Charlie Baker, president of the NCAA unveiled a proposal Tuesday it could change the landscape of college sports.
In a letter to Division I schools, Baker laid out the main principles – and reasoning for – a proposed governance change that would effectively allow big-budget athletic departments to pay athletes directly, allowing everyone to create an “enhanced education trust fund.” it could funnel money to athletes.
The proposal would also allow those same schools, likely the upper echelon of the Football Bowl Subdivision, to split off and set their own rules regarding roster size, transfers and name, image and likeness ( NIL), among other issues.
There is still much to learn about the NCAA’s proposal, including how it would be implemented. But here’s a quick look at why Tuesday’s letter is an important step, what we know about it and what it means for the future of college sports.
So why is this important, exactly?
The main takeaway is this: The NCAA opens the door for the wealthiest schools to break away from everyone else and pay their athletes directly.
Simply proposing this in the first place is a radical step forward for an organization that has clung to the idea of amateurism for decades now, even as college sports has become a multi-billion dollar business and coaches started pocketing $10 million a year. This isn’t really a move to classify athletes as employees, as some advocates wanted, but rather a transfer of money directly from schools to athletes.
Creating a Rich Schools Subdivision is also important here, because it would mean your Alabama and Michigan could start playing by different rules than your Louisiana-Monroes. In all honesty, this change has seemed inevitable for some time now. But it would allow wealthy schools to create their own policies on issues such as helmet communication in football, without needing input or approval from schools with less income.
How much money are we talking about here?
Baker writes in his letter that any school in this new Rich Schools subdivision should be required “to invest at least $30,000 per year in an enhanced educational trust fund for at least half of the institution’s eligible student-athletes,” under Title IX. .
Assuming about 525 athletes per school, which is the Southeast Conference average, that works out to a minimum of about $7.88 million per year, which would be peanuts for schools like Alabama and Michigan.
However, this is a part of the proposal for which many details still need to be refined. And it’s worth noting that while Baker appears to set the minimum amount to invest, his proposal says nothing about the cap.
Why is the NCAA making a proposal?
By dragging its feet on issues like NIL and athlete compensation, the NCAA has all but invited outside entities like Congress and the courts to meddle in its affairs. And this proposal appears to be, at least in part, an attempt to stave off some of those outside efforts — and perhaps ease some of the tension that has been simmering in Division I, between the haves and the have-nots.
Would this affect leagues and conferences?
No. Under Baker’s proposal, schools could choose whether or not to join the Rich Schools subdivision. So it appears that the setup for the NCAA Championships, including the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, would remain the same. The same goes for conferences.
Could this mean a wealthy school could face a lower-income school in March Madness? Yes. In fact, in theory, this means that there could be wealthy schools and lower-income schools in the same conference, unless the conference mandates entry for all of its members.
What does this mean for gender equality?
Baker’s reference to Title IX, the federal gender equity law, highlights a huge ripple effect of this proposal: It could lead to more zero money for women.
Under the current arrangement, many schools disburse zero funds through tangential but technically separate entities called collectives. And because these collectives do not report to their athletic departments, they are not subject to Title IX. As a result, as of this summer, around 95% of NIL’s money went to male athletes, according to Jason Belzerco-founder of Student Athlete NIL, which oversees more than 30 collectives.
By effectively moving NIL in-house, Baker’s proposal would ensure that schools must divide the money more equitably, although it’s unclear whether they should be completely equal on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
What are the next steps?
For now, Baker’s proposal is just that. And in his letter, he included a link for school staff to provide feedback. Once finalized, the proposal – or, potentially, a series of separate proposals – would still have to be formally voted on by Division I governance committees, such as the Board of Trustees and Council, for adoption.
And even if it passed, it likely wouldn’t end efforts in Congress to reshape sports, nor efforts in the courts and at the National Labor Relations Board to classify athletes as employees.
In short, Baker’s proposal would constitute a seismic shift in college sports, especially at the highest levels — but it wouldn’t solve everything, nor would it prevent other significant changes to the model in other ways.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on social media @Tom_Schad.