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Will new president Charlie Baker's consensus building help the NCAA overcome its dwindling power?

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The first question that comes to mind when the NCAA is hiring a new president: why would anyone want to this I work?

Well, beyond the money, which answers just about any similar question about a top CEO position.

This is different. Leading the NCAA has traditionally been vocational, more like a calling than punching a clock.

And from an early age, Charlie Baker showed that he is willing to take on the vocation. It will take him less than two months from serving two terms as governor of Massachusetts to lead an organization that Mark Emmert did his best to fail.

“I certainly think the challenges here are significant,” Baker said.

File that as understatement of the year.

By hiring Baker, 66, at least the NCAA has acknowledged what it has become: a diminished non-profit monolith that has lost traction, power and respect.

This need political clout to keep him from, well, folding. To the point, Baker said he will lead, “to make sure we don’t lose this gem going forward.”

He’s the association’s first leader with no background in collegiate athletics administration or higher education, which could be a good thing.

The new NCAA leader averaged 1.6 points playing basketball at Harvard. If you’ve been paying attention, the NCAA is becoming less focused on collegiate athletics and even less on higher education.

Baker must shake the players’ hands not just as “student-athletes” but as future equals in a giant economic enterprise. They (or their collective bargaining representatives) will have so much power in the future.

“What he has is what most people don’t understand,” said Tom McMillen, CEO of LEAD1, the FBS AD organization, and a former Congressman from Maryland. “When you say he’s political or has political acumen, it means he knows how to work with individuals. The biggest constituency he has is the 1,100 schools that until now have been quite fragmented.

“He needs to get these people on board. Once he gets that, he can go to the legislators and talk about a whole different game. You don’t get to be the most popular Republican governor in a Democratic state by not being able to do this.”

As president of the NCAA, Baker has to accept that the transfer gate and the NIL are pretty much the way of the world. Perhaps they are slightly altered with Baker’s guidance. But any decision to call Congress to fix things comes with… calling Congress to fix things. Be careful what you wish for.

“There is no consensus on the type of legislation [the NCAA] wants,” said power attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who has been an NCAA legal antagonist in court. “He’s found that out very painfully in recent years.”

What do we really know about this guy? More importantly, what guarantees do we have that he won’t become the punching bag that Emmert became?

McMillen made a good point: it’s rare that a governor from the opposing legislative party in the state house can, well, get along with that body.

Baker worked with 160 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and 40 state senators. How does that compare to fighting the Power Five millionaire commissioners and those 1,100 schools from Ohio Wesleyan to Ohio State?

We’re about to find out.

Baker’s biography includes the usual accomplishments: job creation, guy “getting things done”, etc. Health Institute. He fought a proposed 19% budget cut by then-President Donald Trump.

“We and our colleagues across the country created a huge coalition by basically arguing that NIH funding was one of the most important engines of economic activity and the scientific and discovery process in the United States,” Baker said. “Instead of cutting funding for this, we should actually increase funding for this.”

This is important on two levels: consensus building and student-athlete well-being.

Still, any analysis of Baker’s hiring must come with the obvious question: Does it really matter who runs the NCAA these days? The organization’s lack of foresight means it must lean towards a pay model or wither away. You absolutely must find a way to lessen your crippling legal liability.

“I hope a new NCAA president divorces everything that’s gone before,” said Kessler. “Take a fresh look and bring the NCAA into the 21st century. There is an opportunity here for someone to transform this organization and stop the violations of law and the exploitation of athletes and everything they’ve done and turn the organization into a positive organization. .”

Perhaps it’s an advantage that Baker has little experience for the job. He is the latest non-traditional signing in major collegiate sports. The Big Ten (Kevin Warren), Pac-12 (Larry Scott, George Kliavkoff) and Big 12 (Brett Yormark) all came out of the ranks for their latest commissioner hires.

It’s worth trying different leaders with different ideas. Warren continues to call himself a “disruptor,” publicly committed to further expanding his conference that has already won over USC and UCLA. Yormark is there with him as a changemaker. Kliavkoff must think for himself, preserve and reshape his conference – or risk falling apart.

Above all, Baker must get along with the Power Five commissioners as the true power brokers. They are the ones who will decide whether to split from the NCAA or not. They are the ones whose conferences will earn more (combined) than the NCAA’s annual budget when the new Expanded College Football Playoff goes online.

These stewards run things in the only places that really matter these days. Perhaps it takes a politician to unite these diverse (and powerful) conferences.

“Really, the power is in the Power Five conferences,” Kessler added. “[Baker’s] the power is in your ability to lead this group. He has no statutory power to decree what they must do. He has to get support for what he wants to do. A true leader can do that.”

From the start, significant figures have been willing to give Baker a chance.

“Great credentials and past success in many things. It gives me hope,” said North Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham.

“He looks like a well-prepared and qualified leader,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

But Tulane AD Troy Dannen got right to the point last week at a conference in Las Vegas. If there is a separation from NCAA football, then basketball will follow close behind. So what do you have?

“I promise you, if that happens, there will be no revenue left in the NCAA structure,” Dannen said.

The possibility of that split continues to loom if the aforementioned Power Five commissioners don’t get their way.

In many ways, hiring Baker is a Hail Mary to defend what’s left of the amateur model. The NCAA board did not target an athletic administrator or a former college president. They chose a sympathetic Republican governor known for his ability to organize, unite, and accomplish.

What a concept, especially in Indianapolis right now.

That’s the code for the bipartisan unit. That is arguably the thread the NCAA keeps on Capitol Hill. The lack of such skill and vision to see around the corner is what doomed Emmert as NIL and player empowerment, burdened its advisors and members alike.

“These senators hate me,” Emmert was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal last year, while speaking to high-powered university administrators at a Final Four luncheon.

Less than a month later, Emmert announced that he would be leaving the NCAA “by mutual agreement”.

Those senators will now meet the new guy. However long it lasts, the NCAA has a chance.

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