NCAA President Mark Emmert visits UChicago student-athletes

Originally posted on Univeristy of Chicago Physical Education and Athletics, October 22

Less than a week after hearing from University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer at an Aims of Athletics event, UChicago student-athletes were visited by another prominent president. Dr. Mark Emmert of the NCAA dropped by the Ratner Athletics Center on Monday afternoon to chat with student-athletes, coaches and staff about developments in collegiate athletics.

Emmert arrived in Hyde Park from a speaking engagement at the City Club of Chicago earlier in the day. The NCAA president said he likes to make time to engage with local colleges and universities on his trips to various cities.

"I've been on the campus before, and I love the University," Emmert said. "It's an amazing institution. I come to Chicago fairly often and whenever I'm in town, I try to visit campuses, and I hadn't been here to visit with your student-athletes. So it was just a great opportunity to talk to a terrific Division III program."

The NCAA serves as an organizational and governing body for approximately 460,000 participating athletes from 1,100 institutions. UChicago belongs to NCAA Division III, which makes up about 40 percent of the total membership across the three divisions and does not offer athletic scholarships. Emmert remarked that one of the special aspects of the Division III model is the primary emphasis on academics while competing in athletics.

"I think it's the best combination of athletic opportunities while still being able to take advantage of everything you can academically," Emmert said. "For DIII students, they often don't have to pick and choose between whether or not they can excel in academics or athletically. They can focus on both."

UChicago student-athletes and members of the Physical Education & Athletics department gathered in the Berwanger Conference Room to hear from Emmert on a variety of topics. Over the course of 75 minutes, Emmert spoke about the NCAA's function and mission while also fielding questions from the audience.

One of the main discussion points involved new initiatives to improve the health and safety of student-athletes. Dr. Brian Hainline was recently hired as the NCAA's first chief medical officer. Hainline oversees the NCAA Sport Science Institute, which is embarking on significant studies of concussions, injury prevention and the mental health of athletes. Junior swimmer Brian Weisbecker, who serves as president of the Order of the C, was encouraged by the dialogue.

"I think we were able to get more information about the topics that are really flying around in the news," Weisbecker said. "I thought it was very interesting. I liked the emphasis he put on the emerging health care for the student-athletes, that there should be big improvements coming that I wasn't aware they were working on. So I'm pretty excited for that."

Before the main Q&A session, Emmert sat down to chat with Weisbecker and senior softball player Tabbetha Bohac, who is president of the Women's Athletic Association. The OOC and WAA are two of the oldest Student-Athlete Advisory Committees in the country. The roots of the organizations reach back to the early 1900s.

"It was awesome to be able to see the president of the NCAA and hear all about what he's doing to help make the experience of being a student-athlete even better," Bohac said. "It's definitely cool. It makes us feel important and appreciated."

UChicago Athletic Director Erin McDermott also expressed her appreciation for Emmert's engagement with the students-athletes and members of the department.

"We were honored to host Dr. Emmert in the Ratner Athletics Center," McDermott said. "It presented a unique opportunity for our student-athlete leaders, coaches and staff to interact with him and hear his thoughts on the current landscape of College Athletics. We appreciate that Dr. Emmert prioritizes spending time on member campuses and with student-athletes when he travels. As a Division III and UAA member, we were thrilled that he chose to visit the University of Chicago."