Jay Bilas isn’t leading a self-endorsed 2020 presidential campaign to head up the NCAA’s hierarchy.
It won’t stop others to crusade on his behalf.
Going into 25 years as an ESPN college basketball analyst, Bilas says he doesn’t believe “there’s a snowball’s chance” of him soon replacing NCAA Chief Executive Mark Emmert, entrenched since 2010 and a frequent Bilas social media foil.
But in light of spirited discussion of the California Senate Bill 206, formerly known as the “Fair Pay to Play” act, that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last week, and Bilas’ opinions about it coloring many ESPN shows, it came around to “Pardon the Interruption” cohost Tony Kornheiser to put forth the idea that if changes at the top of college sports’ governing body need to happen, “a guy like Jay Bilas could become the head of the NCAA.”
Response from the 55-year-old Bilas, full time at ESPN since 1999 and signed through the 2023 college basketball season: “In general I wouldn’t be interested in [the NCAA president] because I’ve already got a great job. But if I thought serving in that capacity would be helpful, and well received, and I would have the authority to make positive change, I’d do it.
“But I don’t believe they want that. So I don’t think I have to worry about it.”
Besides, he recognizes that his access to multimedia platforms may give him a more powerful voice.
Bilas serves on the NCAA competition committee that recommends basketball rule changes. As a four-year Duke player in the 1980s, one of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first recruits out of then-Rolling Hills High on the Palos Verdes peninsula, Bilas was appointed to the NCAA Long-Range Planning Committee.
“Clearly, we didn’t do a good job,” he said in a deadpan.
Several years ago, Bilas said he was recruited to serve on the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Sure, he was interested, but knew his ESPN bosses wouldn’t go for it because it was a conflict of interest. That’s what happened.
“But as I already knew, there’s also a rule that if you’re a member of the Committee on Infractions, you can’t publicly comment on any of the cases,” Bilas said. “So, it was a good try on their part.”
Considering how broadcaster Bob Costas’ name was tossed around when a strike-plagued Major League Baseball sought a new direction in the 1990s as Costas produced a book, “Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball,” it’s not a stretch to believe Bilas’ media body of work brings him into any forward-thinking theorizing about NCAA reform.
A 2017 profile by the Atlantic referred to Bilas, who has a law degree from Duke, as someone who “effectively serves as the sport’s Walter Cronkite — a respected commentator unafraid to speak openly about an American institution beset by a fraught and ongoing debate about amateurism.”
Any perceived biases by Bilas wouldn’t preclude him, he says, “from taking a broad-based perspective on what’s right for the enterprise, the schools, for education and for the players because I don’t think ‘fair’ is that hard. What’s really difficult to justify and carry forward is ‘unfair.’ ”
Bilas, whose son Anthony just finished a four-year run as a walk-on basketball captain at Wake Forest, believed that Newsom’s signing of the bill in the setting of LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop” was “a very anti-NCAA message. It was like a huge middle finger to them. I may differ with some policies it puts forth, but even if it seems like it, I’m not anti-NCAA.”
The 2016 recipient of the Curt Gowdy Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame for his broadcasting career, Bilas can often be found commenting and sharing information on social media. At his @jaybilas Twitter account has drawn 2 million followers. Maybe appropriately, he follows no one.
“I read newspapers, scholarly articles, law review journal articles, anti-trust cases … I’m all over the map,” said Bilas, who even allows himself to retweet stories by TheOnion.com that make him laugh at the NCAA’s hypocritical rules. “I find for the most part, the way social media puts content out there, you wind up coming across just about every perspective. Some of it is worth reading. Some isn’t. But I’d rather read it and disagree with it than not read it all.
“One of the things that’s helpful to me is having gone to law school. Before that, if I had a disagreement on a policy issue with a friend or family member, I might leave with my feelings hurt. Now I think it’s good to have a contrary opinion in your face to stress-test where you stand. Maybe you change your perspective a bit. Or maybe it solidifies what you hold as right.”
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