On March 1, 2023, the NCAA officially welcomed its ninth president, Charlie Baker. The 66-year-old former governor of Massachusetts and private-sector CEO breaks the typical mold of college administrators at the helm of the organization, leaving commentators speculating about the potential for a more consensus-building approach. Baker, a Republican, governed the mostly blue state of Massachusetts. Baker stands alone as the first NCAA president with no professional experience in collegiate administration over the duration of the NCAA’s 113-year history. Baker also breaks a 20-year streak of college presidents leading the organization.
Speaking about his planned approach to the position, Baker said:
“The NCAA is confronting complex and significant challenges, but I am excited to get to work as the awesome opportunity college athletics provides to so many students is more than worth the challenge. And for the fans that faithfully fill stadiums, stands and gyms from coast to coast, I am eager to ensure the competitions we all love to follow are there for generations to come. Over the coming months, I will begin working with student-athletes and NCAA members as we modernize college sports to suit today’s world, while preserving its essential value.”
New President Faces Several Challenges
Outgoing president Mark Emmert experienced several significant litigation defeats leading the NCAA to reluctantly accept student-athletes’ rights to profit from their name, image, and likeness. Following those losses, Baker now faces a patchwork of state laws surrounding NIL.
Baker also steps into office with two pending lawsuits concerning whether athletes must receive direct compensation as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as whether athletes who did not benefit from NIL deals are entitled to backpay. His approach to this litigation, including his willingness to enter into a settlement agreement or to proactively change NCAA rules to avoid rulings, could shape the NCAA landscape for decades to come.
Baker also faces the threat of even more proposed federal legislation to affect NCAA athletics, including Democrats’ proposed Collegiate Athletes Bill of Rights and Republicans’ proposed legislation to standardize athletes’ NIL compensation.
The 500,000 students who participate in collegiate athletics under the NCAA’s purview would certainly benefit from a more consistent and easily navigable legal landscape. Will Baker continue the tradition of Emmert and eschew active engagement in amending NCAA rules, while pointing to congress as the proper vector for change? Or will his political background uniquely empower him to engage directly with stakeholders and athletes to make change from within the organization? Time will tell.
The attorneys in KJK’s Student Athlete Defense Practice Group are closely following these developments as they occur. For more information, or to discuss further, please please contact Susan Stone (SCS@kjk.com; 216.736.7220), Kristina Supler (KWS@kjk.com; 216.736.7217), or Anna Bullock (AEB@kjk.com; 216.736.7223).