NCAA president says no to DFS ads for NCAA tournament, ponders Vegas

ByDana O'Neil ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 9, 2015

NEW YORK -- Don't expect to see advertisements for DraftKings or FanDuel during the NCAA tournament this or any other year, but postseason games in Las Vegas aren't entirely out of the question.

That seemingly contradictory stance, illustrating just how complicated college athletics are these days, was just one of the points made by NCAA president Mark Emmert during a wide-ranging interview at the Intercollegiate Athlete Forum in New York on Wednesday.

Less embattled than he was early in his tenure, Emmert now is focused on trying to wade through the complexities of the college sports landscape, where commercialization and profit are a necessary means to an end, yet fly in the face of the notion of amateurism.

The one area Emmert and the NCAA will stand firm is the use of daily fantasy sports sites as advertising partners. He said the NCAA has met with the leaders of both DraftKings and FanDuel, the two leading sites, and said it will "stay away" from the companies during NCAA tournament broadcasts.

Emmert said Wednesday that the NCAA, in its television contracts for events it manages, has a clause that gives the organization a right to veto any advertising. If the NCAA decides to do so, it doesn't have to pay any sort of fee to the networks as a result of denying them revenue to help make up exorbitant rights fees.

Last month, however, four NCAA teams -- LSU, N.C. State, Arizona State and Marquette -- played in the FanDuel Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In-season tourneys are run by private groups -- in this case, the Gazelle Group -- and not the NCAA.

"Yeah it does [bother me]," Emmert said. "Here we've got rules that say if a student participates in this activity, he'll be suspended and -- oh, by the way -- we're advertising it. That sends a completely wrong message."

Even more complicated is the issue of hosting games in Las Vegas, where sports betting is legal. The NCAA has long held firm that it would not allow NCAA-sanctioned tournaments to be played there. But just last year the Pac-12, West Coast Conference and Mountain West all hosted their league tourneys there.

Emmert attended all three and said there have been "robust" conversation about playing NCAA tournament games there, though he wouldn't go so far as to say his membership is softening its stance.

"I think the membership is trying to figure out what's the right way to approach this issue again," Emmert said. "Where does the membership want to be in this space? How do you manage what often seems to be a hypocritical stance? Let's talk about it."

Aside from the gambling issue, Emmert also said he has had and continues to have conversations with NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the league's age limit and the so-called one-and-done rule. The two parties are trying to come up with more ways to give athletes interested in turning pro realistic information about their status, with Emmert arguing that "50 percent of all Division II basketball players think they are going pro. A quarter of Division III basketball players think they are going pro. None of them are."

Emmert, a university president in his previous career, believes the entire rule flies in the face of the collegiate model.

"To force someone to go to college for one year to get acclimated to a professional experience, that doesn't make any sense to me as an educator," he said. "To go and touch base for six months is a travesty to what the college experience is supposed to be about it. I don't blame the kid who is doing what he has to, and I don't blame the coaches who want to win. But the system is letting down a lot of people."

Emmert also said he's "personally ambivalent" about the organization's role in vetting incoming athletes' high school classes and that the current setup leaves the NCAA in a "challenging position."

In a high-profile case this fall,Kansasofficials sharply criticized the NCAA about its delays in declaring toprecruitCheick Dialloeligible. The university had determined that Diallo's education at a New Yorkprep school met its standards, but under current NCAA rules, college sports' governing body prevented him from playing while it investigated whether coursework was legitimate.

Said Emmert: "That would be a huge shift, and the members aren't ready to go there -- I want to be really clear nobody is advocating that right now."

ESPN Staff Writer Darren Rovell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.