Canzano: Pac-12 joins rally cry for NCAA change
Commissioner George Kliavkoff has some moxie doesn't he?
The NCAA is getting a new boss. Mark Emmert announced he’s leaving the post after spending 12 years carefully running the entity in circles. He’ll stay on the job until June 2023 or whenever the NCAA hires his replacement.
Sports Illustrated called Emmert a “calamitous captain.”
The New York Times termed his impending exit “stormy.”
Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel wrote that Emmert’s tenure was marked with “inertia, ineffectiveness and incompetence.”
Yup. But Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff may have best summarized the scene with a tweet on Tuesday night. Wrote Kliavkoff: “As the Wizard of Westwood once said…” and the commissioner posted a John Wooden quote that read, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
It was more scalpel than sledgehammer. But Kliavkoff got his point across beautifully.
Emmert, 69, got a contract extension by his Board of Governors a year ago. It was supposed to carry him through 2025. Make no mistake, this was a calculated and shove out the door by the NCAA. It couldn’t afford to wait a day longer.
Emmert will be treated like a piñata in the coming months. He deserves it. His failure to lead has left the NCAA an eroded mess. Athletic directors have been crying for new leadership for years. They’re now looking to federal lawmakers for help in trying to reel in a name, image, likeness dynamic that has pitted wealthy booster groups against each other, buying high school talent on the open market.
The NCAA members had to move on Emmert. He couldn’t lead. Nobody would follow him anymore if he tried. These times call for a massive overhaul of major college athletics. The NCAA needs to figure out what it wants to be.
The scene was laughable earlier this month when Emmert arrived at the men’s NCAA Tournament Final Four. Kansas won the title and cut down the nets, all while still being under investigation by the NCAA for major infractions that should have been settled long ago.
Here’s another one — Portland State and the University of Oregon both fall under the authority of the NCAA. They play each other at times in college football. PSU will report approximately $15 million in athletic department expenses in the next fiscal year amid questions about its future. Oregon will spend in excess of $100 million and have a booster collective helping land six and seven-figure endorsement packages for its athletes.
These two animals are not the same. Neither are McNeese State and LSU. We all can plainly see the separation. So why do the “haves” and “have-nots” still operate under the same section of the NCAA handbook?
The end of competitive equity?
Blow the whole thing up?
We’re at a critical juncture in NCAA history. Emmert’s replacement doesn’t have to come from the world of college athletics but that person needs to understand it. The hire will also need to be a non-traditional thinker. The times demand it. The NCAA has drifted woefully out of touch with college athletes and I fear that if the entity doesn’t experience a quick correction it will never find its way back.
I like that Kliavkoff fired a public brush-back pitch at the NCAA on Tuesday. He’s got some moxie. If Kliavkoff weren’t so new on the job in the Pac-12 I’d wonder if he were the NCAA’s solution. “King George” sees the benefit of rallying people around the notion of change and college athletics desperately needs it.
Jennifer Cohen, the Washington athletic director, told me last summer that she was concerned about the direction of the NCAA. Oregon State AD Scott Barnes echoed that in a conversation with me a week ago at the Beavers’ spring game. Washington State’s Pat Chun said he believes it will take congressional intervention to fix college sports. None of what we’re seeing here is a surprise to anyone who is paying attention. Except maybe Emmert’s timeline, which feels unnecessarily extended.
But still hanging around?
Emmert is paid $51,923 a week — A WEEK — in salary. Like Wooden said… failure isn’t bad by itself. But if you don’t change amid failure, you haven’t got a chance.
DEFENSIVE TAKE: Former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was at the Ducks’ spring football game calling the game for the Pac-12 network. He told me he thinks UO quarterback Bo Nix will start the season opener at Georgia, but he’s not ready to hand Ty Thompson the role of No. 2 quarterback. In fact, Aliotti ranked the performances of the Oregon spring game like this:
Keep an eye on that race. Former Oregon Assistant Nate Costa told me that he’s a big fan of Butterfield, too.
Said Costa: “He’s the son of a coach. He understands offense. I think he also has a photographic memory and can kind of build plays in his head and he processes information really well. What Ty has in arm strength Jay has in accuracy and ball placement… I think he’s someone players gravitate towards. He’s one of those guys you don’t notice in years one, two, three but in years four and five you say, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s draft-able’.”
More good stuff…
• I also asked Aliotti for his NFL Draft analysis of Kayvon Thibodeaux. Aliotti said he likes Thibodeaux’s first step and pass rushing ability but said, “I thought he was very, very disruptive but there were other games where he disappeared. To be an elite guy you have to show up every weekend. Good player. He’ll go early because of his pass rush skills but to me there are a few holes.”
• Mike Yam of the NFL Network is a big fan of Thibodeaux and thinks he’ll be a star at the next level. Yam will join me today on the statewide radio show at 4 p.m. PT. Tune into 750-AM in Portland or listen in Eugene (1050-AM), Klamath Falls (960-AM) and Roseburg (1490-AM). Or you can stream the show live 3p-6p weekdays
• Don’t be surprised when Washington State president Kirk Schulz emerges as a candidate for the NCAA president job. Schulz is smart, understands sports, and would be a breath of fresh air. There is one problem out of his control, though. Outgoing president Mark Emmert came to the NCAA from the University of Washington. Would the NCAA turn to the Pacific Northwest twice?
• Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a great piece today about legislation in California that would change the economic model for Pac-12 and Mountain West schools. It’s worth your time.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared my new independent endeavor with friends and family. If you haven’t already — please consider subscribing.
Emmert seems to be an example of the same archetype that produced Larry Scott: characterized by stubborn arrogance, unwarranted pomposity and a dedication to following the fixed compass-point of "that's how we've always done it". It led Scott over the cliff & out of a job, but the weight of Scott's tenure [and his golden parachute] has almost taken the Pac-12 down with him. An impartial observer can draw similar parallels to Emmert and his reign at the NCAA.
In reality, the NCAA does only one thing well: it successfully runs the men's March Madness tournament. In most other situations it fails to adapt to the shifting social, cultural & economic components that make up the interplay between academics & athletics.
Conference leaders and Presidents need to work quickly to figure out whether the NCAA's structure is malleable enough to use going forward. Can you retrofit a Model-T to race with a McLaren? In this case, past results suggest future returns, and they are not encouraging.
Regardless, I hope the NCAA "board" chooses a different archetype in its search for a new leader.
John - excellent compilation of the NCAA and subsequent dilemma. Thanks.