Former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did a 30-minute interview with The Associated Press just days before he officially began his new job as NCAA president. He laid out goals for his first 100 days, including bringing in an independent firm to conduct a review of the NCAA, and touched on some of the issues facing college sports and what the association’s role could be going forward. Highlights from that interview, lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Why do you think college athletics still needs an NCAA?
A: One of the more interesting things I heard from a bunch of the student-athletes I talked to was, I just said tell me what you like most about the NCAA. And they all talked about the same thing, which is the championships. And this was true at every level D-I, D-II, D-III, and I said tell me more. And typically where they would go was, I think they all basically said the same thing, which is they love the opportunity to compete and to test themselves and their teams against competition that is normally not competition that they compete against. A lot of them talked about, we made it to the Sweet 16, we made it to the Elite Eight, we made it to the Final Four. And for all of them across men’s and women’s sports that experience was almost a validation for some of them about the years and years and years that they and their teammates had put into whatever craft it was they were seeking to perfect.
I also think somewhere, someone has to set what I would describe as the sort of the rules of the game, for lack of a better word. And when I say that what I’m really talking about are the competitive frameworks that all this operates under. But when you get into the whole question around this national footprint and the national championships and all the rest, I think the NCAA has a pretty important role to play.
Q: There are two active court cases that could pave the way for college athletes to be deemed employees of their schools, plus a recently introduced bill in California that would force some schools to share revenue from revenue-generating sports with athletes. Is there a way the NCAA can get out in front of these current threats to the collegiate model?
A: I think the work of the transformation committee was a pretty good example of the NCAA creating a standalone committee, getting voices from a variety of folks most affected by some of this and working on a pretty quick timeline to get something out to take a run at some of the issues that people thought were important in D-I.
I think if I manage to figure out how to have either in-person or virtual meetings with all of the conferences in my first 100 days, I’m going to learn a lot about what people think the possibilities and the opportunities are in some of this. And what some of the threats are and how to get in front of some of this stuff, which I certainly want to do. Change is coming. And the real question here is, does it come from us or does it come from somewhere else?
Q: The NCAA has become a focal point in the conversation about transgender rights. Do you believe the NCAA should take social or political stances when it comes to transgender rights and state laws?
A: I think our championships need to reflect the fact that we’re in all 50 states, but the people who actually host those championships need to make sure that every kid who participates in them gets the kind of positive experience out of it that they should get. And I think that for me is sort of the most fundamental issue there.
But I think it’s important for us to represent the membership, which is very broad, very diverse. They have a lot of different opinions about a lot of things. I’ve ended up in conversations with people who are part of a lot of these organizations who don’t agree with me on everything in that environment. And I get that, but they damn well better make sure that if they host anything that involves student-athletes, those student-athletes feel like they’re properly supported.
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