Mark Emmert’s 12-year tenure as the president of the NCAA is coming to an end by June 30, 2023, or sooner if the NCAA board members find his successor before then.[ii] During his tenure as president, Emmert and the NCAA have been criticized for mismanaging just about everything, from fighting an outdated amateurism collegiate model in the courts and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and plaintiffs’ awards, to embarrassing gender inequities in the last year’s March Madness tournaments, to picking and choosing which schools to penalize for sexual assault scandals, to introducing the Independent Accountability Resolution Process that extended the adjudication of significant infractions from months to years.[iii]
The next NCAA president will inherit numerous issues, including the antiquated governing process of the NCAA, the expanding economic rights of student-athletes that have destabilized old recruiting modes and led to mass transfers and commercial and regulatory chaos, and the competing agendas of the country’s most powerful athletic departments.[iv]
The convoluted structure, slow pace, and inability of the NCAA to foresee changing attitudes both within college sports and publicly/politically under Emmert’s reign have placed the NCAA in a weak position.[v] Emmert’s NCAA was unable to modernize its outdated rules and effectively enforce the rules it did have. Currently, all three divisions of the NCAA are in the process of rewriting their constitutions to streamline and decentralize the current antiquated governing process.[vi] As a result, it is unclear what powers the next NCAA president will hold.
The inability to get ahead on NIL ultimately doomed Emmert’s tenure and damaged public confidence in the NCAA. Currently, a lack of nationwide oversight combined with rule changes allowing student-athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness (NIL) and transfer to new schools more freely is threatening to erase the gap between college and professional sports.[vii] At the very least, the NCAA has to find a way to provide some structure to the current NIL environment, not necessarily to limit what student-athletes can earn but to regulate the way NIL attorneys and agents are setting up NIL deals as recruiting inducements to steer student-athletes to certain schools.[viii] Ideally, Emmert’s successor will have the political skills necessary to implement a national solution for the varying slates of state laws affecting college athletics across the country.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is defending against multiple attempts to reclassify student-athletes as employees of their schools.[ix] The NCAA is trying to convince the National Labor Relations Board that those same athletes are students rather than employees in a multi-billion dollar industry.[x] On the flip-side, attempting to manage the would-be employers wouldn’t be a simple task, either. The richest and most powerful conferences have already started to question the confines of the NCAA, and there is a growing desire among those conferences to operate away from the NCAA as much as possible.[xi] Those conferences will only continue to become richer and more powerful as they sign new media rights contracts and potentially revamp the College Football Playoff—two decisions the NCAA president currently has no control over.[xii]
Yet, as bad as things appear to be, there is still value in a president that can be more of a visionary of what lies ahead in the evolution of college athletics. The next NCAA president is going to have to get creative to figure out the mess of issues currently plaguing college sports. A successful NCAA president must be able to work in tandem with conference commissioners, school presidents, and student-athletes to provide structure to the everchanging collegiate landscape.[xiii] Ultimately, the next president must push a more aggressive, forward-thinking, and transparent agenda to get things done.
While finding the next NCAA president will not be easy, there are plenty of qualified candidates to step in and lead the NCAA. A few of the top candidates to replace Emmert include (1) Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball; (2) Val Ackerman, Big East commissioner and the first president of the WNBA (1996-2005); (3) Linda Livingstone, Baylor president; (4) Jim Clements, Clemson president; (5) Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and former member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee; (6) Kirk Schulz, Washington State president, former president in the Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12, and former chair of the NCAA Board of Governors from 2015-17.[xiv]
However, the ideal person to lead the NCAA next is Robert Gates. Gates, the former US Secretary of Defense and CIA director, served on the NCAA Board of Governors and was the constitution committee chairman.[xv] In only five months, Gates achieved a rewrite of the NCAA constitution, streamlining the constitution by reducing it by more than half from 43 to 18 pages, and winning approval for the overhaul by the overwhelming majority with a vote of 801-195.[xvi] No one else comes close to Gates’s qualifications or credibility in regards to implementing effective change at large institutions with sprawling inefficiencies, such as the NCAA left behind from Emmert’s tenure.