Emmert taking cautious approach with realignment

By MICHAEL MAROT | September 19, 2011 | 4:10 PM EDT

FILE - This Aug. 9, 2011 file photo shows NCAA president Mark Emmert speaking to the media in Indianapolis. Emmert has some advice for schools changing conferences. Proceed with caution. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NCAA President Mark Emmert wants school decision-makers taking a good, hard look at conference realignment.

His advice: Be cautious and play nice.

Emmert said Monday he has been contacting university presidents and conference commissioners, urging them to consider key factors before reaching any conclusions or making any leaps.

"I want them to make good, thoughtful decisions about what's helping the school and what's helping the student-athlete," Emmert told The Associated Press, one day after two Big East schools announced they were headed to the ACC.

"I do worry about some damage occurring in terms of collegiality. When this is over and the dust settles, we need people to be able to work together, so we need things to occur as amicably as possible," he added.

Emmert spoke during a break at an NCAA summit for athletes, coaches and administrators who are considered minorities, disabled, or gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes.

The NCAA does not have any authority over conference affiliation and Emmert, a former president at the University of Washington, ruled out the possibility of a meeting on realignment because it could potentially violate antitrust laws.

But his words still carry influence and Emmert has never been afraid to use his bully pulpit to illustrate a point. He did it again Monday as college sports prepares for another round of conference changes.

Over the weekend, Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East to join the ACC. Four schools from the Big 12 — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech — are reportedly contemplating a move to the Pac-12. Texas A&M has already said it intends to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC.

The twists have been coming so fast that Emmert can't project what the next twist will be.

"There's certainly a lot of drama and some people want to convert it into theater," he said, chuckling.

For decades, the debate has raged over whether powerful football schools might break away from the NCAA and start their own organization. It hasn't happened. During last month's NCAA presidential retreat, there was more speculation about a breakaway faction.

Emmert said talk of having four or five superconferences is nothing more than conjecture.

Last year, Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving the Big 12. The Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, the Buffaloes now play in the Pac-12 and both leagues have enough teams to put on a conference title game in football.

While the domino effect from those defections caused some national movement — Utah went to the Pac-12, Boise State to the Mountain West and TCU is heading to the Big East next season — the vast overhaul never occurred.

Now, those fears are coming back, though Emmert does not think every move is a bad one.

"If you get more resources, that's a good thing. If you get more opportunities for student-athletes to play in new places, that could be a good thing, too, right?" Emmert said.

But there are concerns, particularly the cost of excessive travel.

In the ACC, for instance, league members Syracuse and Miami would have to make the 1,400-mile journey by plane, costing schools more money and likely forcing athletes to miss more class time in all sports, not just football or basketball.

A similar problem could occur in the Pac-12, which has eight teams located in California, Oregon and Washington. If the two Texas schools and two Oklahoma schools join the league, they would be making regular trips two time zones away. That's something even the NCAA tries to avoid during its most prestigious event, the men's basketball tournament.

"If they have to fly a team halfway across the country in the middle of the week and those students have classes Wednesday, that might not be a good thing," Emmert said. "It's a serious consideration, and everyone needs to look at it."

Scheduling those long trips on weekends, linking several together to reduce costs or breaking the league into two geographical divisions up geographically could solve some of the problems.

But Emmert isn't going to tell any conference or any school what they should do. He can't.

"We don't go out there and hire coaches or athletic directors and we don't tell schools what conferences to be a part of," Emmert said. "Those decisions are all the domain of the university."