NCAA president Charlie Baker has proposed a revolutionary plan that could clear the way for schools to directly compensate athletes through an educational trust as well as name, image and likeness deals, according to a letter obtained by CBS Sports. The proposal would include the creation of a new subdivision of Division I schools for football governance purposes.
Membership in the new subdivision would be voluntary, but would require an investment of at least $30,000 per year into an educational trust fund for at least half of its total number athletes. That would guarantee half the schools' athletes $120,000 over four years of competition. Money distributed by the university would be subject to Title IX requirements, meaning half the allocated money would be required to go to female athletes. In addition to base compensation delivered through a trust, schools could then sign additional NIL deals to augment compensation.
The football-based subdivision would be independent of the FBS and FCS dichotomy. Teams at either level are eligible to opt into the football subdivision. However, teams that opt in will ultimately be able to exist at a different level than the rest of college football. The group could decide different roster sizes, recruitment practices, transfer or NIL rules, even while competing against other members of FBS or FCS working under the existing rules.
Many athletic departments push past 400 scholarship athletes across more than 20 sports at the highest level. Compensating half of those athletes with the base $30,000 per year would cost $6 million annually, signaling a massive investment in athletics. That amount is in addition to the cost of scholarships.
"It is time for us -- the NCAA -- to offer our own forward-looking framework," Baker wrote. "This framework must sustain the best elements of the student-athlete experience for all student-athletes, build on the financial and organizational investments that have positively changed the trajectory of women's sports, and enhance the athletic and academic experience for student-athletes who attend the highest resourced colleges and universities."
The plan is a lofty attempt to address many of the forces that have imperiled the NCAA heading into the new era of college athletics. There has been growing sentiment that FBS or Power Five football could break off from the NCAA and govern itself. Baker's plan would allow many of the benefits while still keeping major college football under the NCAA umbrella.
Additionally, the new proposal would allow athletes to be compensated directly from schools without giving them employee status and protections, a key conflict among the NCAA and player activists.
After the release, several athletic directors put out public statements of support for Baker's plan. Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts called the plan an "important step forward." Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, one of the top leaders in the sport, wrote a statement of support on Twitter. The Buckeyes boast one of the biggest athletic departments in the nation with approximately 1,000 athletes. The proposed plan would cost Ohio State University a minimum of $15 million per year In 2022, OSU Athletics made $250 million in revenue.
"Thank you, Charlie Baker, for your leadership," Smith said "I am 100% supportive of your efforts. Intercollegiate Athletics needs the proactive and forward thinking you are providing. Thank you for this letter!"
Baker is a relative newcomer to the NCAA. The former Massachusetts governor took over for Mark Emmert on March 1, 2023, after a lengthy career in politics. The NCAA opted to hire him because of his administrative experience and connections in Washington, D.C., as the organization faces its most trying moment.
The former governor has been on Capitol Hill multiple times to lobby and testify in front of Congress in hopes that the body will act to protect the NCAA. Multiple bills have been proposed to solve the NIL issue, but none have gained much traction. College athletics is likely to take a backseat yet again as Washington enters a presidential election year in 2024.
"[The plan] kick-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 across the NCAA that put student-athletes first," Baker wrote. "Colleges and universities need to be more flexible, and the NCAA needs to be more flexible too."