Proposal to create new tier for big-money college sports is just a start, NCAA president says

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — NCAA president Charlie Baker said Wednesday his proposal to allow the most highly resourced schools in Division I to pay athletes through a trust fund is just a starting point as he tries to shift the association to be more proactive than reactive.

“We need to be able to anticipate where conversations are going and to try to get this big, huge, diverse 180-committee with 2,000 members — like oh, my God! — to a place where they’re talking about stuff that’s common, and not just responding and reacting to other people’s agendas,” Baker said during an appearance at the Sports Business Journal’s Intercollegiate Athletic Forum.

On Monday, Baker laid forth an aggressive and potentially groundbreaking vision for a new NCAA subdivision at the very top of college sports in a letter he sent to the more than 350 Division I schools.

“Some people are going to say you’re going too far and people will say but you’re not going far enough,” Baker said. “I promise you that’s going to be where most of the dialogue on this will be in the short term.”

Baker’s proposal would require schools that want to be a part of the new tier of D-I to pay their athletes tens of thousands of dollars per year on top of their athletic scholarships. Baker also suggested all Division I schools should bring name, image and likeness compensation for their athletes in-house through group licensing deals and remove any limits on educational benefits schools can provide for athletes.

Baker said the proposal was formed from an amalgamation of conversations he has had with administrators and athletes from across college sports.

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey noted he did not see Baker’s letter until it went out Tuesday.

He said any attempts to reform college sports will be addressed in five arenas: the courtsCongress, state legislatures, conferences and the NCAA.

“All of those have to be part of the solution,” Sankey said.

Baker said he believes about 100 schools might consider opting into a new subdivision.

There are 133 schools in Division 1 football’s highest tier, the Football Bowl Subdivision. Baker’s proposal seems targeted at about half those schools that compete in the five power conferences. That number of conferences is shrinking to four after recent realignment moves go into effect next year, but it will still encompass about 65 schools.

Baker said the differences in budget sizes across Division I, and even into Division II and III, have traditionally caused conflicts in the NCAA. He wants the schools that have the ability to spend more on their athletes, to be free do so.

“Recognizing that we’re trying to be supportive as to a big tent approach but, as you saw yesterday with Charlie’s memo, there’s a new reality here,” Sankey said.

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