.
But our understanding is it primarily goes to subsidize their athletic departments; otherwise they would be deeper in the hole.
Again, those are institutional decisions, and how those universities decide to allocate revenue is up to them.
Just to make sure I've got this, the current contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting is for how many years and how much money?
It's 14 years, and it's $10.8 billion.
About $700 million a year.
That's what makes it so unusual, you know, that it's an amateur sport with that kind of money involved.
Well, look, the tournament brings in $700 million a year. Intercollegiate athletics gives $2 billion a year in scholarship funds. If we looked at the aggregate revenue across 1,100 institutions for any one activity, it would be a very large number.
So when you roll up the aggregate expenditures across all of those member institutions, it's a pretty large number, when, in fact, the $700 million that gets allocated out to those schools and to support the championships is a small portion of all of that.
Of course, the general student population, when we're talking about Division I, the numbers are somewhat different, right? And those are usually students who are on scholarship, they're playing in men's basketball or football, and they have an infrastructure of support. Is that correct?
Well, we're talking about all of the students in all of Divisions I and II.
We don't have full data on Division III. We're still gathering all of that. So we're not just talking about football or basketball. We're talking about all of the NCAA student-athletes across those divisions.
But I think what we're focusing on right now is the students who produce revenue that supports the NCAA or supports the athletic departments in general, and in some places produces a profit. Those students are usually on scholarship and have a support system of some kind.
Yeah. Typically, you know, a football team can have 85 student-athletes on scholarship. There will be more than that on a program because of a variety of walk-ons. But yes, most of the student-athletes in the Division I program are scholarship students.
One of the things that was pointed out to us is that where you see the more successful teams, you see a lowering of the graduation rates. Let me give you an example: When you had the convention in San Antonio, [Texas,] one of the individuals you brought out was the quarterback on Baylor's football team.
And he talked about, I think, getting two degrees, going to law school and so on. And he appeared to be a very exceptional individual. His team went to a bowl. And in fact, Baylor's basketball team is in the tournament this year, and they haven't been there all the time. But their graduation rates have been plummeting. For example, when we looked at Baylor's -- and this is using NCAA's numbers -- its graduation rate is 38 percent, and among African Americans it's 29 percent. It doesn't sound like an acceptable graduation rate, and definitely 29 percent isn't higher than the general student body.
No, that's not an acceptable graduation rate. And one of the things I'm most pleased about that's developed over the past five or six years is the new approach that the NCAA brought to academic process and graduation rates, and the impact it can finally have now on the individual programs, whether it's by sport or even by the entire institution.
So we now, for the first time, have longitudinal data that we're using to restrict institutions for the number of scholarships that they have, and even restrict institutions from participating in a sport.
We're just now at a stage where those kind of penalties are coming into force. And if an institution were to have a continuous track record like the one you just described, they would suffer some very significant penalties in their ability to participate.
Didn't the graduation rate at the University of Washington for the basketball team plummet, and was about 20 percent when you left?
No. Actually, it was not. I was very pleased with the graduation rate of the student-athletes at Washington, and I hope you go back and look at it, because the graduation rate at the University of Washington among its student-athletes is second only to Stanford in the Pac-10 [Conference].
Editors' Note: In 2009, Washington's overall basketball graduation rate was 29 percent. African American basketball players showed a 20 percent graduation rate, with 0 percent for white players. In 2010, those numbers changed. The overall basketball graduation rate at Washington increased to 44 percent, while the rate for African American players dipped to 17 percent and white players increased to 100 percent.
Across all sports.
I'm talking about basketball, and men's basketball.
Basketball team graduation rates from two years ago, or last year's tournament, were based upon six-year-old data. Since that time, the president, the athletic director and the coach have all changed. And if you look at the current academic success of the student-athletes in basketball, you'll find a very different pattern.
That's why, in some reason, why you were brought to the University of Washington, because they had a major athletic department scandal going on.
I wouldn't describe that as one of the reasons I was brought there. There were certainly a lot of issues going on in athletics when I arrived, and we worked very hard to put those straight, and I feel good about what we did there.
So you think the number, the 20 percent graduation number, is a holdover from the past?
I know it is.
Do you think it will improve this year or next year?
Well, I can't say what will happen this year or next year, but I know that the academic, the athletic success and the student-athletes' success have all improved simultaneously there.
OK. I just wanted to switch for a minute to some of the NCAA requirements. I haven't actually ever seen your rulebook, but I understand it's pretty fat, right?
And this whole issue of commercialization. We interviewed [1960s NBA star] Oscar Robertson. He said he was NCAA Player of the Year for three years when he played back in the '60s. But he said, "Not four years, three years." Why? Because the first year he was a freshman; he couldn't play. And that's been pointed out to us, that it allowed for a transition for the athlete or the student-athlete coming into college who might not have been that accomplished in academics to get used to the atmosphere to set themselves up, and that the elimination of freshman ineligibility 30-odd years ago led to this, in part, commercialization of the sport.
Well, I think there's a bit of a non sequitur there about affiliating that decision with commercialization. I do think that --
Professionalization. So you didn't have to --
Well, let me finish.
So I do believe that the elimination of freshman ineligibility certainly placed greater demands and constraints on student-athletes. So when freshmen weren't eligible, especially if you had that rule along with the new academic standards -- the academic standards in place today are greatly more demanding than they were in his day, back in the '60s when there were very, very few, if any, academic standards placed on them by the conference or by the NCAA.
If you had the combination of those two things, I'm sure it would be very successful. Indeed, we're looking at some options right now around the community college transfer issue, because community college transfer students often struggle in maintaining their eligibility when they come in as student-athletes.
We're going to have an active debate, I think, coming up here about whether or not students could go into a community college and spend their first year not starting their athletic clock -- in other words, basically having a freshman year where they could do whatever remedial work they needed to get up to speed, so that they can then move more effectively onto four-year institutions, if they decide to do that.
So I think he's right in that there was some desirability in the freshman ineligibility. I think it doesn't make sense to say that that has anything to do with commercialization or professionalism.
You're not considering reconsidering?
We're not right now, for a variety of complicated reasons. ...
I guess one of the things I learned was when I heard that a player was on a full ride at a university, a full-ride scholarship at a university, I assumed it was a four-year scholarship. The fact that it's a one-year scholarship makes it unlikely for a student who can't afford to go to college to stay in college, let's say, if he's thrown off the team, right?
Well, I don't know why that decision was made, and if it was made back in the '60s, that was an --
It was 1973, I think.
I don't know why that decision was made 30 -- however many years ago that was -- 37 years ago. But the rule has been in place in its current form for 37 years then. And over that period of time, the number of students who have gone to institutions and received four and five years' worth of full support is a very, very large number. So to argue that somehow this has disadvantaged student-athletes is, I think, a hard argument to make.
You have statistics that show that most people, or a vast majority of the people who start out with an athletic scholarship keep it all the way through?
I don't know what those numbers are, but I would be shocked if it was anything other than a very large percentage.
Or do you see a large number of students, for instance, now, after doing their "one-and-done" rule which the NBA has put in place, playing in college, but as soon as they can go to the NBA are soon after going on and abandoning their scholarship?
Well, on an annual basis, there's about 10 or 12 students who are one-and-done student-athletes. So out of the 400,000 NCAA athletes, there are 12 who are one-and-done students. ...
By the way, it's described as a "full-ride" scholarship. And as I understand it, it's tuition, room and board?
And books and supplies. So it covers the vast majority of what one would normally consider all of the costs of athletics.
I think there has been some -- in my opinion -- very legitimate concern that there are still some unfunded costs that are associated with attending college, and that some student-athletes find themselves in a place where they need resources to go home because of a sick parent or to purchase clothing or some other element of normal day-to-day life.
And to address those kinds of issues, not long ago, the NCAA created a couple of student funds that this year provided $54 million of support that are allocated out to the conferences and to the institutions, to the athletic departments. So almost every athletic department in the country in Division I now has a pool of resources that they can use to support students who have those particular kinds of needs.
They have to be legitimate needs, of course. But if a student does need to go home for some emergency, or they do need a winter coat, or they need some support to allow them to continue as a student, [then] they can gain access to that.
I thought that there was litigation brought against the NCAA in order to increase the amount of these scholarships and use some of the money from your television revenue and allocate it to help students pay, because many of them have complained over the years that they were basically destitute while they were going to college.
Well, full grant-in-aid from an institution for an NCAA athletic scholarship covers tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board costs. That's normally what most anyone would describe as a full-ride scholarship. If you talk to an institution that's giving a scholarship to somebody in the political science department for their academic prowess, they would describe that as a full-ride scholarship, I suspect.
Most of us who went to college wouldn't consider that a particularly parsimonious arrangement. On the other hand, when you add in the opportunity to also gain access to emergency funds that the NCAA provides for a variety of other contingent costs that a student might have, we feel pretty good about the arrangements that are available for our student-athletes.
If I'm an engineering student, I can get a job at drafting. If I'm a law student, I can go out and do things with what you call this preprofessional law and get paid for it with the skill that I have.
But if I'm an athlete, in the NCAA rules -- I just want to make sure I understand this -- I really can't use that skill while I'm getting a scholarship, while I'm playing a sport in college, to subsidize my income. I can't do an endorsement, for instance, of a product related to my sport. ... Is that true?
Well, let's define the terms for a minute. So 2 percent of our student-athletes go to professional sports, OK? In football and basketball --
Well, 1.2 to 1.6 --
One percent. All the others can use their skills in internships, in the summer, just as you described, because they are engineers; they're accounting students; they're journalism students; they're students in some fashion. And if they want to work in any of those things that are going to become their profession, in school, as an internship, they are certainly welcome to do so.
No, we are not going to allow them to play professional sports. No, we are not going to allow them to do professional endorsements around their particular sport. But certainly that doesn't prohibit them from pursuing what in all likelihood is going to be their real profession.
So as I understand it, a student recently who wanted to play basketball but had played in a league for money in France three years before was ineligible. That's an NCAA rule. You can't take money --
That's right. Someone who's played professional athletics is forbidden from coming back and playing as a student-athlete.
By the way, how much do you make as head of the NCAA?
Well, we don't discuss my salaries, but I'm well compensated, like many people.
More than you made at the University of Washington?
We don't discuss our salaries.
Well, I assume you didn't take a step down.
I'm welcome to [an] argument about the relevance of that.
Oh, well, the relevance is it's a nonprofit institution, which is funded in part by federal taxpayers. We don't get any tax money from any money you make. And normally that's public information, when we know your predecessor made between $1.1 and $1.4 million, depending on what year it was. Made less?
I don't see that as relevant to the point here.
What's relevant, for example, is you say that a student-athlete cannot do something with his or her skill, if it's Division I, outside, where they might make some income. Are you still on the board of Weyerhaeuser?
Look, the nature of student-athletes as preprofessionals is the fact that they are student-athletes. If we're going to have collegiate athletics be affiliated with institutions of higher learning, then those students have to maintain their status as students and as amateurs. We have long said in higher education that you could not go from the NBA back to a university and play basketball.
I think most people accept that as a pretty sensible argument, that you can't go play for the New York Yankees and then decide, "Well, I think I want to go back to college and get my degree, so I'm going to become a pitcher at my local college." The notion that people can play as professionals in their sport and then go back and play collegiate ball has been fundamentally agreed upon since the beginnings of the NCAA over 100 years ago. Indeed, it's one of the reasons that the association was formed.
OK, well, I'll come back to that. This is the form that all athletes have to sign, NCAA's form, right?
They can't play without it, right?
They have to sign this, and it has a clause in it that says that they agree that their image ... basically is the property of the NCAA and the institution that they're playing for, that they're part of. Is that the basis for the NCAA selling their images on your website or selling videos of old games to ESPN Classic and so on?
Well, first of all, there's some pending litigation around the whole likeness issue, so I'm really not at liberty to comment on the status of all that.
You have a contract with a company called CLC [Collegiate Licensing Company] -- the NCAA -- to market images and what else?
They market trademarks. They do for almost every university -- not every, but the vast majority of colleges and universities in the country, trademarks and logos.
And that includes your games, your T-shirts, anything else that's produced?
Most universities. Of course the NCAA logo is not a particularly hot seller, but, you know, university trademarks are.
So you say you can't comment on it because of a litigation, but can you comment on the issue of imagery? Because at your last convention you talked about expanding possible legislation and other actions to expand the use of the imagery of players and the games for the NCAA to get additional revenue.
It's a hotly debated issue among the membership for a variety of complicated reasons, one that student-athletes themselves have strong opinions on. We have been working with our Student-Athlete Advisory Committees [SAACs] on trying to find a model that would support institutions being able to use images effectively and do so in a way that student-athletes feel good about.
By the way, the NCAA's purpose is to protect the student-athlete from commercial activity?
The NCAA has many purposes, that being one of them.
We have student advisory boards at each of the three divisional levels, and we have regular consultation with those student-athletes and meet with them routinely, but no, they do not vote.
Are most of the delegates athletic directors and coaches or --
Yeah, most of the delegates are university presidents, and so at the Division I level in particular, it's an organization that's run predominantly by university presidents.
-- because we talked to a number of economists about the business of college sports, and they say the NCAA is by definition a cartel, a collegiate cartel. You set rules in a way that people have to abide by in order to do business, and a certain group within that business, the student-athlete or some of the people we interviewed, the athlete-students, have to abide by them as well, and that includes not being employees, not being paid. Are you a cartel?
We are a voluntary association that has 1,100 college and university members, and the bodies that pass the rules and make all those judgments come from that membership. They're selected by that membership, and they're predominantly on the boards and the major, decision-making bodies -- the university presidents -- that represent those institutions at each of the three levels. It's a remarkably democratic process.
But the students don't vote. The student-athletes can't vote on what goes on. It's the presidents of the universities or their representatives.
It's the presidents of the universities, yes.
And is there anyone else in the process who's not on salary or is not paid directly?
You mean are there decision makers in the process that -- I'm not sure what you're asking.
Well, let's say at the University of Washington, was there anybody as part of the athletic department who, other than a student-athlete, who wasn't on salary?
Obviously everybody that's employed in a university is by definition employed at a university. I'm not sure what your question is.
Well, because what the question has been [is] that because these athlete-students or student-athletes spend 40 or 50 hours a week often on their sports, on developing their skills, sometimes more because they travel all over the country, and with the expanding conferences, they're going to be traveling more, many people believe they are, in fact, employees. And that's been litigated back and forth for many years. But that's what they do. That's their primary function.
I can't say this any more directly than I've said it already. Student-athletes are student-athletes. They are not employees of the institution. They are students. They have academic standards that they have to perform to, and they do, and they do so with remarkable extent.
A very, very small portion of them go on to become professional athletes. The vast majority of them complete their degrees, move on to other professions and fields, like journalists or anything else. And to describe them as employees is simply wrong.
By the way, as I understand it, prior to them being asked to sign this NCAA form, they're either told that they can't or they're discouraged from showing it to an agent, a lawyer, someone who might be able to advise them to what it means.
I don't know anything about that.
Would you encourage them to do that?
I haven't thought about that issue.
Wouldn't you encourage anyone -- you signed our release, right? Our release form is pretty explicit. It says that we can use your image and we can also use whatever is recorded here for any broadcast or the resale and so on. That isn't said on your form explicitly.
And yet I signed it without an agent.
Right, but ours is pretty straightforward. Yours doesn't say that. Yours says just go along with anything -- the use of your image for promotional purposes. It doesn't explain that beyond that -- and it's signed by people who are sometimes 17, 18 years old, maybe 19, and then annually by them, without ever conferring as to what the implications of that are. Has anyone ever explained to them what this means?
I don't know what that process looks like. I've never been in a room when that conversation was [held].
When those signings take place?
No. They occur on individual campuses, and it's kind of hard for me to go out and meet those --
Or at the University of Washington?
Hundred thousand individuals -- no, I didn't sit in the rooms when they were meeting with individual student-athletes on that issue.
You never talked with one of the athletes and asked them, what does this mean?
I talked to athletes all the time when I was president of the University of Washington. I was never in a room when they were signing that individual form.
But did you ever, as president of the University of Washington or at LSU [Louisiana State University], explain or have it explained to the athletes what they were doing when they signed that form --
I never personally met with the student-athletes and explained that, no. ...
How do you respond to economists who say that the reason that some college coaches can make as much as they make -- some multimillion-dollar deals -- is because you're not paying the players?
The reason that coaches can make what they can make is because they're at programs that generate typically very large revenue because they're in these high-visibility sports. You're predominantly, of course, again, talking about just two sports, football and basketball. I think very few people would argue that the volleyball coach is overpaid, though there may be some that argue that.
And the difference is, of course, is that you can get 75,000 people to watch a football game and millions on TV, but less so in other sports. So the fact that those sports have higher revenue associated with them means that they can generate greater revenue for the coaching staff.
Same thing is true in journalism. Someone who's broadcasting from a national TV probably gets paid more than someone who's playing in front of a local audience. And the difference is market share.
Not necessarily, by the way.
I think one would generally find that somebody on NBC is getting paid more than somebody at a local station.
Depends on how big the market is, and that's the point.
What is the point?
It is a free market, and the rest of the people who work at the station or the network are also being paid, and that does limit how much money the company has in remuneration for someone. But the issue that the economists raise is that if you had to pay the market value of some of the players, particularly the star players on your teams, then you couldn't afford to pay the coaches that much.
Well, it's an interesting but irrelevant argument. The fact of the matter is, if you paid the custodians in the stands a lot more, there would be less revenue to pay the coach. [On] what basis would one make that argument? The fact is they're not employees; they're student-athletes. If you're using the revenue from an athletic department for any other purpose, then certainly there's fewer dollars left to pay a coach or anyone else.
Litigation aside, as you said, at least 98 percent of the players who are in Division I men's basketball and football will never make it into the professional leagues. And many of them are ill prepared, it turns out, to use whatever they get out of their college education to really foster their income afterward.
On what basis do you make that argument?
From discussions, anecdotal discussions --
But not from a statistical basis.
No one's ever done a study, as far as we can tell.
OK. I just wanted to be clear about that.
Has the NCAA done a study of it?
We have, in fact. We've done a great 10-year longitudinal study on our student-athletes, and we find that 90 percent of them have completed their degrees and gone on to do other important work.
You're talking about all three divisions.
You're not talking about Division I.
I'm talking about Division I, actually, yes.
Division I, 90 percent of them complete --
After 10 years' period of time -- 89 [percent].
Complete their degrees in basketball and football?
In all of Division I.
You know what I'm talking to you about: Division I basketball and football, those revenue-producing sports.
I don't know what that number is, but you were asserting as if it was a fact that the students who finish their degrees or finish their careers in football and basketball are ill prepared to go out in the world, and I was just curious on what you base that.
From what basically they're telling us when we go around and talk to people.
You've done a survey of our students?
No, we haven't done a survey, and we didn't find a survey that produced that kind of information about Division I basketball and football per se. And if you have one that's on that focus --
No. But I'm not asserting that, either.
OK. You can't talk about the endorsement issue in terms of the litigation that's pending about the use of people's image because it's being litigated.
You know that this litigation is not only gaining support among players, but also public profile.
I don't know that. How do you know that?
Newspaper articles. Made the front page of The New York Times. First Amendment issue related to EA Sports, for instance. One of the anecdotes that we hear from players that we've talked to, current and former players, is that when they're forced -- they feel -- to do something which on second thought they wouldn't want to do, which is take money from someone, take a free restaurant meal, for instance, from a booster, their name is thrown out there, and they're identified as -- they say to us, "They throw dirt on us for doing that because we don't have enough money or we're just tempted by having the meal itself because we don't have the income to do it." But when it happens to a coach, a high-profile coach, particularly one that's making millions of dollars, they can go from one school to another, and there are rarely sanctions, even though their team may be penalized, where they were in the past. You've heard that complaint, that disparity complaint?
Well, first of all, I don't know that I've ever heard anyone say that someone was forced to take a free meal before, but it's an interesting approach. The fact is that the application of rules across all of our members, whether they're student-athletes or whether they're institutions or whether they're individuals, is something that we work very, very hard at providing as much fairness and equity in.
There are always a huge array of judgment calls that have to be made. They leave those decisions subject to a variety of Monday-morning quarterbacking. But the fact that we look at coaches and try to enforce our rules with them any differently than we do anyone else is a reality. We try very hard to make sure that that's the case. If we find evidence that coaches have violated the rules and misbehaved, then we enforce our rules.
You know the name ... [Coach] John Calipari, University of Kentucky?
You know the name, right? Before he went to Kentucky, the last two teams, [University of] Memphis and [University of] Massachusetts, each had violations of NCAA rules, and they had to vacate [wins], right? He went on to Kentucky; he's making $31.65 million, gets two cars, a country club membership and sponsorships, banks, car dealerships, the highway patrol. He's never been penalized; he's never had to sit out a game.
As far as I'm aware, while I wasn't with the NCAA during that period, I don't know that there was ever a finding against him and that there was ever uncovered any evidence that he had personally been engaged in any wrongdoing.
Had there been, I'm sure he would have been punished appropriately, as other coaches have. ...
One of the things that former players reflected on -- these are NBA players -- is that many of their teammates watching March Madness, their families couldn't afford to come to the games. They can't take money from boosters to pay for their hotel bills or airfare, and the NCAA won't pay for it either. They get two free tickets. Is that true?
The NCAA does not provide travel benefits for families.
So if they can't afford it themselves, they can't see their children playing in the stadium or playing in the arena in March Madness?
I'm not sure what -- is that a question or a statement?
I mean, their son cannot solicit money from someone --
That's right. We do not want student-athletes soliciting money. That's a fact.
I mean, I think it would surprise a lot of people watching these games that, particularly in the Final Four, that the families can't afford to come, yet there's $700 million in revenue coming into the NCAA as part of this broadcast.
Well, I don't know the extent to which families can't afford to come to those games. I mean, you're saying it as if this is a widespread phenomenon, and I'd be fascinated to know what the extent of that problem really is.
Maybe we'll find out after the broadcast.
But you can see the kind of resentment that's out there, because one of the other things that happened was that a number of players, particularly active college players, said: "We can't say anything about this in public. We're on a one-year scholarship; we're vulnerable; we're not going to raise questions about this in public." And, in fact, many of the pros are even reluctant to talk about it in public.
Why would they be reluctant to talk about it in public?
You know, it's interesting: a sense of embarrassment. We ran across this regularly. Embarrassment with the situation that they were in; for example, discovering, in a number of cases, that their image is in a videogame, and they had no idea that the rights for that were sold as part of documents that they signed when they're in college. They felt stupid -- and they told us that -- when they realized that.
No one had asked them: That was their position. They're not all plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Wouldn't you be surprised if you saw the University of Washington making money off of your name, for instance, and never have told you that they were going to use your image to make money?
Well, I don't think that that's the case.
Right, but you know that.
I suspect that the University of Washington, like all of the universities, has students sign a document that explains what their rights and responsibilities are in that regard, so to assert that they are not aware of this fact I think is a stretch.
OK, it's a stretch. You think they do know this. You think these basketball and football players know that someone's going to use their image to make money?
I obviously can't speak for them.
OK. University of Washington was a Nike school?
University of Washington had a contract with Nike, yeah. Still does.
And the provost of the University of Washington who worked under you is on the board of Nike?
Uh-huh, she is.
Don't you see a conflict there?
Well, we worked very hard to make sure that there wouldn't be, so we put in place a legal agreement that the provost would have nothing to do with any of the decisions associated with the athletic department, and in particular its Nike contract. The athletic director reported to me as president, not to her. And she donated her board fees back to the institution.
Back to the university?
OK. But the pattern that we found was, for example, coaches have been on the board of -- [former head coach] John Thompson at Georgetown was on the board of Nike and a major shareholder at the same time that he's taking money from Nike to make sure that everyone at Georgetown is wearing Nike apparel. That's what it was -- to guarantee, even before Georgetown as a whole took the money. You don't see that conflict of interest as part of the commercialization of amateur sports?
Each university will have to make a decision about that. If that was fine with Georgetown University, that was between Coach Thompson and Georgetown. The conflict-of-interest rules of individual universities are their rules. And I don't know the circumstances under which John Thompson was engaged with Nike.
But it's a model in the sense of you have these students -- you call them student-athletes --
They are student-athletes.
Well, as I understand it, that term was invented, according to one of your predecessors, Mr. [Walter] Byers, [the first executive director of the NCAA,] to get out of calling them employees, right?
I have no idea.
He's testified to that.
I don't know what Mr. Byers said or didn't say. The fact is they are students who happen to also be athletes.
And, by the way, these student-athletes, if they're injured, by law, now they're not covered under workman's comp, right?
Almost every university works very, very hard to take great care of their student-athletes, to continue their scholarships, to treat them with the best medical attention that they can possibly get and provide them with a variety of benefits.
But since they are not employees, no, they're not covered under workman's compensation.
So they're under no obligation to take care of them, should they be injured in some way that can't be dealt with, within two or three years --
I think the track record of universities in taking care of student-athletes who have been injured is very good.
So you wouldn't caution someone in your family from playing, let's say, football at a major university and not say to them: "You might be injured. Don't worry; the university will take care of you"?
I would not.
OK. You're not going to tell us your income; you're not going to tell us what boards you're still on.
I'm on the Weyerhaeuser and Expeditor[s International of Washington] boards.
You're still on there?
So we know that's still around $300,000 to $400,000 in compensation.
On both of those boards, their records are public.
Right. And the NCAA eventually will make your salary public.
We file 990s just like every other nonprofit in America.
OK. And we can be assured that you didn't take a pay cut when you left the University of Washington.
We'll file our 990 just like everyone else.
And you're not a commercial entity?
We're a nonprofit association.
One economist called you a trade association of coaches and athletic directors; that what you do is benefit them, their salaries keep going up, even in all the other Division I and Division II and Division III sports. It seems like a rising tide is lifting all boats there, and that's who you're dedicated to.
He or she is certainly allowed his or her opinion.
The second part of their argument is that the fact that you don't pay the athletes who create the value -- people come to see the athletes play -- and that you don't pay them market value, therefore others in the organization can prosper.
He or she is allowed his or her opinion.
Can a student say no to wearing, let's say, Nike apparel?
Well, to my understanding, and I'm not an expert on the subject, but when institutions have contractual agreements with one of the apparel companies, it usually entails them providing uniforms for all of those sports, and that's the official uniform of the institution.
Could they wear the uniform without the commercial display?
I don't know the contractual details of that.
But as long as the contract was signed, that would be OK with you?
I'm not sure what that means.
Well, I'm saying that when we talk about the commercialization of college sports, it's these uniforms that have commercial logos on them. That's part of what's going on, is those are not nonprofit institutions that are --
No, they're not. Apparel and footwear companies that are providing a benefit to the institution to support their endeavors, and in return, they're getting some marketing consideration, I think that's pretty self-evident.
Right. And under a very complicated federal tax law, as long as they don't say in their endorsement advertisement or whatever that they're better than someone else, it's a tax deduction for them. And you, the NCAA, or the institution doesn't have to pay taxes on it either.
I'm not a tax lawyer, so I can't comment on that.
But that's the nature of the business. You were the president of the University of Washington, right? You were the chancellor of LSU. You must have been experiencing the flood of money coming into athletic departments and the salaries going out. You hired [former LSU football coach] Nick Saban, right, paid him a lot of money. So you've been part of that process. And you don't see that as part of the commercialization of college sports?
Well, I'm not sure exactly what you refer to in the flood of money coming into intercollegiate athletics. Again, only 14 schools in the country broke even in their athletic departments this past year. And if you went to the institution at which you work, University of California, Berkeley, I think they probably wouldn't feel like there was a flood of money coming into the athletic department since they had to eliminate a variety of sports.
So the fact of the matter is that the total budget of most major institutions is a very large number, of which the athletic department is a small portion. At the University of Washington, if you looked at the total budget when I was there, the athletic department was about 2 or 3 percent. Across the NCAA, it's around 5 percent of the total budgets of institutions.
So it is a sizable amount of money, but relative to the rest of the institution, it's still a very small proportion.
But the salaries of the coaches and the athletic directors are not the same in the Division I men's basketball and football; are not comparable to other salaries at universities.
The salaries in Division I football and men's basketball are obviously much higher, and they function in a quite different marketplace than is typical for most anyone else inside that institution, including the university presidents.
And I'm told that much of those salaries are subsidized by donations?
Well, it depends upon the model of any one individual school. In some cases, they're subsidized by donations. In some cases, they're just covered by the revenue generated by the athletic program. In some cases, they're subsidized by funds flowing from the rest of the institution. It depends on each individual school.
And to these former student-athletes who say, "Once I left the school, I got nothing from the school; the school was continuing to make money off of whatever reputation I added to their teams; the school was making money from selling paraphernalia with may name on it, my participation in it," what do you say to them?
I think if someone went to a university and left and felt like they gained nothing from that experience that they took very poor advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
When I was a student, I certainly gained from that experience, and I suspect you did as well. I'm not quite sure what an individual would want out of their experience other than being able to get an education and to play their sport at the highest level. If they didn't take advantage of those opportunities, I feel sorry for them for having not done so.
Well, in fairness, let me read you something -- a couple of things. Do you know who Michael Lewis is? Do you know the author Michael Lewis, wrote The Blind Side?
So we interviewed him because he writes about economics and finance in sports in particular, right?
Initially, he said to us the NCAA is in an indefensible position, that you're trying to maintain the patina of an amateur sport in a commercial operation, and he says that from the basis of spending time inside college football, particularly in the Southeastern Conference [SEC].
Well, like economists, he's allowed his opinion on it. I obviously disagree.
OK. You disagree. They make themselves feel better, he says, about what they do by creating some arbitrary rules that the schools have to adhere to in order to put players on the field, but everybody kind of turns a blind eye to how those rules are adhered to.
Are you asking me a question?
That's Michael Lewis. I'm asking you to respond to that. He's saying that --
Well, obviously I disagree with him, again.
You disagree with him. You don't think that people turn a blind eye to the rules?
I certainly know what we do here at the NCAA, and it is anything but turn a blind eye to the rules. We work very, very hard to enforce those rules.
Well, he says that from living inside the football program at University of Mississippi. You don't know what he sees, or you haven't seen what he sees or saw there.
Nor has he seen what I've seen.
OK. He says college sports is professional in every aspect but one: They don't pay the labor. You've got a labor force that is essentially indentured servants. They work for the college for four years, and not only do they not get paid; if anybody sees them benefiting in any way, they get thrown out. They're amateurs in a professional setting.
Well, I've already explained several times to you that my approach to this is fundamentally different, that these are student-athletes participating in an athletic activity on their campus at their institution, and they have access to the best educational opportunities that we find in the United States. And they have an opportunity to develop their skills and abilities should they decide that they want to and have the capacity to become a professional athlete. Mr. Lewis seems to think that that's not a fair bargain, and I disagree.
Well, he would say, as did almost everyone we interviewed, why do you have a one-year scholarship? If what you want to do is promote the education of the athlete coming in in this person who has some athletic abilities, why not give them a four-year ride?
We've answered this question several times now.
I know, I know. But I just see it in all these quotes from Michael Lewis, from economists --
Again, he's welcome to his opinion. I've answered that question several times.
So when he calls it "serfs of the turf" --
It's a cute line with which I completely disagree.
And he says the people being exploited are the weakest members of society. They're often poor, not terribly well-educated people from inner cities around the country who are kind of led to believe that everybody is acting in their interests when, in fact, they're being badly exploited. Not true?
I think that there is clearly a great deal of misunderstanding and misleading that goes on in society about the realistic prospects of people becoming professional athletes. I think it's grossly unfortunate that so many youngsters, especially minority youngsters, believe that the only route that they can find to success is through athletics, especially that they can become professional athletes, and that many people around them encourage them in that direction, and that we collectively ought to work very hard to get them to understand the realities; that they are far better off being as strong of students as they can possibly be.
If they go on to college and play athletics and are students, then they have a very high probability of success in life. If they decide that the only thing they're going to do is play basketball and not worry about their academics, then they're going to have a not particularly rosy future.
The notion of using basketball to be successful rather than basketball using you is a very apt one.
And that myth that you talked about that's prevalent in many parts of the country, and we've witnessed it -- signing days in high schools in different places -- isn't that myth perpetuated by the commercial advertising apparatus that wants the images of these kids and the use of them to sell their products, because then they'll sell more?
Well, I don't know. You would have to bring that up with them.
That's what they tell us.
Well, then you've answered your own question.
I mean, Mr. Vaccaro said the biggest commercial success in his life was the Final Four in 1985 when all four teams that were involved were wearing Nike apparel, and that made him a big hit among the youth, particularly in the African American community. In America, wherever he went, everyone wanted shoes.
Well, they've been very, very successful at marketing their shoes.
By using the bodies of student-athletes.
They're very successful at marketing their shoes.
I'm just wondering whether you have any comment -- I've read two depositions by your predecessor, Mr. Byers, whose opinions are like, diametrically opposite of yours. Have you ever read any quotes from him?
No, I have not.
You've never heard what he testified to?
No. I've not read his depositions, no.
Have you read his book?
I have not, no.
OK. Well, let me read one to you. ... He raises this issue, and let me just start there. The Division I teams produce most of the revenue, right, for the NCAA and for college athletics in general.
OK. They pay for the championships for [Division II and] Division III.
OK. So there's this cross-subsidy going on.
And the composition of these teams, the Division 1A teams, particularly the competitive teams, the bowl teams, the teams that will be on March Madness, they're primarily or in a majority, in many cases, African American. In football, it's a majority just recently, and in basketball, it has been for a while, right?
I assume so, yes.
Yeah. Doesn't that cross-subsidy seem odd?
That the African Americans are paying for sports, particularly many sports that are primarily white students involved?
The fans who are buying tickets and who are watching TV -- I don't know the composition of that audience. They're the ones that are paying. So what's the racial composition of people going to the Rose Bowl? I don't know what that is. What's the racial composition of the people watching TV that are paying the revenue stream that goes to subsidize that? I don't know what that is.
No, but what I'm getting at is that the people who are providing the entertainment for these people --
Ah, but you said they were paying, so that's different.
No, the people who are providing the entertainment are not being paid.
The student-athletes are student-athletes. They're not employees.
And they are participating in a game, and I think most of them are usually quite happy to be in the Final Four.
Has the NCAA ever done a study that would show that if you paid or created a fund for the players that they could tap after they leave sports, after they leave college, that in any way would interfere with the attraction of the game, the size of the audience, the amount of revenue that would come in?
I'm not aware of a study like that, no.
I mean, if you had the same rules that the Olympics had for athletes, that that would change the amount of audience participation or revenue that you would take in?
I've not seen a study like that. Why would one want to do that?
Well, because you're constantly seeing articles in the paper about [Auburn University quarterback] Cam Newton's father or some player who's had an episode, ... and you have to answer those questions over and over and over again.
And it seems almost like an impossible balance that you're trying to maintain: a multibillion-dollar business in which you have "amateur athletes" who do get some payment, actually. They get a scholarship; they room and board; they get remuneration. And yet they don't get enough, for example -- especially if they come from a lower-income group -- to have their parents or families come to a championship game.
As I pointed out, there may be circumstances like that, but I think it's really an inaccurate characterization to assume that that's what's going on and that players' families can't go to ball games, and therefore, they are not being appropriately supported while they're student-athletes.
We provide, as I said, a $54 million fund to provide student-athletes with support if they need it above and beyond their room, board, tuition and fees, so that they can have access to most of the things that one would consider part of a full-ride experience.
So are you advocating that we then pay them after they finish for their work while they were a student? Is that what you're saying?
The suggestion has been made that rather than pay them a salary, if they're making money for the university or for the NCAA, that a trust fund be set up and that students in need, for instance, who haven't finished college or don't have the ability to finish without a scholarship, who are injured, who have some family need, that the NCAA pay for that after they've left, so you don't have to count it as part of an income while they're there.
Well, your argument again presupposes the notion that these are employees and that they are making windfall profits for institutions, both of which are fallacies. They are students; they're not employees. And 14 schools in the United States had a positive cash flow coming off their athletic programs. The vast majority of athletic programs in America are subsidized by universities to provide more opportunities for student-athletes, not the other way around.
Well, there's an argument out there that universities shouldn't be maintaining these -- particularly in these tough times -- these athletic departments because they can't afford to do it.
I certainly understand that, and if your argument is that athletics in America should be stopped at the collegiate level, then you can make that argument. I think most Americans and most universities and most student-athletes would not support that approach.
Here's what your predecessor said: The one-year grant[-in-aid] was a pay contract -- it's a contract of a one-year term enforced at the national level by what essentially is a cartel, and it's time to change that. The one-year pay scheme is outdated, and there should be drastic changes in the rules. He was sitting in your chair for 20 years.
I've never had a chance to chat with him about it, and so I don't fully understand his argument. I'm more than happy to chat with him.
You don't have any response to that.
He says the athlete is unfairly restricted by the financial aid rules, which are imposed upon him by the people who benefit most from this billion-dollar entertainment industry, and the rules governing the athletes should be liberalized and changed.
Well, we've been talking about those issues throughout the interview, and I think you know my positions on them.
But it's startling that a man who was there at sort of the real creation -- not the original creation of the NCAA, but its postwar expansion into the late 1980s, when many of the precedents had already been set that you've inherited, should come to that conclusion.
Again, I haven't chatted with him, so I don't know what's led him to those conclusions.
You don't see the NCAA caught in a bind right now between maintaining the amateur status of a small group of your athletes, 5,000 at most, out of the 400,000, in order to continue the system the way it is?
I think we have to be very, very vigilant about protecting the entire collegiate model. And the fact of the matter is there are all of those commercial pressures you've been talking about. And we need to work hard to make sure that we can draw as clear a line as we can about providing professional support for student-athletes while the student-athletes themselves maintain their student status and their amateur status. And I think that's a challenging thing to do.
And the pressure to have a winning team, which often leads to violations when you have more and more money involved, doesn't that continue -- it's just going to generate more and more scandals?
If you go back and read the history of intercollegiate athletics in America, one of the interesting and continuing themes is the pressure to be competitive, quite independent of whether there was financial consideration involved. And it led to a variety of cheating and a variety of rules violations. And indeed, it was there at the formation of the NCAA over 100 years ago.
So I assume that those kind of pressures to be successful on the field and on the court are going to continue to maintain themselves, and we have to work very hard to oppose them.
You know, I wonder why you're so sensitive about your remuneration here at the NCAA.
I'm not sensitive about it. I simply don't talk about it.
You know, the criticism is, of your predecessor's salary, and I assume yours will be similar, is that it's -- how many employees do you have?
There are about 450 employees here at the university, at the NCAA.
Right. Nonprofits that are many, many times as big, from the Red Cross to the YMCA--
I had 37,000 employees at the University of Washington.
Right. But nonprofits --
Well, the University of Washington is a nonprofit.
Right, and you had 37,000 employees. Now you have how many?
Right. Four hundred fifty.
And you're probably going to make more money here. And so the criticism is, why is this? Why this inflation of salaries in something called college sports, basically, whether it's coaches, athletic directors or the president of the NCAA, when the players, when the athletes are kept in what we'd call tight financial circumstances?
I can't say often enough, obviously, that student-athletes are students; they are not employees. ...
Well, as I recall it, as [Baylor's] graduation rate has plummeted over the years, they did manage finally to make the March Madness tournament last year. In fact, it's a startling little curve --
Is it? I haven't seen it.
As their graduation rate decreased, they made the tournament in 2008 and last year. And the coaches' salaries have been rising in Division I. Apparently Division II and III haven't been that affected. And here's a question that someone in the business asked us to ask you, actually. It's really a simple question: What's your number one priority, the students or the institutions?
The students. The students and their success, their success as students, in their academic progress, their success in their ability to compete and perform in their sport at the very highest level they're capable of, and their success in growing and developing as people. ...