Verbatim: An Interview With Jay Bilas (Part I)
Welcome to the debut of One And One’s interview series, Verbatim, which kicks off with a two-part session with ESPN and CBS college basketball analyst (and attorney) Jay Bilas.
Bilas, a former player and assistant coach at Duke, is one of the most plugged-in members of the college basketball community along with one of the most outspoken network analysts about problems with the current NCAA athletics model and within college basketball.
In part I of the interview, Jay discusses the NCAA model at large, big-picture issues with enforcement, and why he believes the current president of the NCAA, Mark Emmett, should not continue in that job.
SI.com: You’ve been fairly outspoken lately in your opinions about Mark Emmert and the NCAA in general in terms of setup and governance. What is your biggest issue or issues with the current setup?
Jay Bilas: In the ideal, it needs to be sport-specific. The major sports need to be governed separate from each other. If you imagine a scenario where we took the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball and we governed them all under one roof by one rule book, it would seem ridiculous. It would be unworkable. I don’t believe if we had all these [college] institutions and we were starting the NCAA today, we would start with the structure that we have. I think it should change. I don’t think we’re able to keep up with the changing landscape in these different sports, especially the revenue-producing sports, with the current governance.
While any change is a challenge under the structure, especially the current structure, I do think we can make some meaningful changes if we put our minds to it and thought about the best interest of these sports and realize it is just sports. Let’s stop the moralizing, let’s stop trying to do things that institutions do fine just by themselves and just try to administer the competition itself. Let’s make this about sports competition and not about things that the schools have well in hand on their own.
SI.com: So does that mean a scaling back or complete overhaul of the current rulebook and things that are peripheral to the games themselves?
JB: Yes. Absolutely. In a perfect world, would I handle the rulebook like it’s being handled like it is now? No. I don’t think you can take a bad rulebook — and it is a bad rulebook — and just prune it here and there and say ‘OK, now it works.’ I would have taken all this time and started from scratch and written the rulebook you want. Then when it’s ready, you replace the old one with the new and do it all at once.
That’s what ultimately I think will happen, on a separate note, with the basketball rules. The basketball rulebook is a mess. We can work with it, but I’ve read a lot of different things and that’s the most complicated… that and the NCAA rulebook are the two most complicated things I read. I think we can do a better job with that, doing it that way, rather than the piecemeal way we’re doing it now.
SI.com: What is going to be the trigger to prompt [the new overall structure] given the escalating rights fees for both the football playoff and NCAA tournament with contracts in the billions of dollars over the long term?
JB: Within your question may be the answer. The money may be the driving factor behind it. The amount of regulation that goes along with these championships and the amount of money that comes from them is really fantastical. It’s hard to imagine. Rube Goldberg could not have come up with a structure any more complex and ridiculous than the one we have now and I do think the people living under it are getting tired of it and want change.
Does that mean leaving and starting something new? I don’t think that has to be the way it goes, although that may ultimately be the solution. But the money is going to be it. The amount of money these institutions have to pay for compliance is maddening and it makes no sense. We have a compliance complex in college athletics that’s unjustifiable. To pay that amount of money, each institution, while we’re complaining about budgets and money … every time we pass a rule, we add on another layer of compliance.
That means a ton of money expended by each school to the point of [those in] major conferences, because they’re so afraid of the phrase ‘lack of institutional control,’ that they spend millions of dollars on compliance and there’s no need for it. We don’t do that in any other area. The one that comes to mind is Ohio State. Their medical compliance is housed in the same place as their athletics compliance. Those two things don’t really go together.
SI.com: You mentioned a separation of the oversight of sports into sport-specific organizations. It’s been tossed out on Twitter (and playfully on TV) that you should be the Commissioner of College Basketball. Would that type of role ever interest you?
JB: Anything that would be a help to the game would interest me. Listen, that’s flattering and nice, but I would never be even considered for that because of my views on amateurism. Would I? I would always consider anything that would be of help to basketball, but I don’t think it needs to be … this isn’t about a leader or particular leadership.
Look, I’ve come out and said it publicly that if I had any say over it, that Mark Emmert would not remain as president. I think he’s compromised his ability to lead and I think the support of the membership has been wounded, and his credibility as a leader is gone. I think he’s compromised his ability to be effective in his job. There are other reasons why I think he should no longer remain, but the next question is if you do have a change in leadership, then what? What do you do then?
If we’re going to stay with the structure we have now, it can’t be another [school] president. That doesn’t work. With all due respect to presidents, they’re really good at running their own institutions. They’re not good at running the business of athletics. I find it curious that there are no presidents who have served as conference commissioners. A couple of them have left their positions to become head of the NCAA, but there’s a reason they’re not conference commissioners. They’re not suited for it. Let the business people who know how to run athletics run athletics. Athletes don’t run their hospital systems. Let the professionals run — that sounds funny, let the professionals run amateur athletics.
The presidential model doesn’t really work. We can fix that, and I think we can fix that in pretty short order, but that goes back to my thoughts on the governance of specific sports. The landscape changes too quickly to run this out of one office in Indianapolis and run everything all at once. It’s unworkable for basketball and football and all these rules to be made there and enforced there. The enforcement model needs to change.
The money part of it is it’s not the Miami fiasco that’s led people to believe that. I think most reasonable people believe the model never worked, that it’s never been fair, that it’s never been trustworthy. They just haven’t been able to say it because they’re been afraid of the repercussions of saying it. Well, they’re not afraid anymore, because the NCAA has proven to have, at best, an overzealous element, and at worst, I think you can fairly call it an element of corruption. There’s certainly no one minding the store. Mark Emmert has been an absentee president. We’re seeing the results of that.
The way things have worked now, there’s an incentive for the institutions to be adverse to their own employees, that they throw them on the altar of the committee on infractions and sacrifice their own people just so the institution will be spared the heaviest of penalties. People feel like they can’t defend themselves, that one case is treated far differently than another, there’s very little consistency from case to case. That can be remedied.
The NCAA, even Mark Emmert, has fought back against the idea that [the NCAA] is not trustworthy. Well, now the membership is able to say and have it believed that, ‘Wait a minute, this is not fair. The way we were treated is not fair.’ Other institutions other than Miami can now say they did the same thing to us — not necessarily the bankruptcy proceeding and the abuse of process there, but other means that frankly have been improper but have been standard operating procedure in enforcement.