NCAA president Charlie Baker wants help from Congress to avoid paying student athletes. Barker argues that it would affect historically Black colleges

The NCAA will try to convince members of Congress to avoid labeling student athletes as ’employees’

NCAA president Charlie Baker wants help from Congress to avoid paying student athletes

LW/LAPRESSE

NCAA President Charlie Baker said Friday that action by Congress was needed to protect what he described as the “95 percent” of athletes whose ability to play college sports would be endangered by a court ruling or regulatory decision declaring them as employees of their schools.

Speaking to a small group of reporters near the NCAA’s Washington office, Baker was realistic but still hopeful about the prospect of Congress doing what it didn’t do despite persistent requests from his predecessor, Mark Emmert: granting the NCAA a limited antitrust exemption that would allow it to make rules safeguarding college sports without the constant threat of litigation.

His comments took on more urgency when a Tennessee judge ruled Friday that the NCAA could not block schools from using name, image and likeness (NIL) money to recruit athletes. Baker was informed of the ruling during his meeting with reporters and declined to comment. The NCAA said later in a statement that the ruling “will aggravate an already chaotic collegiate environment.”

Baker in December proposed creating a new tier of Division I that would allow the schools that make the most money from sports to pay their athletes. But he doesn’t want internal NCAA reforms or a court ruling to endanger sports at the vast majority of member schools. The NCAA is facing several lawsuits and a unionization effort at Dartmouth that could result in athletes getting classified as employees.

Barker argues that it would affect historically Black colleges

The employment model would not work at historically Black colleges and universities, he said, or at Division II or III schools.

“You’re talking about 95 percent of colleges that probably spend somewhere between … $40 million and $5 million on college sports, and they lose money,” Baker said. “They don’t have TV contracts and nobody can look at their income statements or balance sheets and conclude there would be a way for them to make money.”

Baker, a former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts whose tenure as NCAA president hits the one-year mark on March 1, said he was encouraged by his conversations with members of Congress who agree with him that something must be done to safeguard and standardize players’ NIL rights and ensure that the NCAA can give athletes more opportunities to make money.

“I think in the end, we are going to need Congress to do something,” Baker said. “Because people will draw a lot of conclusions from court decisions. And then there will be new ones.”

He said he took the long view on congressional action and wasn’t counting on getting a bill passed during an election year in which priorities of both parties, including funding for border security and Ukraine, have stalled.

“I completely accept the fact that in the grand scheme of all the things Congress is working on, this one is probably not at the top of the pile,” Baker said.

Baker added that the antitrust exemption he is seeking is far narrower than what the NCAA has asked for in the past.

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