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Conference Recap: NCAA President Mark Emmert on Student-Athletes and Success

October 24, 2016

Mark Emmert and Jack Ford
Mark Emmert and Jack Ford

“We’re not a sports league; we’re an association for 475,000 student-athletes and 19,000 teams that play NCAA sports,” said Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). “The role of the organization is to better the lives of student-athletes, both in skill and in education.”

The NCAA is a voluntary association of more than 11,000 schools, which are all member universities, he said at the PRSA 2016 International Conference in Indianapolis this morning in a conversation with award-winning broadcast journalist Jack Ford.

Emmert noted that only about 20 of the top sports schools make a profit from athletic programs. The NCAA generates 90 percent of its revenue from March Madness and other NCAA championships, as well as broadcasting, and then they give back.

“College sports create a sense of community and brand recognition and allow schools to reach out to alumni around the world,” Emmert said.  “The athletic field is also part of what an education means.”

Emmert said the NCAA tries to focus on these three key issues:
1.    “Student-athletes need to be getting a meaningful and valuable education — less than 1 percent will make a living in professional sports.”
2.    “Student-athletes should leave stronger and better than they came in — we’re in the human development business.”
3.    “Student-athletes need to feel like it was a fair deal, a fair playing field and like they were treated fairly.”

Framing the message

A PR challenge for the NCAA is combating the narrative that college athletics exploit students and debunking myths about academic success, Emmert said. The media also often focus on the high profile college athletes who are seeking pro careers. “The graduation rate for student-athletes is higher than the rest of the student body — that might surprise some,” he said.

The communications team also helps translate messages into language that the average citizen can understand and clarifies what the organization does. “They deal in high interest and low trust issues,” he said, adding that the NCAA frames it’s messages through the media, utilizing PSAs and social media to tell the stories behind the student-athletes.

“Be the good in the news, even though there is bad that you need to talk about, tell the stories about those who do extra. We work on the right stories to target the right media for positive news,” Emmert said. “You also have to recognize the reality of media. You have to pick your battles, like in any communications battle, but when something happens, you have to stand up and deal with it.”

Communities come together over college sports, develop an emotional attachment and take enormous pride in school athletics, he said. More than 40 percent of Americans identify as college sports fans, connecting students and alumni to institutions.

“If student-athletes don’t graduate with an education that will change their lives, then we’re not successful,” Emmert said of the NCAA. “When the opportunities all line up, that’s what it’s all about,” There’s no better internship than being a college athlete. It’s a pathway to opportunity.”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

Comments

Christopher William Grindrod says:

Thanks for sharing these insights. I love the comment,"Be the good in the news." I am so thankful for PRSA!!

Oct. 26, 2016

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