By the end of July last year, the NCAA board had decided it was time for the association to rewrite its constitution in an attempt to maintain a minimum of relevance and perhaps give it a bigger shield in the courts. Although a new NCAA is still taking shape, the college sports industry is rapidly moving toward a landscape where the Indianapolis-based association is more of an event organizer than a reigning overlord.
Greg Sankey, one of Emmert’s rivals for influence and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, perhaps the most influential league in college sports, has said the association “needs to be reconsidered across the board.” A committee led by Sankey is expected to issue recommendations later this year on how to change Division I, the most prominent and lucrative series of NCAA-sponsored sports.
To a certain extent, Emmert, despite a high title, has always been only so powerful. As Emmert, a trained political scientist, has long been quick to point out, the association is a representative democracy, largely governed by its approximately 1,100 member colleges and universities of varying sizes, budgets and sporting ambitions. And his efforts to strengthen the NCAA’s reach and authority, which when the association moved to punish Penn State after a scandal of sexual abuse, have sometimes faltered.
He has also been blamed for shortcomings, such as the association’s legal strategy and its glacial response to calls for modernization. Until Tuesday, however, the board had not signaled any plans for a change of leadership, and Emmert had not openly stated that an exit plan was on the way.
In an interview in January 2021, he had said that his continued tenure would depend on his belief, as well as that of the board, that he could “make a positive contribution and provide good leadership.”
“I like to work,” he said then. “I enjoy doing this. Obviously I have my frustrations, but I have no interest in moving away from this for so long as long as I contribute and get to do something important for college athletics. . “
The next challenge for the association will be to find Emmert’s successor, who will certainly be pressured hard to unite a membership that seems to burst more for each debate. The job is well compensated – Emmert has earned several million dollars a year according to NCAA tax applications – but criticism is a guarantee of the concert.
And these days, in the wake of Emmert’s tenure, it will probably hover near the low point of its power and prestige.