3 Offseason Thoughts: Emmert The Money Man

Staff Columnist
Posted Apr 29, 2010

The most noteworthy stories from the past seven days all seem to revolve around one thing: money. More specifically, these stories revolve around money being tossed around at high levels in ways that seem to elude the public, and for reasons that are often less than crystal clear.

1) Let's start with the true headliner, the selection of University of Washington President Mark Emmert as the new (permanent) CEO of the NCAA, effective November 1. Just why was Emmert tabbed to replace the late (and honorable) Myles Brand? Could it be that – as mentioned in the NCAA's press release – the University of Washington ranked "second among all public and private institutions in research funding with $1 billion in grants and contracts per year" under Emmert's watch? The Seattle Times ran a lengthy profile of Emmert on April 30, 2006 – almost four years ago to the day – in which the UW president's job was revealed as a nonstop parade of gladhanding, schmoozing, wining, dining, and reeling in big bucks from well-heeled donors. Reporter Nick Perry quoted Emmert as saying that his calendar was full of one activity: "Friendraising."

Some other things about Emmert: His overall compensation package steadily increased in value during his tenure in Seattle, reaching $900,000 in mid-November of 2007 and hitting a peak of $906,500 when he was awarded a new five-year contract last September. That's less than what a mediocre NBA player makes in a year, but it's more than every other public university president in the United States with the sole exception of Ohio State's E. Gordon Gee. The mansion which housed Emmert's family (like the families of most, if not all, UW presidents) costs $40,000 a month to operate. Emmert also has a number of other side jobs that have pushed him over the $1 million mark in annual earnings.

The point of mentioning these details is not to say Emmert stole money at UW. He was expected to raise money, and he did so. Accordingly, he was rewarded by the Board of Regents. Moreover, people in the corporate world with far worse track records are pulling in many more bucks than Emmert. The former LSU chancellor who came to Washington in 2004 is not the cause of college athletics' problems.

Emmert's life and lifestyle are, however, representative of a larger reality that can't be pinned on one person. So much money floats around – in college athletics and among academic institutions in general – that we should be able to give at least some degree of compensation to people who deserve it but aren't getting it. This applies to the 850 University of Washington employees who lost their jobs due to cuts during the Emmert presidency, and it also applies to the athletes at Washington and all other schools across America who don't get a piece of the pie. And sorry, scholarships and shoes and some other per-diem goodies don't come close to representing a true payment for all the work and sacrifice athletes devote to their craft.

Perhaps Mark Emmert will improve the way the NCAA manages its financial resources. Pardon those of us who are skeptical. Pardon those who doubt that athletes and other people at the lower ends of a massive money structure won't be given a chunk of a very large mass of revenue that floats around at higher levels without ever flowing downward.

2) Dear Mr. Emmert, we don't need the 35 bowls the NCAA has just approved for the next full BCS rotation through the 2013 season. Bring your ax when these games come under annual review. And oh, one other thing: Break up these old, stale Big Ten-SEC tie-ins. Give the bowls themselves the ability to do real horsetrading and create mad-scientist matchups that will freshen up late-December evenings. If you really want to perpetuate the bowl system, let's try to make some money within a framework of sanity and accountability for all people with an investment in college football. That includes emotional and competitive investments as well as monetary ones forged through backroom dealing.

3) In other news, how about the money that gets thrown around at the NFL Draft? Could someone please explain to me why Jonathan Crompton got drafted ahead of Dan LeFevour, or why high-character Tim Tebow went so high while high-character Myron Rolle dropped so far down the board? Can someone please explain why Sam Bradford – he who did not throw at the scouting combine – went No. 1, while Colt McCoy – also physically frail – fell to the third round? Those were just a few of the dozens upon dozens of brain-busters that emerged from the recent meat market in New York.

Given the apparently arbitrary nature of the whole business, shouldn't we drop the pretense that elite football players (Myron Rolle being a notable exception who is conspicuous in his uniqueness) are in school to crack books instead of pads? More to the point, if all this money is sitting on the table for athletes who CAN'T GET PAID WHILE IN SCHOOL, shouldn't the boundaries between the college game and the pros become ever more permeable, albeit in the right ways and for the right reasons? Perhaps certain teams had their own reasons for making certain picks; fair enough. On a larger structural level, however, the system is definitely broken. Lots of money – floating high above the less powerful people who aren't able to exert their own leverage within huge frameworks – is being wasted and mis-spent. There has to be a better way of running the NFL Draft and governing professional eligibility, just as there has to be a better way of administering the bowl system and operating the NCAA as a whole.