Wiedmer: Emmert needs to hit home run in O'Bannon trial

Wiedmer: Emmert needs to hit home run in O'Bannon trial

June 19th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev., in this 2010 file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

I'm going to do something today I never previously thought was possible. I'm going to root for NCAA President Mark Emmert to have a good effort on the witness stand in the (Ed) O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial in Oakland, Calif.

I'm usually about as fond of Emmert as I am traffic jams, rain delays and my daughters watching "Toddlers and Tiaras." But as much as I hate the NCAA, I hate thinking of college athletics without the NCAA even more. Emmert's pompous presidency aside, college athletics' governing body does more good than harm.

It tries to level the playing field, however foolhardy that notion may have become for money machines such as Southeastern Conference. It also runs 89 separate national championships at the Division I, II and III levels, most of those eating up a good deal of the nearly $900 million the organization reaps yearly from its Division I men's basketball championship.

And however much it sometimes fails those at the top of the food chain, college sports without a strong NCAA would appear to be headed toward anarchy.

So even if it may ultimately lose some power in the O'Bannon case when it comes to paying student-athletes, the NCAA needs to lose little enough to continue its current business model everywhere save the big five conferences of the SEC, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12.

Which is where Emmert comes in. Unfortunately. Expecting Emperor Emmert to carry the day against the O'Bannon legal team is like expecting the Atlanta Braves' Dan Uggla to swat a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. It could happen. It might happen. But you'd be more likely to go out on blind date with Kate Upton.

After all, this is the same Emmert who many believe wildly overstepped his boundaries in the Penn State sex abuse scandal involving former Nittany Lions assistant Jerry Sandusky in order to gain public trust and support.

This is the same Emmert who oversaw the worst botching of a seemingly air-tight rules infraction case against Miami Hurricanes athletics, then somehow failed to see the hypocrisy of its Miami mess by stubbornly refusing to grant relief to Southern Cal in a heavy-handed penalty overseen by the same Miami AD who was in charge during the 'Canes shame.

This is also the same Emmert who came across as arrogant and defensive during a 2013 press conference at the Atlanta Final Four, first smugly announcing, "People aren't always thrilled when things are different. We've, of course, been making a lot of things different," before adding:

"I think when we're moved toward a more presidentially-driven decision structure; that's a good one. But we shoved athletic directors, coaches to a certain extent, commissioners too far to the sides. So we haven't had enough conversations what policies and procedures mean on the grass-roots level."

In other words, an imperial presidency that more and more people would love to shove aside.

Then there was this year's Final Four in Dallas, where Emmert characterized college athletes unionizing as "grossly inappropriate" and "completely ridiculous."

What's the line credited to everyone from Socrates to Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain? ... "It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubts."

That should be tattooed to Emmert's forehead. But unless he pleads the Fifth all day in U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's courtroom, he'll have to talk at some point. And while he might want to say as little as possible, what he should say is that for all its imperfections -- including hiring a cowardly lion like himself -- the NCAA is actually more than 1,100 institutions of higher learning, most of them doing the best by both their students and student-athletes.

And while athletes certainly deserve money for avatars in video games that are made to look like them, and from jerseys carrying their numbers, much of the rest of this needs to go away.

After all, while it's true that football and men's basketball players make the school more money than the players receive back during their years of eligibility, how does one measure what those years of exposure do for their careers after their eligibility runs out. How much more do they make in the real world simply because they're well-known college athletes?

Beyond that, how much more will they make over the course of their lives because of a degree they might never have obtained had they not been athletes? Especially those who were admitted to schools with sub-standard academic qualifications simply because they were athletes. When is that going to become an argument?

In his snippy 2013 Final Four press conference, Emmert defensively said, "If you're not getting sued today, you're not doing anything."

Well, the NCAA is getting sued and many believe it is losing. So Emperor Emmert needs to do anything and everything possible to win his day in court. Given that Uggla's batting .164 for the Braves, I'd say Emmert's at least as likely as that to hit a game-winner for his employer.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com