NCAA president Mark Emmert has a message for University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg and any other university administrator who has recently changed conferences or is thinking about doing so.
Emmert wants them to show him the money. Specifically, Emmert is interested in where the increased revenue streams generated from switching conference affiliation are going.
"First and foremost, with conference realignment, I have been urging university presidents to keep their eye on the ball," Emmert said Tuesday morning after a speaking engagement at the national convention of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. "This is about student-athletes. If conference realignment creates stronger revenue streams that allows them to support students better, then that's a good thing.
"If it means you have to fly students across the country in the middle of the night to get them back to class after a volleyball match then it's not necessarily a good thing. We've always had conference realignment. We'll continue to have it, but we need people to demonstrate why they're doing it. Why are you engaging in this activity? If it's going to do good things for students then I'm all about it. If it's just about money and nothing else then that's a challenge."
Pitt, which announced last month it was leaving the Big East Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference, stands to make millions of dollars more every year by competing in the ACC because the ACC has a more lucrative television contract.
Emmert's comments are significant because Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said the university does not plan on spending up to the NCAA scholarship limit in many of its non-revenue sports, which are currently operating without being fully funded.
Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington who has been NCAA president for the past 13 months, also touched on the double standard that schools can fund extravagant athletic facilities but not find money for scholarships during his speech before the NACWAA.
"We have all of these spectacular facilities and locker rooms," Emmert said during his speech. "I'm responsible for some of those facilities. But we can't turn around and say we don't have the money for summer school or to fund scholarships. We have to put the money where it supports student-athletes."
It should be noted that Emmert has no formal role in conference realignment, nor does he have the ability to penalize institutions for not directing the increased revenue streams toward students and their interests. Recent studies have shown that the increased revenue from switching conferences is usually spent on higher salaries for coaches and athletic directors and on new facilities or improvements to existing facilities.
Pitt and other universities have no commitment to spend the money they earn from their new conferences on more scholarships for student-athletes.
"The NCAA never has and probably never will tell institutions what conference they should be a part of," Emmert said. "I don't think we should. But what I have been doing is I've been talking to presidents constantly, trying to get them to look at the big picture, trying to get them to understand what the real facts are and aren't, and to act deliberately and not in a reactive fashion. Right now, people are calmer and they're thinking these things through. We had a moment a few weeks back when people were getting kind of panicky."
Emmert was referencing the change in the Division I landscape when Pitt and Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East for the ACC. On Monday, Texas Christian University announced it will move from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12 next season instead of the Big East. TCU announced last year that it would compete in the Big East.
More universities are expected to change conferences in the coming weeks and months, including the possibility of West Virginia leaving the Big East.
Emmert's talk at the NACWAA convention centered around a retreat he attended with 55 university presidents in August. He said the three main points to come out of the retreat were a stronger commitment to stressing the academic experience for the student-athlete, a commitment examining how resources are allocated in athletic departments and integrity and ethics.
On the topic of academics, Emmert noted that the minimum standard score in the Academic Progress Rate increased from 900 to 930, and he expected legislation on eligibility requirements, such as grade point average standards, to be raised as early as next month.
On the topic of integrity and ethics, Emmert said: "That has been such a frustration to everybody. We've had a bad year."
Emmert made those comments with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who was speaking to the convention later in the afternoon, sitting at a table a few feet away. Ohio State is one of several universities to be embroiled in scandals involving the ethics of its coaches and players in the past year.
Jim Tressel resigned from his post as head coach of the Ohio State football team after not being forthright with NCAA investigators about his knowledge of Buckeyes players receiving extra benefits. One of those players was Jeannette High School graduate Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeyes' starting quarterback the past two years who is playing for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
Emmert said he is against paying student-athletes for their services.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.