INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NCAA President Mark Emmert is stepping down after 12 tumultuous years at the helm of an association that has become increasingly marginalized as college sport has undergone massive change and been besieged by political and legal attacks.
NCAA Board of Governors Chairman John DeGioia announced the decision on Tuesday and said it was by mutual agreement. Emmert, 69, will continue in office until a new president is in place or until June 30, 2023.
The move is not entirely a surprise. The NCAA remains the largest governing body in college athletics, but it has come under heavy criticism for years for being too cumbersome and even outdated, with Emmert being the primary target.
Emmert guided the NCAA through the most transformative period in the organization’s more than 100-year history. Over the past decade, athletes have gained more power, advantage, and money-making ability than ever before. Amateurism has been redefined.
But Emmert was seen by some not as a catalyst for change, but as an obstacle in the way – or at least reactive instead of proactive.
“Throughout my tenure, I have emphasized the need to focus on the student-athlete experience and priorities,” Emmert said in an NCAA statement. “I am extremely proud of the work of the association over the past 12 years and especially pleased with the hard work and dedication of the national office staff here in Indianapolis.”
The announcement comes a year after the board approved a contract extension for Emmert through 2025, a move that has left many college sportsmen perplexed. Emmert’s salary was nearly $3 million in 2021.
The NCAA has suffered a string of damaging legal losses over the past decade, culminating in last year’s 9-0 Supreme Court ruling against the association in an antitrust case. The decision undermined the NCAA’s ability to govern college sports and resulted in a complete overhaul of how it operates.
Years after losing an antitrust case over the NCAA’s use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses, the association finally changed its rules last June to allow athletes to profit as sponsors and paid endorsers. The move only came after state lawmakers passed laws aimed at neutralizing the power of the NCAA. With Congress unwilling to provide federal protection, the NCAA was unable to regulate NIL activity with uniform rules, prompting further criticism.
Emmert has been called before lawmakers in Washington several times over the past two years. Attacking Emmert and the NCAA has become one of the few things that has united Democrats and Republicans in these divisive political times.
Emmert was named to the role in April 2010. He had led the University of Washington and LSU before taking over at Indianapolis. He replaced Myles Brand, who held the post for seven years before dying of cancer in 2009.
The job Emmert entered became increasingly difficult as major college sports such as college football and basketball grew into billion-dollar businesses.
NCAA revenue has grown to more than $1 billion a year under Emmert, mostly from television deals for the men’s college basketball tournament, with most of the money redistributed to more than 1,100 schools members with nearly 500,000 athletes.
Yet the disparity between what the wealthiest schools bring in versus what the vast majority of schools spend on athletics has made it difficult for all of them to coexist under one umbrella organization.
NCAA member schools adopted a new constitution in January and are “transforming the structure and mission to meet future needs.”
“With the significant transitions underway within college sports, the timing of this decision provides the association with consistent leadership over the coming months, as well as an opportunity to consider what the future role of the president will be,” said said DeGioia. “It also allows the next president to be selected and recruited without disruption.”
In a lengthy interview with AP in August, just months after coming under fire for the NCAA’s failure to provide fair facilities and equipment to male and female basketball players competing in Division I tournaments, Emmert said he was still passionate about the mission of a premier college sport in volatile times.
“And I’m not surprised people say, ‘You know, why isn’t this getting sorted out? What does Emmert do? ” he told AP. “And people too, they want to look at somebody and say, ‘Well, fix that, damn it! And I understand that. I understand. And I say it sometimes in the mirror. But the truth is that it is a very complex system. I think we have to find ways to solve this problem and to rationalize it.
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