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NCAA President Charlie Baker Talks 2.8B settlement and State of College Sports a year into the job.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A multi-billion-dollar industry fueled by people who don't see a cent of that money is about to change. For years, many have argued that colleges were exploiting student athletes, but just last week, a $2.8 billion settlement reached between the NCAA and five major conferences paved the way for schools to pay athletes directly for playing. This follows a change in the system where athletes could start earning money from their own name, image and likeness. We spoke about this seismic shift with the person now in charge of overseeing college sports, NCAA President Charlie Baker. And I started by asking him, while this agreement still needs to be approved by a judge, why did the NCAA settle with these major athletic conferences?

CHARLIE BAKER: Well, I think the status quo has created over the years, maybe even over decades, a lack of stability and predictability for just about everybody who's involved in college sports at least at the highest level. And I think for us, finding a way out of that status quo and creating what I would describe as some predictability for - especially for Division I and for the schools, and also a better way in our view to support student athletes by establishing this kind of legal framework that can be monitored and enforced. It basically gives the NCAA and its membership 10 years to pay off the back damages, and also, to some extent, binds us all together over that 10-year period to work together to follow through on it.

SUMMERS: I mean, on its face, $2.8 million (ph), it sounds like a big chunk of cash. But had the suit gone to trial, there could have been a potential price tag that far exceeds that. How much of this was about staying away from that, staving off financial ruin, staying solvent?

BAKER: Well, I think from my point of view, remember, I've only been here for about a year, trying to find what I would describe as a positive and proactive approach forward to deal with this issue associated with student athlete compensation just seemed to me to be a better way to go. And fortunately, after a series of conversations and discussions with the so-called power five conferences and some of their leadership and the plaintiffs, you know, those folks have been back-and-forth with each other in the courtroom for a long time. And I'm glad that we were able to find a way to create a settlement and to offer that settlement as a proposal to the court, and hopefully, the court will accept it.

SUMMERS: Yeah. And I know that the full details aren't public yet, but as somebody who's been a long-time watcher of college sports, this does seem to deal a blow to the NCAA's long-held model that the college athlete is an amateur. Given the settlement, given the fact that student athletes now have so much more financial autonomy related to name, image and likeness, there are people out there who might make the point that amateurism is now dead in college sport. Do you think that's fair?

BAKER: No. I get the fact that it's a loaded term for a lot of people. But, you know, as somebody who's been around college sports for a very long time, there's still going to be a lot of young people who are going to be playing college sports at schools and on campuses and learning all the lessons you learn from playing college sports. And some will be doing it with athletic scholarships. Some will only be doing it for the love of the game. This is really about a major change that I think many of us believe it's time for, probably overdue in the eyes of others, for the conferences and the schools that have really significant resources and represent what I always refer to when I talk about it as the most heavily resourced institutions in college athletics.

And I also proposed doing something like this last year. To some extent, this is different, but on some level, it sort of mirrors at least conceptually what I was proposing to do then. And I think the most important thing I should say about this is, you know, you have 500,000 student athletes, 19,000 teams, 1,100 schools. The schools that were part of this settlement discussion were all of the schools in DI, and the schools that were named, the so-called five conferences that were named, represent about 68 or 70 schools. So while it's certainly a big deal, I do think college sports is going to continue to have a lot of variety in it. And I hope what ends up happening is we still have 500,000 opportunities for student athletes to learn the lessons that I and my kids and my wife and many of our friends learned from playing college sports.

SUMMERS: There's another directive that came with the settlement, which was news of this new revenue-sharing model for student athletes. And it's raised a lot of questions. But the one I want to ask you about is women athletes and whether they will be compensated fairly, how that can come to be. Can you talk a little bit about that?

BAKER: Yeah. I mean, everybody is assuming that there's a Title iX element to this, which I'm assuming is what you're talking about. And that has historically been something that has been decided by at the campus or the conference level. I certainly think everybody is anticipating that that's got to be part of the way people implement this going forward. And one of the, you know, one of the benefits of this is it'll probably take five or six months, probably, for the settlement to get before a judge.

SUMMERS: Right.

BAKER: And this actually - the go forward piece, which is, I think, what you're referencing, doesn't get started until fiscal year '25-'26. So there's a lot of time for people to work through some of the details on this and obviously making sure that the Title IX stuff gets dealt with as part of that.

SUMMERS: I want to turn, if I can, to another topic, and it's one that you've been outspoken on, and that is the issue of prop betting in college sports. And we're talking here about those sort of side bets that aren't necessarily about the outcome of the game itself but on any range of things from the color of Gatorade to who might score a touchdown. And I know that you and the NCAA have been urging states to ban prop betting on college sports, saying that it's increased stress on college athletes. Explain to us why this matters.

BAKER: Prop bets are a way for individuals to bet sometimes in real time. My problem with it is it puts student athletes in a position where people are betting on their performance as individuals, not on their performances as members of a team. And I can just tell you that the amount of incoming that these kids get through social media, either through direct messages or just stuff that's directed at them on traditional social media, is horrifying. And we hired a firm to actually track a lot of the public posting that's going on at our championships that's directed at players and coaches and officials. And then we notify the platforms if we see stuff that's particularly outrageous. And if we see something that's really outrageous, we notify the authorities. And I can just tell you that the stuff that people will say to a student athlete who doesn't deliver on their prop, whatever it might be, is gruesome. There's just no other word for it.

SUMMERS: When your predecessor, Mark Emmert, announced that he was leaving this job, Sports Illustrated described the job of being NCAA president as a, quote, "borderline impossible" one. And you're a little more than a year in now. What do you think?

BAKER: I think one of the things I did early on was I met with all 97 conferences across all three divisions. And I've had a lot of people say, you know, I've never seen the president before. I love watching the kids play. I love talking to the student athletes. They make me feel so much better about the future of the country. And I really do hope that over the next couple of years, with the settlement and the implementation of our injury insurance protection program - provides secondary and primary coverage to kids for two years after they leave school if they still have an injury that they got playing sports - and some of the core commitments that we've made for Division I student athletes around scholarship guarantees and all the rest - I'm hoping we're going to continue to be able to build a track record of supporting student athletes and ensuring that, you know, there's a future opportunity here for kids across all three divisions. And I think the bottom line for me is if you come out of government and politics and health care, which are the spaces I've been in before, you're kind of used to the idea that a lot of people have points of view, and they're probably going to yell at you a lot. So I'm reasonably comfortable with that.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with Charlie Baker. He's president of the NCAA. Thank you so much.

BAKER: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.