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Former Republican governor to serve as new president of NCAA

By Sarah May on
 December 16, 2022

In something of an unexpected development in the world of sports, soon-to-be-former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has been tapped to serve as the next president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), according to a press release issued by the organization Thursday.

Baker, who, as Politico notes, did not seek a third term as governor of the Bay State, is slated to leave office on Jan. 5 and will assume his new role on March 1.

Unconventional choice

Though Baker was himself a college athlete during his years at Harvard University, he has no professional experience in collegiate sports or in higher education, making his selection a somewhat curious outcome to some.

As Sports Business Journal noted, the careers of both current NCAA President Mark Emmert and his immediate predecessor, Myles Brand, included time spent serving as university presidents.

Baker, however, is said to bring a different – and much-needed – mix of skills to the table during an era when the organization he is set to lead is facing a number of legislative hurdles and legal challenges.

According to Linda Livingstone, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors, Baker “has shown a remarkable ability to bridge divides and build bipartisan consensus, taking on complex challenges in innovative and effective ways.”

“As a former student-athlete himself, husband to a former college gymnast, and father to two former college football players, Governor Baker is deeply committed to our student-athletes and enhancing their collegiate experience. These skills and perspective will be invaluable as we work with policymakers to build a sustainable model for the future of college athletics,” Livingstone added.

Above the fray?

Baker, who Politico notes is consistently among the most popular governors in the nation, has shown no interest in retiring from professional life, despite deciding not to seek re-election to his state's chief executive post in the past cycle.

Mike Deehan of Axios posed the notion that the NCAA job may have held special appeal for Baker in that it affords him the opportunity to helm a significant national organization while keeping him largely apart from the bare-knuckle, hyper-partisan political environment he has lamented in the past.

According to Deehan, heading the NCAA offers Baker precisely the mix of elements he wants at this phase of his professional life, “a high-profile national platform, time to weather the storm that is the modern GOP, and a complicated organization for a manager-in-chief to rejuvenate.”

Massachusetts Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D), herself a former Division 1 athlete and vocal advocate for college sports agreed that Baker possesses the unique mix of attributes necessary for success in the role, saying that his “experience as a college basketball player coupled with his extensive career spanning both the public and private sectors will serve him well in this position.”

“Excited to get to work”

In a statement released by the NCAA, Baker declared, “I am honored to become the next president of the NCAA, and organization that impacts millions of families and countless communities across this country every day.”

“The NCAA is confronting complex and significant challenges, but I am excited to get to work as the awesome opportunity college athletics provides to so many students is more than worth the challenge,” Baker added.

“And for the fans that faithfully fill stadiums, stands and gyms from coast to coast, I am eager to ensure the competitions we all love to follow are there for generations to come,” Baker concluded.

Complicated landscape

The NCAA currently faces a host of weighty issues and challenges with which Baker will need to grapple, but at this stage, he has declined to weigh in publicly on the topics likely to shape the organization's direction during his tenure, including name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules, questions surrounding the transfer portal, and debates about the employee status of athletes, as Sports Business Journal noted.

“When I was first approached by the search firm, it was a couple of months ago. What's going to be important for me is to heed the voices represented and find out where we can come together,” Baker said.

According to the organization's press release announcing Baker's hire, the soon-to-be-ex-governor will be “charged with building on the NCAA's ongoing transformation efforts” related to the new constitution it ratified in 2022 as well as furthering its Division 1 modernization process.

Though the terms of the new president's contract were not disclosed, Emmert was said to have earned $2.99 million during fiscal year 2021, and according to reports this week, Baker will not be required to relocate from Massachusetts to Indianapolis, Indiana, where the organization is headquartered.