Anaheim, Calif.—Nearly 2,000 athletics officials got a glimpse this morning of how their new leader, Mark A. Emmert, plans to tackle the thorniest issues in college sports when he takes the reins of the NCAA in November.
Mr. Emmert, president of the University of Washington, was tapped in April to be the next president of the NCAA. He gave his first major speech in that new role—“a bit of a coming-out party,” he called it —during the annual meeting here of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Speaking in a darkened ballroom, his face projected on two giant screens, Mr. Emmert hinted at how he will approach some of the challenges that have dogged college sports in recent years: financial sustainability, balance between academics and athletics, and the sensitive—but central—role of commercial activities in producing revenue.
“The ongoing examination … of the financial structure of intercollegiate athletics is one of the things I will focus time and energy on,” Mr. Emmert said. “We are stewards, and with that stewardship comes great responsibilities.”
The president-in-waiting touched on a number of topics in his 25-minute speech, including academic standards for athletes and the recent realignment of three major athletics conferences. (“It is not my job or the NCAA’s job to say which school should go where,” he said of the reshuffling, “but it is important for us to talk about why realignment should occur and pay attention to the motivations.”)
But he saved his most expansive remarks for the role of commercial activity in college athletics. Signaling that he may be inclined to draw a careful line between “good” and “bad” commercialism, just as his predecessor, Myles Brand, was careful to do, Mr. Emmert said athletics departments are wise to contemplate how to pay for their programs. And in the university setting, they are not alone in doing so, he added.
“The fact that we in university environments care about and worry about our revenue sources is not a sin,” he said. As a university president charged with raising significant sums from donors and lawmakers, for instance, “I feel perfectly comfortable asking people for millions and millions of dollars because I know where that money is going,” he said.
But Mr. Emmert urged the athletics officials to be mindful of an “erosion” of the unique model of intercollegiate athletics. Such a change, he said, won’t come in a “frontal assault.” Instead, it would likely creep up, bit by bit, through a more intense involvement in commercial activities. “We have to be constantly vigilant about that,” he said.