In a groundbreaking move, NCAA President Charlie Baker is advocating for a transformative shift in the landscape of college sports. In a letter sent by Baker on December 5th addressed to over 350 Division I schools, Baker urged for the creation of a new tier within NCAA Division I, specifically designed for highly resourced schools. This tier would necessitate these schools to provide a minimum annual payment of $30,000 to at least half of their athletes, both among men’s and women’s sports, through an enhanced educational trust fund.
In addition to the creation of a new tier of Division I athletics, Baker’s proposal extends beyond financial compensation, the proposal allows Division I colleges and universities to offer their student-athletes unlimited educational benefits and allows Division I colleges or universities to enter into name, image, and likeness (NIL) licensing deals with their student-athletes. The catalyst for this proposal lies in addressing the growing disparity in resources among Division I schools, particularly between the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools and the rest of Division I.
Baker emphasizes the financial diversity among Division I schools, where athletic budgets range from $5 million to $250 million annually. With a significant number of schools reporting net losses, the proposal seeks to help shield non-elite schools from potential legal challenges by separating them from the top-tier programs.
Beyond financial implications, Baker acknowledges the challenges posed by ongoing legal disputes, particularly regarding TV money, NIL opportunities, and the classification of collegiate athletes as employees of their respective college or university. The proposed changes, however, do not provide a legislative solution to the broader issues faced by the NCAA. Despite aggressive lobbying efforts over the past five years, Congress has yet to pass a law addressing key concerns of the NCAA, leaving the NCAA vulnerable to legal threats.
While the proposal positions the NCAA to defend itself under antitrust law by adopting a more nuanced and flexible approach, it also implicitly signals a recognition of flaws in the current system. The move, described by Ramogi Huma of the National College Players Association as “historic,” marks a departure from the NCAA’s longstanding resistance to directly compensating college athletes. The acknowledgment of the practicality of paying players signifies a significant shift that could reshape the future of college sports. However, the NCAA’s evolving stance is not without its legal and legislative challenges, setting the stage for a complex and dynamic transformation in collegiate athletics.