NCAA president Mark Emmert is in denial. There's just no other way to explain the following statement he gave Monday at the same time he told a gathering at Marquette that virtually no university president thinks it's a good idea to turn student-athletes into paid employees.
Said Emmert in response to the notion that big schools and small schools are struggling to find common ground on a number of topics large and small:
"They're having a real hard time finding common interests."
Really? If almost no university president wants to pay athletes, how can they not find common interests?
On the other hand, how can almost no university president want to pay athletes when Emmert also declared, "[There's] enormous tension right now that's growing between the collegiate model and the commercial model. That tension has been going on forever and ever. It has gotten greater now because the magnitude of dollars has gotten really, really large"?
Some would say that tension has gotten really, really large of late mostly because of Emmert, who almost certainly has been the most divisive leader in NCAA history.
Regardless of the nightmare that was the Penn State child-abuse scandal, many believe he overstepped his power on that issue. Nor could his investigative arm have screwed up the University of Miami booster scandal any worse if it had tried. Yet his gumshoes steadfastly have appeared to ignore the North Carolina academic mess, which has done nothing to cool charges from some corners of the NCAA's reputation for selective enforcement.
(Side note: It is at this point in any column regarding the NCAA that it becomes appropriate, if not mandatory to trot out the wisdom of former UNLV basketball coach and lifelong NCAA critic Jerry Tarkanian, who once said, "The NCAA's so mad at Kentucky it will probably slap another two years' probation on Cleveland State.")
And we haven't even gotten to the new scandal at Oklahoma State due to a Sports Illustrated investigation, and the sports agents-paying-players investigation by Yahoo!, which threatens SEC members Mississippi State, Tennessee and two-time defending national champ Alabama.
So the whole enterprise is about as stable as Syria right now and apparently getting worse.
But there is a solution. Maybe. And it might not even involve axing Emmert, though that should always remain an option.
First, start over. From scratch. Give the entire NCAA membership a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for any transgression that occurred before the start of the current school year. Doesn't matter if you got grades you didn't earn, got paid for work you didn't do or for autographs you signed. Doesn't matter what you did or didn't do in the privacy of your free hotel room with the university hostesses who hopefully weren't paid to show you a good time.
The only thing that matters is the future. Starting now. We're going to write a rules book that looks more like a steno pad than the New York City phone book. We're going to spend much more time getting these athletes ready to enter the real world as productive citizens rather than pampered punks.
We're going to teach them how to create a budget that allows them to live within their means. We're going to teach them how to properly treat a member of the opposite sex at all times. We're going to teach them that most drugs -- both PEDs and recreational -- are always to be avoided. We're going to teach them that real friends bring up money only when asking if you need any, not the other way around, and that the only agents worth having never make a dime off you until you pay them.
Beyond that, we're going to hammer home that these athletes are getting paid, and quite handsomely in many cases, by getting a full ride at a major college. And to underscore that point, we're going to make them work at a real job to pay for any class they fail the first time. Let them dig ditches or flip burgers one summer for minimum wage in order to regain their eligibility, and maybe all this talk of how they're being taken advantage of would come to an end.
Lastly, to borrow a line from Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, it's time to steer all these athletes capable of such work toward "meaningful degrees" that don't force them eventually to work in a booster's company to make ends meet.
One other thing: When violations do occur, the NCAA no longer has the final say. An outside panel of three, five or seven lay people with past collegiate athletic experience but no conference ties to the school in question should serve as an appeals board.
For instance, if Alabama is found guilty by the NCAA, no one with a tie to an SEC school or a school that the Tide beat during its window of wrongs can hear the appeal.
Finally, take some of that TV money and help the families of athletes in their senior year be able see their children play in championship events -- be it bowl games, the Final Four or a World Series. Further allow individual schools to pay for families of needy athletes to see their children play at least one game a year as the school sees fit. Let's start treating these less fortunate families as we would want to be treated if our child were playing and we couldn't afford to watch them live.
But assuming the NCAA does what it usually does and makes a bad situation worse, you might want to purchase a pair of earplugs to muffle both the laughter and anger over one other thing Emmert said at Marquette.
"One of the guiding principles [of the NCAA]," he observed, reportedly with a straight face, "has been that this is about students who play sports."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.