Despite a growing public perception that college athletes in revenue-generating sports should be compensated beyond their scholarships, NCAA president Mark Emmert reaffirmed Wednesday that his conversations with school presidents don't echo that sentiment.
"There's certainly no interest in turning college sports into the professional or semi-professional," Emmert said at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City.
Emmert also talked about his disdain for the NBA's 19-year-old minimum age for draft eligibility rule, which has led to a one-and-done trend in that sport.
"It's illogical to force someone to go to college when they want to do something else," Emmert said.
He dismissed the idea that having better high school players play one season in college has substantively made the college game more marketable.
"When LeBron went [to the NBA], we still had a Final Four and it was pretty good and people showed up and we had good numbers," Emmert said. "And nobody said college basketball sucked because Kobe went."
The so-called pay-for-play model that would reward football and basketball players beyond a free education has risen to prominence thanks to the lawsuit against the NCAA and others brought by Ed O'Bannon and other former college players. The plaintiffs say they were exploited without being compensated, but Emmert said the suit's purpose recently morphed.
"The case was originally about previous student-athletes and it completely shifted to current student-athletes," Emmert said. "It was about issues of trademark and right of publicity and it is now blatantly about pay-for-play."
Despite the fact the O'Bannon plaintiffs agreed to settle with the Collegiate Licensing Company and Electronic Arts, Emmert maintained that the NCAA was not in any settlement talks and continued to stress that the organization would fight the case to the Supreme Court level.
"This is a very important issue and principle for what is or is not a definition of college athletics," Emmert said.
While this football season marked the first year some college athletes came together to support the O'Bannon case and speak out publicly about their hopes for reform through a new group called All Players United, Emmert said when he spoke to some players about their goals, their ideas were more in line with the NCAA's hopes for the future than they expected.
Emmert acknowledged that the NCAA and its member schools continue to look at subsidizing student-athletes to greater reflect the actual cost of attendance and also to supplement what is currently available to include a more robust health and wellness offering. But beyond that, he said the idea of players one day getting paychecks isn't in the plans.
He also conceded that schools and the NCAA haven't done a particularly good job in recent years of explaining the value of scholarships.
"The countervailing voices of this notion that student-athletes are being taken advantage of has been the dominant theme and had played out pretty loudly in a variety of outlets," Emmert said. "The reality is schools are spending in between $100,000 and $250,000 on each student-athlete."
Some have suggested players could be compensated by selling their autographs or by being permitted to market themselves. While Emmert said the latter is at least being discussed, he says the autograph issue seems like a non-starter.
"I think the key issue for the members is, how would you have such a model that doesn't become a recruiting debate?" Emmert said, describing a scenario in which one school says a player would be projected to receive $250,000 in autograph money while another puts the number at $500,000.
"That moves to pay-for-play pretty quickly," Emmert said.