GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The National Collegiate Athletic Association is, in many ways, the same as it ever was.
Scandals. Injuries. Rampant commercialism, budgets running wild. Colleges using football to gain national notoriety, presidents giving coaches free rein to spend what they want and report to whom they will. New stadiums and facilities going up left and right. And the news media there, trying to shut it down every step of the way.
In Thursday's state of the association address here at the NCAA's annual convention, President Mark Emmert laid to rest the notion that collegiate athletics was poisoned at some point in its 107-year existence, that it started out as some squeaky-clean, noncommercial enterprise.
"That is simply not the history of sport in America, and certainly not of college sport in America," Emmert said. (To prove his point, Emmert recounted stories of the first collegiate competition, the creation of the NCAA, and this year's Final Four basketball series in Atlanta.)
The difference now -- to the chagrin of some -- is that the NCAA has created "a structure and order," Emmert said, writing and enforcing rules designed to maintain integrity in the enterprise.
For half an hour, Emmert spoke about keeping the balance in college sports: equalizing the "shiny side of the coin" -- competition -- with the "other side of the coin" -- regulation.
Emmert talked a lot about the NCAA's struggle to maintain integrity, but (rather conspicuously, and contrary to his words on 2012's positive developments) never got specific. There was no mention of last year's stunning and unprecedented sanctions against Pennsylvania State University, the academic scandal that tarnished the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or the mind-boggling story unfolding this very minute at the University of Notre Dame: its star football player perpetuating an entirely made-up narrative about him overcoming the odds to reach the national championship game after his girlfriend died of leukemia.
It's not that the negatives of college sports were glossed over -- quite the opposite, actually. Emmert just spoke in vague terms, acknowledging the jealousy and competition between institutions that can drive conference realignment and budget escalation, and the long list of issues that introduced this article and his speech.
But he lauded the "truly groundbreaking" work in Division I to reform academic standards, improve the enforcement model, and tighten the rulebook to make regulations more meaningful (some rules "are more laughed at than they are followed," Emmert said).
"We still have a lot to do -- let's not kid ourselves," Emmert told a good chunk of the 3,200 college presidents, athletics directors and faculty members who attended this year's convention. But, he said, "[t]he list of successes is very, very long, and we need to feel proud of that list of successes."
Going forward, starting Saturday with the Division I Board of Directors' all-but-certain approval of eight guiding principles, the NCAA and its member institutions should commit to those ideas, Emmert said: of values-based legislation, amateurism, fair competition, integrity and sportsmanship, institutional control and compliance, student-athlete well-being, sound academic standards, and diversity and inclusion.
At the national basketball championship in April, "The country will be riveted -- everybody will love the shiny side of the coin," Emmert said. "We'll all feel incredibly good about the iconic thing known as intercollegiate athletics in America. At the same time, we've got to remember that we can't have that without the other side of the coin, and that's our job as well."