The NCAA, which as of March will be run by outgoing Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, faces a lot of issues. Here are four to watch:
Name, image, and likeness in the courts: In 2021, NCAA leaders responded to a number of new state laws surrounding an athlete’s ability to market themselves their own persona by changing rules around amateurism. Now, the NCAA will allow an athlete to make money off of their name, image, and likeness. While still largely unregulated, NIL has changed how schools recruit athletes — athletes, of course, cannot choose a school because they received some sort of gift, but they can evaluate how similar players on campus are compensated. While NIL likely won’t go away, Baker will need to determine how the NCAA intends to regulate NIL deals to ensure equity across the board.
Transfer portal: The NCAA changed its rules in 2021 to allow for athletes in football, basketball, men’s ice hockey, and baseball to transfer to a different school once without sitting out a year, as they were previously required. The way athletes do that is by using the transfer portal. This change means all NCAA sports at all divisions are following the same rules. But because of the high-profile nature of sports like football and basketball, the rule change has opened the floodgates: ESPN reports that more than 1,600 college football players have entered the portal since it opened on Dec. 5.
So, what will Baker do about it? The NCAA had resisted the rule change for so long because some feel it introduces turns college into “free agency” to college sports, but leaders were forced to adjust after hearing criticism over coaches leaving schools — and the athletes they recruited there — for big-money contracts elsewhere. Baker will need to figure out if the portal’s popularity will decline, or if it will only get worse.
Conference TV contracts: The NCAA does not negotiate most media rights contracts. Instead, that falls on the conferences. The Power 5 conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 — have the most bargaining power, and . And they use it. The Big Ten signed a seven-year deal across Fox, CBS, and NBC earlier this year worth more than $7 billion. The Big 12 signed an extension on its deal theirs with Fox and ESPN through 2031 that is worth more than $2.2 billion.
The money from these contracts goes back to the schools in the conferences, and can contribute to a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Yes, some money will go back into a general pool distributed among other NCAA schools. But the growing power of conferences could signal a sea change in the NCAA. Schools need to be part of the NCAA to participate in postseason tournaments, but if enough powerful conferences try to break away, it could spell doom for Baker’s new organization.
Gender inequities: The NCAA held its most equitable men’s and women’s Division 1 basketball tournaments ever this past March — a direct result of a dire report by a third-party reviewer that found the NCAA was drastically undervaluing and not supporting women’s basketball the same way it was supporting men’s basketball.
The change was spurred by social media posts that showed the resources offered to women during the NCAA tournament in 2021 vs. men. Women worked out in a hotel ballroom while men had their own weight room. Male players had mountains of freebies; female players received a few branded items.
In 2022, the women played under the “March Madness” branding for the first time in history. But what’s next for the NCAA? Will Baker take a look at the books and work to prioritize gender equity at the college level?