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Charlie Baker tells NPR why the NCAA agreed to the $2.8 billion settlement

NCAA President Charlie Baker.
Maddie Meyer
Getty Images
NCAA President Charlie Baker.

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.

All Things Considered host Juana Summers spoke about this seismic shift with the person now in charge of overseeing college sports, NCAA president Charlie Baker.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Juana Summers: I want to start with the recent news of the $2.8 billion settlement that the NCAA and major athletic conferences accepted last week. While this still needs to be approved by a judge, on its face it seems like a landmark shift for college sports. Why settle?

Charlie Baker: 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 — 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 a 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, it binds us all together over that 10-year period to work together, to follow through on it.

Summers: On its face, $2.8 billion 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, 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 — I'm glad that we're 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.

The $2.8 billion settlement sets the stage for major change in college sports.
Jamie Squire / Getty Images
Getty Images
The $2.8 billion settlement sets the stage for major change in college sports.

Summers: This does seem to deal a blow to the NCAA's long-held model that a 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 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 in 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.

I think the most important thing I should say about this is, you have 500,000 student athletes, 19,000 teams, 1100 schools. The schools that were part of this settlement discussion were all of the schools in D1, 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 in terms of how it operates and how it's organized and all the rest.

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 and how that can come to be. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Baker: Everybody is assuming that there is 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 benefits of this is it'll probably take five or six months, probably, for the settlement to get before a judge. And this actually, the go forward piece, which is I think what you're referencing doesn't get started until fiscal year 2025-26. 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 is part of that.

Summers: I want to turn to 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: You know, 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 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 “borderline impossible one.” You're a little more than a year in now. What do you think?

Baker: I sort of came into the job with a built-in appreciation for the complexity associated with making decisions in a big, complicated organization with a lot of points of view like this one.

I'm hoping we're going to continue to be able to build a track record of supporting student athletes and ensuring that there's a future opportunity here for kids across all three divisions. I'm only one year in, but I've certainly had somebody say to me the other day, you know, “Having a good time?” And I said, “Sometimes!”

But 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.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Juana Summers
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.
Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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.