Seismic shifts continue to shake up the college sports landscape with the NCAA president proposing a new tier for the wealthiest Division I schools, which include many North Carolina colleges and universities.
Charlie Baker, who has been NCAA president for less than a year, proposed a plan for schools to pay at least half of their student-athletes $30,000 via an educational trust fund.
The proposal would also allow any school to offer unlimited educational perks to athletes and pave the way for direct NIL agreements with colleges and universities.
“First, we should make it possible for all Division I colleges and universities to offer student-athletes any level of enhanced educational benefits they deem appropriate,” Baker wrote on Dec. 5 in a letter to the NCAA’s 350-plus Division I institutions. “Second, rules should change for any Division I school, at their choice, to enter into name, image and likeness licensing opportunities with their student-athletes.”
Why now for Baker’s proposal?
Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts who oversaw the legalization of online and retail sports betting in the state, made his proposal in a time of legal challenges on multiple fronts to the NCAA’s amateur model. The outline to pay athletes is an about-face from decades of the organization being staunchly against direct financial compensation to student-athletes in favor of the indirect grant-in-aid model.
Several schools in North Carolina would be affected by this proposal, most notably those with deep pockets that are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference: Duke, NC State, UNC and Wake Forest.
However, the remaining 15 Division I institutions will feel a strong ripple effect as those with more financial resources will be better equipped to compete against the wealthier schools that are members of the Football Bowl Subdivision, a tier that includes the ACC members plus East Carolina, Charlotte and Appalachian State.
The remaining schools will either have to pony up $30,000 for at least half of their athletes to even be in the same stratosphere when competing for top recruits and transfers. As many pundits have noted, the gap between the haves and have-nots in Division I college sports will only widen.
Baker’s productive first year of student-athlete protections
The NCAA has also implemented an e-module to teach North Carolina student-athletes about illegal gambling on college campuses.
These proposals speak to Baker’s awareness of the landscape student-athletes inhabit when they walk on campus and suit up for their schools. As one of the most valuable commodities at the country’s top campuses, Baker’s proposals aim to treat them as such.
How did we get here?
Several factors play into the current Wild West of college sports with some student-athletes now earning more than their coaches:
– The beginning of the names, images and likenesses (NIL) era in 2021.
– Massive conference realignment, including the demise of the Pac-12 with two of its schools joining the ACC, and the rise of super conferences.
– The explosion of the transfer portal since it was established in late 2018.
Furthermore, last week a federal court ruling paved the way for athletes to transfer a second time without penalty, allowing them to play through the end of the 2023-24 season. This year, UNC fought the NCAA on the multiple transfer issue. The Tar Heels won and received a waiver for transfer football player Tez Walker to play after the beginning of the 2023 season.
Now, high-performing athletes still in high school or who enter the transfer portal can shop around for schools that provide the best monetary benefits, perks like cars and the potential to enhance their brands. For example, LSU women’s basketball player Angel Reese, who transferred from Maryland, and won a national championship with the Tigers, created a unique brand for herself along the way that helped her garner an estimated $1.7 million in NIL deals.
What about NIL donor collectives?
Currently, NIL donor collectives provide a centralized marketplace for student-athletes to sign up for brand and sponsorship deals. Groups of boosters run these collectives and form companies, some registered as non-profits, to provide NIL opportunities.
Collectives in North Carolina include the following groups:
– Pack of Wolves, NC State.
– Heels4Life, UNC.
– Spartans Unite, UNCG.
– Rise HBCU, NCCU and historically Black schools in other states.
– Roll the Quad, Wake Forest.
If Baker’s proposal becomes reality, the collectives might dissolve or be absorbed into the university athletics departments. This seems likely for the collectives at the wealthier schools while the mid-major collectives may continue to exist alongside their alma maters that can’t provide lucrative NIL deals or join the $30,000 payout division.
Collectives also exist outside the scope of Title IX. Baker’s proposal stipulates that at least half of athletes receive money to ensure compliance with Title IX rules.
Will the proposal be implemented?
Baker gave no timeline for the implementation of his proposal. Making it a part of the NCAA legislation would require approvals by the Division I Legislative Committee, the Division I Council and finally the Board of Directors.
Whether or not the proposal goes into effect, college sports will enter a new era when the 2024-25 football season rolls around.
The ACC will be expanded to 18 full members (17 for football) with the addition of Stanford, California and Southern Methodist. Also, by that time, online sports betting in North Carolina will be legal and fans will be able to place wagers on teams in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation across multiple sports.
Image Credit: Mark Humphrey / AP Images