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NCAA President Charlie Baker sent a letter to all NCAA Division I members today that included proposals for changes never before seen in collegiate athletics. One of the proposals includes allowing member schools to pay student-athletes directly.

Nothing from Baker’s letter has been approved, but the proposal should be a major talking point when athletic administrators meet this week in Las Vegas. The topic will also be heavily discussed in January when the NCAA convention takes place.

One of the most shocking changes in the letter is the proposal to allow schools to pay athletes through either a trust or a name, image, and likeness (NIL) opportunity. The current rules do not allow schools to directly pay student-athletes. Individual agreements or a NIL Collective are the only ways student-athletes can be paid.

In a portion of the letter, released in a post by Ralph D. Russo on X, Baker proposes three changes for colleges and student-athletes:

First, the schools will be allowed to offer student-athletes any and all educational benefits. Second, the schools will be allowed to enter into NIL deals directly with the student-athletes. The third change is the creation of a subdivision comprised of institutions with the highest resources to invest in their student-athletes.

Baker’s proposals are in stark contrast to the rules the NCAA has held since its creation in 1906, that no student-athletes are to be compensated for competing. Some believe that the proposals by Baker, only nine months into his tenure as NCAA president, are a way of trying to keep the Power Four conferences, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC, from seceding from the NCAA and forming their own league.

No matter what the reason is behind Baker’s proposals most will agree that this is a long time coming. The NCAA has long been viewed as archaic with rules that date back to the early and mid-1900s. The recent additions of the transfer portal and NIL laws have sped the process of change for all college athletics. Now even more change seems to be on the horizon.

“It kick-starts a long overdue conversation among the membership,” Baker wrote, “that focuses on the differences that exist between schools, conferences, and divisions and how to create more permissive and flexible rules across the NCAA that put student-athletes first. Colleges and universities need to be more flexible, and the NCAA needs to be more flexible too.”

Baker’s proposal favors the schools and conferences that have the most money but also allows a way for the smaller-income schools to compete and survive. What the proposal also does is allocate funds to level the playing field between men’s and women’s sports.

Evidence of the need to look out for women’s sports is found in the lawsuit that 32 female athletes at the University of Oregon filed against the school on December 1, 2023, for alleged Title IX violations. Title IX is a federal law created to prohibit gender inequality by educational institutions receiving federal funds.

Unlike his predecessor, no matter what the motivation is, Charlie Baker has taken a step forward for college sports. In times when change was blatantly necessary, former NCAA president Mark Emmert heavily fought against most changes to collegiate athletics.

There is cause for concern as Baker is a former politician, and politicians are notorious for offering an all-you-can-eat buffet but delivering only a crumb. Time will tell if Baker has shed his political skin for that of a true leader of collegiate athletics, something the student-athlete has been sorely missing for decades.


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