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The Future Of College Athletics With NCAA President Charlie Baker

Guest Charlie Baker, NCAA
38:12 min watch


NCAA President Charlie Baker sits down with ADU’s Jason Belzer to discuss the future of college athletics, including the development of the NCAA’s fan database, transparency issues in NIL, the impact of sports wagering on the integrity of competition and his belief in the power of the student-athlete voice.

A full transcript of the conversation is below. Find an index of the conversation, with clickable time stamps, at the end of the transcript.

Jason Belzer (Athletic Director U): I am Jason Belzer, here for Athletic Director U, and I am joined today by NCAA President Charlie Baker. Charlie, thank you for coming with us today.

Charlie Baker (NCAA): Nice to see you guys.

Belzer: So, we’re going to start with a very simple question. It is March of 2024. You have been in your seat for just about a year now. If you could go back, exactly a year ago today, and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Baker: Probably don’t be surprised when you get surprised. Coming out of the environment that I was in, which is mostly healthcare and government, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be surprised. But the playing field that I was on, to use a sports analogy, was not as vast as this one is. I’d be first to admit, I had a lot to learn and I’ve tried pretty hard, meeting with all 97 conferences in my first 150 days, talking to as many people as I possibly could before I took the job and especially to a lot of student-athletes. My goal was to try to absorb as much information as quickly as I could. But yeah, don’t be surprised when you get surprised cause I got surprised a few times.

Belzer: With that hindsight, how would you grade your performance over the last year?

Baker: I’m a big believer in incompletes. I think more often than not, especially if you’re involved in big organizations, there’s an arc to the work. I’ve had plenty of people write my death notice before when it turned out that they were wrong. They just didn’t wait long enough. I’ve had other people say, ‘Wow, that guy’s stupendous on that issue’ and then, at some point after that, turn completely around and say, ‘Boy, did I get that wrong.’ I do think that some of the stuff that we’ve done in the first year has been really important and I believe over time, will be incredibly important. I think creating a fan database, we have millions of people who come to our championships, we should know a lot about those people and we should be communicating with them. We have six-and-a-half million fans in that database now. Hopefully, 10 million by the convention in January and 25 million over the next couple of years and we’re working with a company that has done this for most of the professional sports teams and one of the things I believe we should focus most on is the student-athlete experience. Well, one way to focus on that is to drive as much traffic as we possibly can through social media to enhance attendance at championships, to enhance social media traffic and to engage greater eyeballs on all of our broadcasted stuff. I really do believe that if we have 25 million fans and we know where they live, what sports they are interested in, what teams they follow and what conferences they’ve chased – that sort of thing – and we’re in a position to just constantly, hopefully not overly do it, but just constantly give them information in a consumer-centric way around the teams and the sports and the stuff they’re interested in, I think they’ll respond. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was I couldn’t understand why the same athletes who participate in the Olympics and the World Games, which are basically college students representing the United States, get huge visibility in the trials and the games, whether it’s the Olympics or the World Games. They do fine on TV and they do fine on broadcast and they do fine in terms of who shows up for their events, but it’s nothing like it is in the trials and the World and Olympic Games and that says to me that that’s because people can’t find them. It’s up to us to make sure that we do a better job of developing that database and making it something that helps our fan base find our student-athletes when they’re performing and support them.

Belzer: So, it’s interesting that you bring that up because I think what you’re really speaking about here is maybe a bit of an arbitrage opportunity in the sense that Olympic sports in particular – football and basketball get a lot of attention – but all of these Olympic sports, outside of the trials and the actual Olympics, go by the wayside. As we’ve seen with the incredible performance of women’s basketball over the last couple of years from a media ratings standpoint, it seems that there’s a lot of opportunity to be able to capture eyeballs around that and so, it sounds like the analytical approach that you guys are taking to build this database is focused on increasing fan attendance and increasing social media use and increasing eyeballs at the end of the day. Is that right?

Baker: Yeah and in fact, when we were negotiating the new TV rights deal we have with ESPN, they were very interested in the fact that we’re building this database, so I think it helped us get the 3x increase. Obviously, the success of a lot of those sports did too and the trajectory especially that some of them – including women’s basketball – are high, but they were also really interested in the fact that we were going to take a serious shot at dramatically expanding our ability to pull people in and to make sure they were part of the viewing audience for our teams.

Belzer: We’ll get to this, I think a little bit later, but has there been conversation about leveraging the student-athletes themselves?

Baker: Oh yeah. We’ve done a lot of storytelling already on social media, but part of the deal that we negotiated with ESPN includes a lot more storytelling as part of their work as well. I’ve met with way more than 1,000 student-athletes since I’ve got this job and I tell people all the time: they are the best part of the job and the stories they have and the outlook they have on life and the way they think about things. I’m not going to tell you which event it was because that’s unfair to them, but I spent a weekend at a school in the fall and I went to the football game. I also talked to a bunch of guys on the football team beforehand and so, during the game, there were a couple of moments when we got pictures of all of the guys that I talked to in the same frame. They won, so I wrote them all a note, blew up the picture and then sent it to them. I wrote them a note and said, ‘You guys give me faith in the future of America.’ I sent it off to them and I know that sounds corny and stupid, but that’s how I feel most of the time when I come out of those conversations. These young people are really cool.

Belzer: It’s very true. As we assess the landscape and you assess the NCAA, there’s a lot of criticism that has been going on… What I would love to hear from you is your subjective, over the last year, impression of what is working well at the NCAA, what is working well in college athletics and where do you think there could be some improvement?

Baker: Well, let’s start with the student-athlete experience, which people need to remember that we have a 5/95, 95/5 issue in college sports, which is 5% of the teams make up 95% of the visibility. 95% of the teams and 95% of the kids are probably pretty well known to their classmates and maybe there’s some alumni and maybe a few people in the communities that they’re in, but that’s probably about it. Those are not high revenue generators. The majority, 70 or 80% of the schools in college sports probably spend less than $20 million on athletics, but the big brands are really big and so, they tend to dominate a lot of the public discussion. One of the things we tried to do with our Project D1 proposal was to acknowledge this fact and to say, the way we should be thinking about this world going forward is, there’s D1, then there’s the most highly-resourced institutions in D1 and then there’s D2 and D3 and we should think about them differently with respect to rules and structure and expectations. I think one of the things that does work well is the lessons that get taught about being a teammate, about getting up when you get knocked down, about grinding it out, about understanding that life – for the most part – is a process. I think kids across all three divisions, all sports, learn those lessons. But I also think trying to pretend that they’re all the same, they’re not. The operating models are really different and we should acknowledge that, which is what the Project D1 proposal we put forward last fall was designed to do. I actually think we’re moving in that direction.

Belzer: You said the operating model for the top schools is a little bit different.

Baker: It’s not just a little bit different. It’s a lot different.

Belzer: Is it just based on the amount of money that’s coming into those institutions and their ability to allocate those dollars in ways that other D1 institutions can’t?

Baker: I wouldn’t call it just a little bit different, I guess. I would say it’s a lot different and that’s not a value judgment. It’s just an eyeball test. I think it’s an important element of the larger conversation because when most people in the media talk about college sports, they really do talk about the top 70 schools and they draw a line there. That’s like 5%-6% of college sports and the rest of college sports, which I think is teaching many of the same lessons and doing it very well and has been forever – just as those other schools are – get lost in the conversation and I think going forward the way we should deal with this is create a standard or a set of rules for the most heavily resourced institutions that looks different than the ones for everybody else. By the way, I also want these heavily resourced institutions to have the ability – this is another part of our proposal – to make some of the decisions about how those schools and those sports should be governed and operated because they’re different. They should have a lot more flexibility around in and out-of-season tournaments. They should have more flexibility around roster management and scholarships. They should have more flexibility around compensation. I don’t believe that student-athletes should be employees because most of the student-athletes I’ve talked to and all of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committees have said they don’t want to be employees, but you can certainly do compensation agreements without doing employment. In fact, the courts have ruled on this several times that student-athletes are kind of what they call a special status class.

Belzer: We’ll talk about that more here in a moment. I would love your assessment. You worked in government for most of your career.

Baker: I actually worked in health care. Well, I did work in government quite a bit. Both of which are perfect set-ups to be in college sports.

Belzer: Healthcare companies, you see a lot of bureaucracy as well. The question here is: has the NCAA gotten too big in terms of the way that it is governed and structured? You talk about maybe the top 40 schools need to be able to make their own decisions and be able to do that. How do you address that and why isn’t it such a simple answer as to say, ‘Okay, you guys go create your new division, go make your own rules. Let’s all play nice.’ I mean, it seems like everybody has a different priority in this situation.

Baker: I do think there’s a lot of that going on. I guess what I would say is that, it’s not so much about how big it is. It’s about how diverse it is. When you literally have hundreds of schools that spend less than $5 million on sports and hundreds that spend less than $10 million and hundreds that spend less than $20 million and 70 that spend more than $150 million and over $200 million in some cases, your issue there is less about size and more about spread, diversity – whatever you want to call it – and that gets to the operating model, which is why I do think the bigger challenge is to stop thinking everybody’s the same, which is how we’ve done this historically and been slow to move on that issue and to say instead, that there should be one set of rules for D1, like everybody who offers somebody a scholarship, they should get to keep it. Whether they play or not, that scholarship should be available for them for 10 years, so that they can complete their degree if they don’t get it done during their four years of eligibility. There should be access to mental health services and support and for all three divisions, there should be a post-eligibility injury insurance program for two years because if you get hurt while you’re playing and you’re still in treatment, we, the NCAA, should build on the catastrophic insurance program we have and make sure that you have access to services and supports. To me, if you want to be D1, you got to play by the holistic model rules. Everybody should have access to that post eligibility injury insurance program and then within D1, let’s give the more heavily resourced schools the ability to do more and then leave it up to the schools to make decisions because the way it’s set up now, you can’t do that. Some of the schools have said to me a number of times that they would like to do more, but the way we currently organize and operate makes it hard for them to do that and they’re right.

Belzer: All the things that you just talked about seem as if they’re no brainers and that all these things should be implemented.

Baker: They all become effective in August.

Belzer: So, are the larger institutions in the position of, ‘We need to move faster,’ or is it that the environment and the political landscape and the court system is pushing for somebody to be able to make a decision faster than what the NCAA can do based on its processes?

Baker: I don’t know. I mean, the court stuff’s been going on for years too. Having been in government, it’s a deliberative body. I’ve said this before, sometimes, it takes two or three trips through the legislature to get folks comfortable with a new idea on practically anything and then to figure out how to get it high enough up on their priority list to actually get it done. I certainly think the NCAA, historically, has been slow to address some of this stuff. But I again come back to the fact that some of that’s about trying to figure out some way how to think about everybody as sort of being the same. When the playing fields – for the most part – are the same size, there are some real similarities that do exist across all three divisions and within divisions. But then when you get into some of these other issues about scale and capacity, we really should be thinking differently.

Belzer: Let’s talk a little bit about NIL. NIL has been in effect for almost three years now and if we go back to June of 2021, there was a lot of celebration about the opportunity for student-athletes to be able to leverage their notoriety to make money. But what’s interesting is that in any capitalistic system, there’s always an equilibrium right? Just taking the stock market, the market is going to correct itself and we’ve already seen that. We’ve seen people invest and then not get that return on investment.

Baker: You can’t compare it to the stock market because the stock market actually has a set of legal frameworks in place. The stock market is transparent, the brokers and everybody who’s in it have to sign documents about who they’re actually working for and they can go to jail if they misrepresent what they’re doing. There are uniform standard contracts that people either have to abide by or engage in pretty serious discussions with the people they’re doing business with about doing something differently. There’s nothing like that in the NIL space currently and to me, when people say, ‘It’s just another market,’ actually, it’s not. It’s a market that has no framework attached to it at all. What I said to some of the folks I was talking to about this was that my biggest concern about it was it doesn’t have the standard consumer protections in it that every other market has in it, which is really where the guardrails for people who are participating in it can rely on and count on. I said I thought the NCAA made a mistake by not putting those sort of things in place in the first place and we’re now pursuing those, we’re pursuing the transparency issue and a uniform contract that makes somebody who’s a third party sign something that says whether they’re working for the school, the collective or the student-athlete because some of the really challenging stuff that happens to kids and families involves people who purport to be working for the student-athlete, but they’re not. They’re actually working for somebody else. I also think creating this – call it kind of a Yelp – for student-athletes where kids can actually lay out the people who’ve done well by them and the people who have misrepresented information to them, so that kids can actually start to share data and families can share data online with each other about how people behave and what they’ve been told and what’s been true and what hasn’t been. I think those are really important elements that we do not have in this space yet. Hopefully we will have them sometime soon. The student-athletes that have served on our working groups and the student-athletes who serve on our advisory committees have been on us about trying to get this in place.

Belzer: I agree with everything that you just said. My only question to that is, why three years in? Why not sooner?

Baker: That’s a really good question and we made a mistake. The NCAA made a mistake by not getting into this sooner. It was one of the first things I started talking about in the spring of ‘23 because as somebody who came out of healthcare and government, most of the markets I’ve ever been around do have consumer protections in them that are designed to provide accountability and transparency and we really need those.

Belzer: Some say that the solution potentially is to have institutions more involved.

Baker: We did propose in that proposal we made last year the idea that D1 schools, which is really where most of this activity takes place, could have the ability to actually participate directly in the NIL space. The schools themselves have said to us on a number of occasions, when I did some of those 97 conference visits, that they thought they would be a more amenable participant in that space in terms of some of the rules. By the way, the two things you get if you do that, they’re really helpful. One is you get reporting, so that I just don’t have to believe you that it’s a billion dollar market with 80% of it coming from collectives. The second is, you get a really useful way to gauge how in fact the Title IX issue is either being addressed or not… Title IX’s had a lot to do and so has the investment that schools have made in women’s sports to just dramatically alter the trajectory of women’s sports and I do worry if the whole game here is going to be about the men in the NIL space – particularly this part of the NIL space – I think that’s a problem.

Belzer: I was saying that if schools get more involved, if you open the door and say, ‘Be involved,’ then there would have to be Title IX compliance in that case. That’s the only way that that works.

Baker: Title IX – remember, for your audience – is comparable. It doesn’t have to be the same, but it’s got to be the same number of athletes, it’s got to be a comparable support, which is I think a standard that I would hope most schools would be anxious to comply with.

Belzer: Going into this next year, the 2024 season, the median football collective will be about $4 million. There’ll be about 15 to 20 schools that’ll have more than $10 million. For basketball, there’ll be about 15 schools that have more than $2.5-$3 million. In a situation in which an institution has the opportunity to deploy up to $10 million, up to $15 million, is the expectation that the same amount of money would be deployed to the female student-athletes? If the donors are driving the money and the donors, again, seemingly care mostly about football and men’s basketball, where does the institution find the money to be able to create comparable opportunities for females?

Baker: I think that’s up to the institution. But the good news is, at least at that point, you’d have public reporting on a lot of it and the ability to determine how people are defining comparable. We don’t have that right now.

Belzer: NIL is just a part of some of the bigger issues that college athletics is facing. We have recently had Dartmouth men’s basketball unionize just two or three weeks ago. It seems like employment is a very, very, very big concern and arguably a much bigger concern than what NIL is. We have issues around sports wagering that have been bubbling up throughout the country. There are a lot of things that need to be assessed and so, my first question is you have such a diverse constituency. You have 1,000 institutions and 50 different states each with their own state laws, each with their own beliefs. If tomorrow every student-athlete could become an employee, it just wouldn’t work in some states. Right?

Baker: It wouldn’t work for 90% of the schools. It would dramatically scale back the amount of intercollegiate athletic activity that takes place. If you’re spending $5 million on sports and you’re making $500,000 on those programs and you now have to create an employment infrastructure that sits on top of it, I think you’re going to basically just say, ‘We can’t do this.’

Belzer: What is the NCAA doing to No. 1, prepare for or prevent something like that from happening? And more so, is the NCAA doing anything to prepare for a day where there might be some states, some institutions that are forced to do that?

Baker: Can we talk about sports betting for a minute since you brought it up? I worry a lot about this and it was actually the No. 1 issue that student-athletes talked to me about between the time I got announced in December of ‘22 and the time I started the job in March ‘23. I had no idea how much activity there was in this space. On college campuses, kids were literally using words like rampant and everybody does it. This was across all three divisions and so, that was the main reason we went and did a survey shortly after I got the job of 18-to-22-year-olds about sports betting and there’s a panel of about 3,200 kids across the country. Some of whom were in college, some of whom were student-athletes, but I wanted a baseline across just the 18-to-22-year-olds and about 60% of them bet on sports. The numbers were higher on college campuses. Most of the folks that were on college campuses bet on college sports… The kids that were not supposed to be able to bet were betting at the same rate as the kids that were allowed to bet. In the 15 states where it wasn’t legal, the percentage of kids that were betting was the same percentage as it was for the states where it was legal. Whether it’s legal or not, whether you are legal or not, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 22, more than half of you are probably betting on sports and most of you are betting on college sports, which puts college student-athletes in a really tough spot because that means their classmate, their schoolmates are talking to them and saying, ‘How do you think these guys are going to do this weekend? How are you going to do next weekend? These are the kinds of conversations – I don’t know if you played sports in college, I did – I had these conversations all day long with my classmates. The whole prop betting thing, especially at the collegiate level, is something that I actually went to Washington about when the National Governors Association was down there a couple of weeks ago. I met with some of my former colleagues and said, ‘This prop betting thing, you should think real hard about whether you want this at the collegiate level because you’re putting kids in a really tough spot here, where they have classmates – because they’ve said this to me – coming up to them and saying, ‘I don’t want you to throw the game. I just need you to not take the first shot. I just need you to miss your first two free throws. I just need you to do whatever because I need the money. I’m not doing as well as I thought I was going to be doing.’ Kids are being put, in my opinion, in a terrible place on this. So far, Maryland and Vermont and Ohio have all outlined prop betting at the collegiate level and I hope more states do that because I think that one in particular is a hugely challenging issue for kids. We’ve also dramatically expanded our online learning programs for student-athletes. We spend a lot of time talking to compliance officers about this. We’ve done twice as many on-campus visits to talk about sports betting as we did previously and I think we’re in the first inning of a very long and challenging game. The question folks in your chair usually ask me is, ‘So when’s the next big scandal?’ My answer to that is, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to avoid having one.’

Belzer: I believe an article in The Wall Street Journal that focused on what was happening on campuses. Obviously, the majority of the sports betting is happening with young men and they’re taking scholarship money, Pell grant money and putting it into sports betting by the time they get out of school or they don’t even make it through school because they don’t have enough money to pay their tuition. So if it’s ubiquitous, it’s very hard to avoid.

Baker: Then, you toss NIL into it. The NIL stuff you’re talking about for the most part is at the same programs where most of the games have lines out and a lot of real traffic and interest. It’s a complicated space and we actually had a championship last spring where a bettor made a threat against the team that was serious enough that we gave the team 24/7 police protection the rest of the time they were in the tournament. We do have a company that does surveillance work and social media that is in our major championships this year tracking threats and verbal assaults on coaches and officials and players and then notifying the platforms if there are people that are out there on a limb. If they see really awful stuff, they’re notifying the authorities and shutting them down. The combination of social media, sports betting and some of these other things, they’re pretty complicating, especially at a time when most student-athletes – because of NIL – are very interested in doing the things they can do through social media or promote their brands.

Belzer: They’re often in a rock and a hard place. A lot of kids don’t even want to be on social media if they don’t have to, but if they want to make money, they have to build their following. Going back to that employment issue, much like sports betting, it’s a very difficult topic. Who would have thought that Dartmouth would have been the first to try something like this? How do you navigate that? Or can you or do you just deal with it on a case-by-case basis and go to Washington, D.C.?

Baker: I don’t think one court at a time is any way to make decisions and policy. Courts make decisions based on all kinds of things. That was part of the reason why we proposed what we proposed under the project D1 proposal, which was a holistic solution to the issues that people have raised about the most heavily resourced institutions, D1 generally, and the support that should be out there for student-athletes on certain issues and the opportunity to compensate. We need Congress to enable us to do that, but I know there are many members in our organization who would leap at the chance to implement something like that if they were able to do so. I think the biggest challenge I’ve heard from most of the kids I’ve talked to about the employment model, and this certainly shows up in the letters that many of them on the SAAC side have written to us, is it warps the playing field with respect to why I’m there. I’m there to be a student who plays a sport. I’m not there to be an employee who happens to be a student. Many of them worry a lot about what that employee status would mean to their ability to succeed academically if they can’t perform as an employee. It’s a legitimate question and troublesome. If the issue is compensation, we can solve that one and if the issue is some of the other concerns that people have about voice and influence, they sit on all of our major committees – student-athletes do – and their voice is being heard in a big way. A lot of the stuff around the holistic model and around that injury insurance program came directly from conversations with them and they are the ones who are driving a big piece of our programming around sports betting as well.

Belzer: It’s interesting that you mentioned the voice because I think the vast majority of student-athletes do not want to be employees and it would not work in their favor to be employees when it comes to compensation. In fact, even the current NIL model from a compensation standpoint is more favorable than being an employee for the vast majority of athletes. I do think that there’s a lot out there about athletes having a voice in some of the bigger decisions that are happening and so, when we talk about things like conference realignment, when Oregon or USC or UCLA decided to join the Big Ten, were the student athletes to ask whether or not that was going to be a good decision and the answer is probably not. Does it make sense for the student-athletes to have some sort of mechanism, whether it’s a collective bargaining or some sort of association, not fixed unemployment, but just being able to say, “Hey, let’s get a pulse from every student-athlete, whether it’s within the school, a conference or division to say, ‘We want to do this. What do you guys think about it?’”

Baker: Especially in the age we live in where everybody can communicate virtually and electronically pretty easily, I think there’s lots of ways for people to create larger groups for debate and discussion. I don’t know the answer to this question. For example, I don’t know if the SAACs at USC or UCLA or Stanford were involved in the conversations around realignment. As much as I understand why people found that to be so harsh, the flip side of that is that I’ve looked at enough of those schools’ budgets to know that football is 75-to-80% of their revenue and 25%-to-28% of their spending and that gap in there, that 50%, is what funds every everybody else. I’m speaking purely hypothetically, I do think people underestimate the importance of the success of football, generally, financially, on all those other sports and the revenues and the resources they make available for both women’s sports and Olympic sports and other non-revenue sports. It’s a really big part of the success of the US Olympic team and those Olympic sports and college sports and it’s got something to do with the success of the student-athletes themselves and their coaches in the growth in women’s sports. So, it’s always going to be part of that. You can’t think about it just in terms of football alone. Football is part of that larger financial piece. By the way, the revenue share model in California died last year and the year before was because a lot of the advocates for sports and Olympic sports opposed it because they believed at the time – probably correctly – that if those football and men’s basketball teams kept all the money, it would have huge consequences for everybody else.

Belzer: It’s interesting because when all of that happened last year, I was speaking to an SEC AD and they said, ‘This is the greatest thing to ever happen to the SEC from an Olympic sports standpoint because now, all of the athletes that are on the West Coast that have considered Pac-12 schools, they’re going to come to the SEC because they don’t have to travel across the country. They can have a great experience and be in a compact geographical area and we’re going to be able to take advantage of that.’

Baker: That’s really interesting. I had not heard that.

Belzer: I really appreciate the transparency. Charlie, I have one last question for you. What are you most optimistic about?

Baker: I have to tell you, the kids that I meet and I talk to in my travels are awesome young people… Two of my kids were college athletes. My wife was a college athlete, my brother was. I’ve spent a lot of time around college athletes. They are such good kids and they are so thoughtful and grounded and focused and they have purpose and they feel the support of their teammates and they graduate at a higher rate across all demographics than their non-student-athlete colleagues. They are the ones who made me think there’s a lot about college sports that works. I know it was corny to say it, but I do feel a lot better. Part of the reason I didn’t stay in politics was because it got kind of depressing. Part of what I love about talking to a lot of these student-athletes is the sort of joy and the positivity about the future that I get when I talk to them and they’re easily one of the best parts of it all. I think the second thing I would say is many of these initiatives that we’re pursuing, whether it’s the fan database – which I think can do tremendous things around exposure and support – or the holistic model or the injury insurance protection program or some of the stuff we’re doing around sports betting to minimize or mitigate some of the challenges associated with that – having all these governors come out within a few days of me actually talking to them and saying they’re going to get rid of prop betting – I think there’s a lot of positivity there. That said, there’s an enormous amount of challenge generally and uncertainty around a whole bunch of the other issues you and I talked about. When people say to me, ‘Well, what do you think’s going to happen?’ I say, ‘My hope is that we solve the issues that create a lot of uncertainty in a way that works for schools and student-athletes. My hope is that we figure out how to do that in a way where at the end of the day, everybody says that’s pretty positive. There’s a certain amount of equilibrium and fairness there. Let’s go. My nightmare scenario is that we do what the NCAA did for years, which is we paint all of college sports with one broad brush and treat it all the same way when it’s not. In that scenario, I think we end up with a lot less of it, which I think would be a shame.

Belzer: To build off what you said and to recap it, I think if we use the student-athletes as the guiding star in every decision that is made, then it’s going to lead to a better outcome.

Baker: 100%. Those are really good kids and they are very thoughtful. They bring their A game all the time.

Belzer: Thank you, Charlie, for joining us today. It’s good to see you.

Baker: Much appreciated. Likewise.

  • - You've been in your role for about a year; if you could go back to a year ago and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • - With that hindsight, how would you grade your performance over that first year?
  • - It seems like the analytical approach you and your team are taking to creating this fan database is about increasing fan attendance, social media views, eyeballs at the end of the day.
  • - Has there been conversation about leveraging the student-athletes themselves in this process?
  • - What is working well at the NCAA? What is working well in college athletics? Where do you think there could be some improvement?
  • - You said the operating model for the top schools is different; is it based on the amount of money that's coming into those institutions and their ability to allocate those dollars in ways that other DI institutions can't?
  • - Has the NCAA gotten too big in terms of the way that it's governed and structured?
  • - Are the larger institutions merely in the position of needing to move faster or is it that the environment and political landscape and the court systems pushing for a decision to be made faster than what the NCAA can do based on its processes?
  • - NIL has been in effect for nearly three years now and in any capitalistic system, there's always an equilibrium - just like in the stock market, the market's going to correct itself.
  • - Why three years in?
  • - Some say a potential solution is to have institutions more involved.
  • - If schools get more involved, then there would have to be more Title IX compliance.
  • - In a situation where an institution is deploying up to $10-15M [in NIL money for male student-athletes], is the expectation that the same amount would be deployed to female student-athletes? If donors are more interested in supporting football and men's basketball, where does the institution find the money to be able to create comparable opportunities for female student-athletes?
  • - Student-athlete employment is a big concern, arguable a bigger concern than NIL. We have issues around sports wagering. There are a lot of things that need to be assessed. You have a diverse constituency, each with their own state laws and beliefs; if tomorrow, every student-athlete could become an employee, it just wouldn't work in some states. 
  • - What is the NCAA doing to prepare for or prevent something like that from happening? What is the NCAA doing to prepare for a day when some states are forced to do that?
  • - A scandal may be unavoidable based on the number of students on college campuses participating in sports betting.
  • - How do you navigate the issue of student-athletes unionizing and seeking employee status? Or do you just deal with it on a case-by-case basis?
  • - Does it make sense for student-athletes to have some sort of mechanism to have a greater say on big picture decisions like realignment?
  • - What are you most optimistic about?