BATON ROUGE, La. — NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday that he’s willing to help create a playoff format to decide a national championship for the top level of college football.
However, that won’t happen unless the leaders of institutions fielding teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision want to make such a change after contracts with the current Bowl Championship series expire in 2014.
“If the leadership of those universities … want to move in that direction, then the NCAA knows how to run championships and we’d be happy to help,” Emmert said while speaking at the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, of which he was a member while serving as LSU’s chancellor from 1999 to 2004.
Emmert stopped short of endorsing a playoff, saying that the NCAA also sees value in the bowl system, particularly the way it expands opportunities for athletes to participate in postseason play.
“We had 35 bowls this year, some of which were big and some of which were small, but the one thing I know about every one of them is, 70 teams loved playing in them,” Emmert said. “Kids love playing bowl games. Schools love participating in bowl games and everybody knows that, so it’s finding that right balance that I think is going to be challenging.”
While Emmert likely won’t be dealing substantively with the possibility of a football playoff for a few years, he has been presented with a number of immediate challenges since assuming the NCAA’s top post a little more than five months ago.
He has taken a lot of criticism concerning the NCAA’s handling of the Cam Newton matter, and college athletics has been generating a number of other negative off-the-field headlines concerning players receiving improper benefits, improper contact between players and agents, as well as recruiting violations and even trouble with the law.
Now one of his immediate challenges is ensuring the NCAA maintains credibility with the public.
“The integrity of the collegiate model of athletics right now is challenged in lots of ways,” Emmert said. “Any time you’ve got high-profile, controversial cases, people walk away scratching their head and we had some of those this year. We have to be clear about what our values are, what we’re trying to promote, how we go about our business.”
New rules are in the works that would deal with what Emmert referred to as “third parties,” which could apply to parents, agents or any other associate looking to profit from a relationship with a college athlete.
In Newton’s case, the third party was his father Cecil, who, according to NCAA findings, sought $180,000 from Mississippi State for his son’s commitment out of junior college before Cam Newton instead went to Auburn, where he won the Heisman Trophy this season and led the Tigers to a national title.
The NCAA did not punish Cam Newton for the violation his father committed because it said it found no evidence that the player or Auburn knew about Cecil Newton’s pay-for-play scheme.
Only months before the Newton scandal, Southern California lost scholarships and was hit with a two-season bowl ban after an NCAA probe found Reggie Bush, while still at USC, and his family received improper benefits from people who wanted to represent him after he turned pro. Soon after, Bush relinquished his claim to the 2005 Heisman Trophy.
When the 2010 college football season opened, LSU faced a North Carolina squad missing 13 players because a probe into improper contact between agents and players, as well as academic violations.
The NCAA has panels investigating a number of issues, Emmert said, including, “Why is it that student athletes think they need an agent in that circumstance, or a third party that’s promoting them? How do those relationships get started?
“How do we give them the information they need to make a thoughtful decision instead of listening to someone who’s whispering in their ear who may not necessarily have their best interest at heart?”
How long it takes for those panel discussions to produce new rules remains to be seen.
“It’s going to take us a while to get a clear set of proposals, but we’ve got a lot of people who are interested in it,” Emmert said. “Everybody understands that this is a serious problem in football and basketball.”
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