ATLANTA — NCAA President Mark Emmert spent 15 minutes documenting the progress that the organization has made under his leadership, from making sure students go to class to fighting corruption.
Then he spent the next half-hour defending his record during an often-contentious news conference Thursday that took a bit of the glow off the Final Four.
A defiant Emmert shrugged off his critics, insisting that anyone pushing for significant reform is going to rub some people the wrong way.
“The fact of the matter is that change is what we’re about in the NCAA right now,” he said, “and we’re trying to work our way through some very, very difficult changes to make the whole notion of intercollegiate athletics strong and viable going into the second century of the NCAA and of college sport.”
On his way off the podium, Emmert even took a parting shot at a reporter who has called for his dismissal.
“I know you’re disappointed,” the president said with a sly grin, “but I’m still here.”
The NCAA has come under fire for botching the investigation into a rogue booster at Miami, and there have been complaints about the way the governing body handled other cases, such as the harsh sanctions leveled against Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Emmert has acknowledged that investigators overstepped their authority in their zeal to collect information against Miami.
“The Miami issue had some enormous foul-ups in it,” he said. “We’ve addressed those issues.”
Still, the organization faces about a half-dozen legal challenges to the way it does business, including a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. He believes the NCAA overstepped its authority when it imposed sanctions against Penn State over its handling of the Sandusky case, based largely on a scathing internal review led by former FBI chief Louis Freeh.
“If you’re not getting sued today, you’re not doing anything,” Emmert said. “I don’t know anybody that doesn’t have litigation pending, so I’m not going to apologize for the fact that we have a very litigious society and there’s plenty of reasons to file suit against large organizations.”
Emmert also was asked about a report from USA Today Sports that accused him of shirking responsibility for problems in previous jobs at Connecticut, LSU and Montana State. The newspaper said Emmert had a pattern of moving on to more lucrative posts before the full extent of problems at his previous posts were known. He has served as NCAA president since November 2010.
“The fact of the matter is that everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been asked by boards or other bosses to help drive change,” he said. “I’m very proud of the changes that have been made at every place I’ve been along the way. They’re all institutions that have wonderful traditions.”
Emmert started his state-of-the-NCAA news conference by going into great detail about all the changes that have occurred on his watch, many of them designed to toughen academic standards while streamlining the rule book to eliminate confusing guidelines and put the focus on more heinous offenses, such as paying players or fixing grades.
“It is also the time of year when we get to focus on what we’re supposed to focus on in this whole enterprise, and that’s the student-athletes,” he said, praising the city of Atlanta.