The NCAA proposes unlimited compensation for athletes

The NCAA’s plan for a series of reforms that include unlimited compensation for athletes could help address the growing inequities of a system in which sports like football and men’s basketball generate billions in television and other revenue but share little directly with athletes.

In a sharp break with his organization’s past, NCAA President Charlie Baker on Tuesday called for a series of changes that pave the way for the top for-profit schools to split off and form a division that would more closely resemble professional sports.


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Baker’s proposal, in a letter to the 362 Division I member schools, also called for reforming so-called name, image and license payments so female athletes could benefit more, and he wrote that the overhaul would help the NCAA seek shelter from an antitrust lawsuit.

Baker’s plan, while far from an edict, serves as a directive to the college presidents and athletic administrators who make up the NCAA governing boards that write the rules and present them to member schools for approval, a process that takes nearly a year to approve even the most interesting changes.

The National Labor Relations Board is considering two cases in which athletes are seeking to be classified as employees, and there are several cases making their way through the courts charging the NCAA with antitrust violations. Bill in the California Legislature would make revenue sharing with athletes mandatory.

Baker, the former Massachusetts governor who became chairman of college sports’ governing body in March, proposed that schools allocate at least $30,000 a year in education funds to at least half of their athletes, but added that they would have to comply with Title IX laws. , which mandate that there must be equal opportunities for men and women.

“I think it’s a historical fact that to this day the NCAA has never stood up for unlimited amounts of money to be paid to players,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletic Players Association, which has fought for players’ rights for more than a decade. “They always said it would destroy college sports. This is an acknowledgment that it is practical.”

In his letter, Baker framed his proposal as a new starting point for a discussion that has confused the organization’s leaders with agendas as diverse as their budget lines. (Ohio State, for example, reported $252 million in revenue last year, while its neighbor, Ohio University, competed for the same NCAA championship with just over $29 million in revenue.)

“Now the hard work begins,” said Dan Radakovich, University of Miami athletic director.

Over the past decade, the NCAA has been forced to loosen its formerly ironclad amateur strictures. He removed restrictions on how much athletes can eat after Shabazz Napier, a basketball player at the University of Connecticut, told reporters at the 2014 Final Four that he sometimes goes to bed hungry. He had no choice but to allow education-related payments to athletes after a landmark Supreme Court defeat in the Alston case, which challenged the NCAA’s limits on non-cash compensation. That defeat also forced the NCAA to drop a challenge to state laws challenging its authority to prevent athletes from earning money from endorsements. In the past few years since Alston, there have been 10 congressional hearings related to the future of college sports.

More recently, the $75 million buyout Texas A&M is paying its fired football coach, Jimbo Fisher, has further underscored questions about why some of the money that goes toward exorbitant salaries, bloated staff and lavish facilities is not being shared with the players.

“I would take less money so the players would have a share,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who could make close to $11 million this season with incentives, said recently. “I hope other coaches will use their voice to make the same point.”

Baker’s proposal may not be classified as standard revenue sharing, but since he doesn’t propose any restrictions on how athletes can use the money in the trust fund, it could essentially be the same.

“Revenue sharing is semantics,” Huma said. “If a school has complete discretion to pay players as much as they want, what does it matter? I haven’t seen any restrictions on sources of income. It could come from donors or TV revenue.”

Some athletes are now earning six figures through endorsement deals. But since the rules came into force in July 2021 allowing NIL payments following the Alston case, there have been few rules governing these deals – except that schools could not be directly involved in procuring them.

The result was a chaotic, unregulated industry that, combined with the loosening of transfer restrictions, created an environment in which athletes bounced from school to school largely based on where they would be paid the most endorsement money. (Not coincidentally, the three leading Heisman Trophy candidates are transfer quarterbacks.)

The unintended consequence is that the vast majority of the money went to football players and men’s basketball players. Baker proposes bringing NIL jobs in-house, which would place Title IX requirements on them.

College athletes weren’t the only ones on the move. Likewise, have collegiate athletic programs, with conference schools lured by the wealth of football television deals. The Pac-12 Conference will be reduced to two schools next year, Oregon State and Washington State, and the remaining West Coast schools will join the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast, leaving their athletes to make repeated trips across the country to play conference games.

Baker’s proposal seemed to open the door for schools to reconsider their place in the sports hierarchy. Purdue, for example, has 608 athletes. Paying at least half of that $30,000 would require the school to set aside $9.1 million a year to go into educational funds. But it might do little to prevent Michigan, for example, from paying all of its athletes twice what Purdue might pay. Michigan generated $95 million more in revenue than its Big Ten neighbor last year.

Yet despite the lack of resources, administrators at smaller schools expressed reluctance not to be at the highest level. “Subdivision is the buzzword,” Mountain West Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez said at the Sports Business Journal’s college sports conference in Las Vegas. “What it means?”

Baker wrote that his proposal “starts a long-overdue conversation among the membership that focuses on the differences that exist between schools, conferences and divisions and how to create more permissive and flexible rules in the NCAA.”

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