What Emmert Believes

That’s what Jack Moore sets out to ascertain in “Mark Emmert’s Fundamentals.” Moore does an able job of dissecting some of Emmert’s logic.

Before trying to take a stab at whether Emmert believes what he says, a few words about Emmert’s “prediction” at trial that if college athletes received some compensation for their images and likenesses, college athletics would, in effect, become minor league sports.

This scenario, Emmert argues, would not be good: “we know that in the United States minor league sports are not particularly successful, either for the fan experience or for the participants.”

That’s kind of an amazing set of assertions.

By what definition are minor league sports unsuccessful? And is he talking about all of them? As I noted the other day and as Moore mentioned in his piece today, Minor League Baseball drew 41 million fans last year and has drawn over fifty million fans in a single season. Furthermore, as someone who attends several Durham Bulls games a year, I can say with confidence that the fan experience is fantastic. It’s a great family atmosphere, the park is lovely and comfortable, the product on the field is of very high quality and the price is most definitely right. That sounds like a great success, certainly from the fan’s perspective. As for the players, minor league life is challenging. Most will never make the majors, all but the bonus babies are making relatively little money and the schedule is a grind. But I strongly suspect most would speak in very positive terms about their playing days.

Unless we’re talking about football and basketball, collegiate athletics are already a lot like minor league sports, in terms of attendance and general follower-ship. At UNC, the highly successful baseball team plays its home games at Boshamer stadium (upgraded a few years ago with the help of a a million dollar gift from George Steinbrenner, whose daughter is a UNC graduate). Boshamer has a room for about 5,000 fans, including standing room only. That sounds a lot like minor league baseball to me. Yes, the College World Series is on television, but the typical college baseball game is not. Likewise, lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, field hockey and so on are played before very few fans with relatively little media attention.

Is Emmert, therefore, disparaging the fan and participant experience of all those college athletes who compete in D-II or D-III, or outside the profit sports in D-I? Are they unsuccessful, because they don’t play in front of massive crowds and in front of large TV audiences, or generate much revenue? Do the athletes who compete in those sports – whom Emmert argues are doing so, first and foremost, to augment their education – not having a rewarding experience?

Emmert has a tendency to speak thoughtlessly, to grasp for whatever argument seems most useful at the moment, regardless of whether it contradicts fundamentally something he’s previously said or is obviously insulting in ways it never occurred to him to consider. Such was the case with his ridiculous comments about state employees as “scabs.”

To be clear, I don’t buy the premise of Emmert’s argument at all. The University of Alabama will continue to draw 100,000 fans to a game regardless of whether players start getting a cut of jersey sales. But if it were true that college basketball and football were scaled down to the level that say, minor league baseball is, that’s not exactly an End-Times scenario.

To return to the question – does Emmert believe what he says – I don’t know. I think he really doesn’t know what he’s saying a good deal of the time. He does not, in any event, seem to grasp the implications of many of his avowals. He does appear, however, to embody very nicely the well-worn Upton Sinclair dictum that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


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