INDIANAPOLIS — Jason Collins’ announcement could have a profound impact on college sports, too.
NCAA President Mark Emmert opened Tuesday’s second Inclusion Forum by urging campus leaders to make school policies more welcoming for women, minorities, disabled athletes and those with different sexual orientations.
While he didn’t cite Collins specifically during his speech or in the subsequent question-and-answer session, Emmert expressed his support for the first openly gay active player in a major American pro sports league. He acknowledged Collins’ disclosure that he’s gay could have a ripple effect on how college athletic departments treat other players and coaches.
“At the very least, I hope it does make it much easier for athletes in universities and other environments to be open about it and be supported by their coaching staffs and teammates,” Emmert told The Associated Press. “We’re talking about a culture change, and it’s slow and arduous, but what I’m seeing on campuses is that the inclusion issue has moved up.”
When the federal government passed Title IX legislation in 1972, it opened the door to better funding, better facilities and better coaches in women’s sports. Many at the forum argued that men’s and women’s sports still are not funded equally more than four decades later.
Colleges have been at the forefront of opening educational opportunities for minorities and many have instituted policies regarding job searches that are intended to expand the talent pool. Many schools have been leaders in research for students with learning and physical disabilities, and now, with Collins’ going public about his sexual orientation, Emmert sees another opportunity for schools.
“I’m delighted by it,” the former LSU chancellor said. “The need for a high-performing athlete to feel he can be open and honest about his sexuality is long overdue.”
Emmert has been under fire since announcing in January that the NCAA botched its investigation into the University of Miami. Some in the media immediately began calling for his ouster.
In late February, the NCAA’s executive committee announced it was giving Emmert a vote of confidence, a rare and perhaps unprecedented move. Then, following an unusually contentious news conference at the Final Four, the calls for Emmert’s firing heated up again.
This week is a chance for Emmert to get back to business as usual. It started with the opening of the Inclusion Forum, which runs through Thursday. That just happens to be the same day the board of directors will meet to discuss what to do about rule changes that were approved in January but later blocked by the membership over issues such as unlimited texting, phone calls and emails between college coaches and perspective recruits.
Emmert couldn’t escape a series of enough questions, even from a seemingly friendly audience.
“Female athletes, particularly basketball players, seem to be getting singled out in gender identity during games. What can the NCAA do about this?” one woman from Purdue asked.
Emmert asked what she thought could be done. The woman suggested sanctioning schools for improper behavior from fans.
“I would certainly support a proposal that would do that,” Emmert said. “If that’s a rule that makes sense and there ought to be some sanctioning like that, then I hope the membership brings that forward. I think that would make good sense.”
Even one of Emmert’s signature reforms, tougher academic standards, was debated.
One man noted that because of limited educational resources, it could lead to a widening gap between athletes from lower-income areas and those from the wealthier suburbs given the new requirements. Current rules require athletes to have a 2.0 GPA in their core high school courses. Beginning in 2016, incoming freshmen must have a 2.3 in those classes.
“The message is that to play basketball you have to have a jump shot, you have to be able to drive to your left, and you have to have English and math, too,” Emmert said. “I, but more importantly, the board and the Committee on Academic Performance are very, very confident that 2.3 will have a positive impact, not a negative one.”