Proposal to create new tier for big-money college sports is just a start, NCAA president says

Thursday, December 7, 2023
NCAA president pitches new tier for big-money college sports
A day after the NCAA president made a potentially groundbreaking pitch to allow schools to pay athletes, his proposal was met with praise and caution.

NCAA President Charlie Baker is asking members to make one of the most dramatic shifts in college sports history by allowing highly resourced schools to pay some of their athletes.

In a letter sent to more than 350 Division I schools Tuesday, Baker said he wants the association to create a new tier of NCAA Division I sports where schools would be required to offer at least half their athletes a payment of at least $30,000 per year through a trust fund.

Baker also proposed allowing all Division I schools to offer unlimited educational benefits and enter into name, image, and likeness licensing deals with athletes.

He said the disparity in resources between the wealthiest schools in the top tier of Division I, called the Football Bowl Subdivision, and other D-I members - along with the hundreds of Division II and III schools - is creating "a new series of challenges."

"The challenges are competitive as well as financial and are complicated further by the intersection of name, image, and likeness opportunities for student-athletes and the arrival of the Transfer Portal," wrote Baker, the former Massachusetts governor who took over at the NCAA in March.

Division I currently divides football into the FBS, which has 133 schools, and the FCS, or Football Championship Subdivision.

A day after his aggressive and potentially groundbreaking pitch to allow some schools to pay their athletes, his proposal was met with praise, caution, and questions from around college sports.

"I think Charlie has indicated his intent for that to begin a discussion," Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday during an appearance at the Sports Business Journal's Intercollegiate Athletic Forum. "There's certainly a lot of content included from which to begin a discussion."

Baker said his proposal to allow the most highly resourced schools in Division I to pay athletes through a trust fund is just a starting point as he tries to shift the association to be more proactive than reactive.

"We need to be able to anticipate where conversations are going and to try to get this big, huge, diverse 180-committee with 2,000 members - like, oh, my God! - to a place where they're talking about stuff that's common, and not just responding and reacting to other people's agendas," Baker said during his 30-minute session at the forum.

"Some people are going to say, 'You're going too far,' and people will say, 'But you're not going far enough,'" Baker said. "I promise you that's going to be where most of the dialogue on this will be in the short term."

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark called Baker's proposal "directionally correct."

"We hired Charlie to lead, and he's leading," Yormark said.

Baker said the proposal was formed from an amalgamation of conversations he has had with administrators and athletes from across college sports.

Sankey said any attempt to reform college sports would be addressed in five arenas: the courts, Congress, state legislatures, conferences, and the NCAA.

"All of those have to be part of the solution," Sankey said.

Baker said he believes about 100 schools might consider opting into a new subdivision.

Daniel Hare, a former NCAA athletic director, is now a Baylor University adjunct sports law professor.

"It doesn't read that different to me than seven or eight years ago when the NCAA created autonomy for conferences," Hare told ABC13 via Zoom on Wednesday. "Trying to keep competitive equity between the top of Division I and the bottom is something that is slipping away. It's happened around facilities for years, it's happened around coaching salaries for years - now it's just happening around student-athlete compensation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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