NCAA President Charlie Baker addresses future of federal legislation, antitrust exemption

WASHINGTON — During an hour-long interview session Friday that spanned the time in which a federal judge in Tennessee issued a significant ruling against his association, NCAA President Charlie Baker indicated that he and his group will continue pursuing federal legislation regarding college sports even if such a measure doesn’t get through Congress this year.

Referring to his eight years as Massachusetts’ governor — his job before moving to the NCAA — Baker told a small group of reporters: “I probably have a slightly different view on how legislation gets made than some others do. It's a deliberative process to begin with, right?

“Most of the time when we proposed almost anything … that had any complexity to it at all, we never assumed we would get it in the first legislative session. We always assumed that we were probably shooting for the next one — and maybe the one after that.”

And one of the NCAA’s main federal legislative aims — some type of antitrust protection that potentially would shield it from actions such as the one brought by the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia and led to Friday's ruling — is anything but simple.

We get the message — we get the fact it's a big ask,” Baker said, not referring to the ruling, on which the association had no immediate comment. “But if every rule turns into a federal case, it's going to be hard for anybody to plan.

Baker also said of a potential exemption: “I would like something that's very limited here, and I'm perfectly happy to have some federal oversight with regard to that limitation. The sort of broad-stroke antitrust exemption that people have talked about — I don't think that's necessary. I'm looking for something that just will end the uncertainty and the chaos around some of the very basic rule-making that's a part of all this.”

NCAA President Charlie Baker speaks at his first state of college sports address at the association's annual convention on Jan. 10.
NCAA President Charlie Baker speaks at his first state of college sports address at the association's annual convention on Jan. 10.

In his decision Friday to grant a preliminary injunction that suspended the NCAA’s rules concerning athletes’ activities making money from their name, image and likeness (NIL), Judge Clifton Corker specifically — but not exclusively — cited the NCAA’s Interim NIL Policy, which was issued in June 2021 and clarified by its Division I Board of Directors in October 2022.

Amid a considerable loosening of restrictions on athletes’ ability to make money from their NIL through endorsements and a range of other activities, the NCAA had left in place a restriction against offers of cash as a recruiting inducement.

“I don’t think there should be" such offers allowed, Baker said in a response to a general question about the issue —not about Friday’s ruling. “But I definitely don't think it should be right now, given the fact that there is no transparency (concerning what athletes make from NIL deals), there's no accountability, and there's lots of examples of people misrepresenting truth in reality to kids who then end up chasing that ... and discover that what they thought was there isn't.

“And I think one of the things that the schools would say is they would rather have kids choose where to go based on something other than that, because that's not really sustainable for the kids or for the schools or for the programs. You'd rather have them pick a place because it fits right and then deal with this issue.”

What else did Charlie Baker cover?

NCAA basketball tournament field expansion: While careful to extol the virtues of the current 68-team fields, Baker acknowledged there is interest among some NCAA members in expanding the tournaments.

He also said: "If you just look at the season we're having this year on the men's and the women's side, I don't think a week goes by without four or five big surprises — which says to me that the competition is getting flatter. And as the competition gets flatter, one of the things you start thinking about is how do you make it possible for everybody who has a case to make to have a chance to prove it or not without, again, ruining the sort of very special rhythm (a 68-team event) creates.”

Sports betting and college sports: Baker said he will be making an appearance Saturday before the National Governors Association and will be asking them to consider actions concerning harassment of college athletes, the prevalence of sports betting among 18- to 22-year-olds and the prospect of impact on the integrity of games.

“The reason, at the collegiate level, this feels more risky for kids,” Baker said, “is you literally have certain situations where somebody just says, ‘Look, you know, you're my friend. We've been friends for a long time. I lost 500 bucks last week because you didn't play well. I still love you, but I gotta make rent next week. All I need you to do is miss your first two free throws. I don't want you to throw the game away. I just want you to do something that's going to make it possible for me to pay my rent.’ ... I think that is happening right now, and it's just going to happen a lot more.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA President Charlie Baker holds court: What he had to say