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NCAA President Mark Emmert Discusses College Football’s New Playoff System

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College football fans received great news last week when it was confirmed that there would soon be a playoff system implemented. The new four-team playoff system will still leave plenty of room for controversy and debates, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not a big step in the right direction towards crowning a more deserving champion each year. NCAA President Mark Emmert took time to explain the changes and what else to expect moving forward.

Mark Emmert joined ESPN Radio with Scott Van Pelt to talk about the new playoff system that was announced last week, the notion that some of the increased revenues should be used for paying players, what his biggest concerns are regarding the new playoff system, if he’s concerned that there will now be up to 14 games played by college teams under the new system, and if his job will slow down a bit this summer after all the tumult surrounding college football.

On his reaction to the new playoff system to be implemented in the future:

“Well first of all, good afternoon Scott, good to be with you. I was very pleased with what’s happened. I think it’s clearly a move that’s going to work well for college football, fans will enjoy it, It certainly won’t end controversy but it will be a clear move in the right direction and I’m quite pleased with it.” Now the big question that came to my mind immediately is there’s this gigantic pool of money that will increase as we all suspected it might. How might that impact the notion, cumbersome though it might be to implement.

How might that impact the notion that some kind of stipend because there’s all this new money?

“Well, how those dollars get allocated down to institutions, individual colleges and institutions, has yet to be determined. Any time you have more resources available, I hope that one of the things taken into consideration is how does this affect student athletes and is there a way in which we can improve their circumstances, their well-beings through all of this. And it’s one way in which we can have some consideration given at the campus level to those kind of programs.”

What was your biggest concern when hearing about all these versions of what we would have as a playoff?

“The concerns about stretching out a season too long into January, about the way it may impact players about all the issues you’ve been talking about. The usual questions of  access by conferences and how are teams going to be selected and all of those same considerations I think were the same ones that I had and the model that the presidents have come up with, I think, is a very sensible one. Trying to shrink the bowl season down to where they have a championship immediately following New Year’s Day, reinvigorating the notion that New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, around there is the conclusion of college football. That’s all good. Adding one more game to the season for those two teams, I think, is a sensible way to to go. So, they’ve addressed anything that was a concern of mine, again, a lot of details they got to work through and as you guys are well aware, this isn’t an NCAA issue. They decide this one on their own and that’s fine.”

I want to get back to something you said there and one of the concerns always being about the student athletes. I wonder if the student athlete concerns, the extra game, the scheduling, academics, if those are all issues that you care about but ultimately never influence the decision. I know that this isn’t an NCAA thing, it always makes me laugh whenever I hear we can’t have that extra game. We’ve gone from 11 to 12 to a conference championship and then the bowl game. We’ve gone from 10 to 14 games here in not that long of time. I know this isn’t ultimately a NCAA thing but I feel this is an issue that everyone brings up that never actually impacts the decision.

Sure, I understand that. You look at the FCS championship game and we are already playing, I suppose it would be 14 or 15 games in the FCS and the championship that we do run. They get spread out more evenly so you are playing before Christmas holidays and it’s a system that actually works pretty well because you get reasonable breaks between games. In that model it works fine. So, the question of how many games kids can or should be playing actually is an NCAA issue and if the model that is on the table right now is to be put into place there would have to be some modifications of our rules to allow that extra game to go forward.

We do have some significant engagement in that debate. I don’t anticipate there will be any problem with playing that game but if you are talking about, on top of a conference championship, adding a 16 team playoff model now all of a sudden you would have been adding an enormous amount of games and you would have been stretching the season into late January. Some of those things just simply don’t work unless you were going to completely change the model and they didn’t mess with the bowl process too dramatically. I think it’s a healthy place to be.” Mark, we have laughed quite a bit about this; your tenure has coincided with remarkable tumult in college athletics, people moving form here to there.

Do you think perhaps you’ll have a bit of a breather this summer? Do you sense it will quiet down a bit?

I hope so. I think it will, if you look at so much of the movement, especially, last year it was all about aligning around the BCS conference model and trying to position yourselves to have an automatic qualifier, well that’s all done by the boards now. The need for restructuring and realignment is diminished. There’s a strong hope, at least on my part and I think in a lot of people’s minds, that when this bowl model goes out to bid for a media contract, that it is a long term deal. Everybody is talking 8 to 10 years, that’s terrific because it adds stability, universities can figure out what they want to be and what they want to do and  how they fit in or don’t fit in. So, I think we are looking at a period of  relative calm now. Watch Scott, as soon as I say this all hell will break loose, [laughs] but I doubt it.”

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