NCAA Hiring Charlie Baker As Next President Is Likely More Symbolic Than Meaningful

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, a trade association in crisis, pulled a page from its 1921 Major League Baseball handbook today when it announced that it had named Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker as the association’s next president, effective March 2023. Baker’s appointment is unlikely to change the NCAA’s internal attitudes. on important issues such as the right to college athletic pay, but may allow the association to show a better face, moving forward, when lobbying Congress or speaking to the media.

To be clear, the NCAA president does not have nearly as much internal authority as one might think. As a bottom-up trade league with over 1,200 members, the NCAA’s initial decision is made by a vote of the league’s members at large or a member governance subcommittee. Thus, the president of the NCAA plays an executive role, while the membership and its subcommittees are the legislature.

Still, in choosing Baker—a likable and relatively moderate politician—the NCAA could present a better facade to lawmakers and the media, as the association continues to plead with legislatures to grant it an antitrust exemption to limit or prevent college athletes’ compensation—an exemption hitherto denied by Congress. Right to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

While Baker’s turnaround of a soon-to-be former government official to serve as NCAA president is a first for a monopoly college sports trade association, this isn’t an entirely new strategy for sports leagues in crisis. Indeed, in January of 1921, when Major League Baseball feared a significant increase in government scrutiny in the wake of the major league match-fixing scandal during the 1919 World Series, Albert Lasker, then the minority owner of Chicago Cubs, other Major League Baseball owners should bring in a strong public-facing commissioner to give the perception that the sport has government-like self-regulation.

Lasker’s first choice was former US President William Howard Taft. However, after Taft learned he was a potential candidate for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, he declined—leaving the league’s owners scrambling and ultimately choosing federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis instead.

In the event that Major League Baseball turned to a former government official as a means of trying to distance the government from regulating the sport, the league was largely successful. Under Landis, the American government stayed out of baseball, and the team’s franchise values ​​skyrocketed.

In terms of his record at repairing while leading Major League Baseball, Landis’ results have been far less positive. Far from a specific and familiar circumstance, Landis strictly enforced the league’s reserve rule tying players to one team and severely reducing their salaries. Landis was a key figure in preserving Major League Baseball’s unofficial rules forbidding teams from signing black baseball players.

In the interest of the sport and the well-being of college athletes, let’s hope Charlie Baker can muster more support within the NCAA’s membership for serious reform and goodwill than Landis has ever been able to achieve in Major League Baseball. However, the way the NCAA is currently organized, Baker will have an uphill battle, working with a voting membership that might like his appointment, but also seems like he likes to keep the current situation.


Mark Edelman ([email protected]) Professor of Law at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, Director of Sports Ethics at the Robert Zicklin Center for Institutional Integrity, and Founder of Edelman Law. is an author Reimagining college sports governance after Alston. “


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