New NCAA president meets with lawmakers on next steps for NIL

Charlie Baker met with at least five US senators, from both sides of the aisle, to begin discussions around national legislation on name, image and likeness.

Baker has met with nine members of Congress in the past two weeks, including at least five U.S. senators, multiple lawmakers say Sports Illustrated. The meetings, with members of both parties and branches, were described as introductory and will likely serve as the first in ongoing talks between Baker and lawmakers about potential federal legislation governing college athlete compensation.

Aides from the offices of Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala). ) confirmed that they met with Baker in one-on-one meetings. A meeting with Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) has been rescheduled. It’s unclear which other lawmakers Baker met with.

Baker’s talks with lawmakers have focused on solutions to name, image and likeness (NIL), an idea that college sports officials say has created a chaotic environment that must be managed at the national level. For more than three years now, the NCAA has been pursuing a congressional bill so that the NIL can be enforced under a single set of standards as opposed to the different state laws schools now follow.

Baker, a two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts, took over for Mark Emmert on March 1, replacing the embattled NCAA leader, whose more than three-year pursuit of the legislation in Congress failed. Baker’s trips to the nation’s capital just days after work are evidence of how seriously he takes this pursuit. He discussed the issue two weeks ago in an interview with SI.

Many of the legislators Baker met with are some of the most influential and powerful members of Congress on the issue of athletes’ compensation and the NIL. Over the past three years, the issue has gained traction with U.S. senators and members of the House as more of their constituents—college athletic directors, commissioners, coaches and former players—converge in D.C. to encourage congressional action.

Blumenthal says he came away “deeply impressed” with Baker’s knowledge and understanding of the issues and that he “certainly brought a different perspective” than Emmert.

“He will be a breath of fresh air with a very strong sharp and insightful mind and a genuine commitment to athletes,” says Blumenthal. “He comes with no real baggage in terms of special interests. I think he will bring an important perspective.”

A statement from Blackburn’s office described her meeting with Baker as “productive” and urged Baker to “clean up shop” at the NCAA and “focus on action instead of creating more committees.”

“There are several areas the senator identified that the NCAA should focus on under Baker, including the transfer portal, scholarships and working with states that are enacting their own laws in the absence of strong leadership at the NCAA under his predecessor,” a assistant for Blackburn said in the statement, a not-so-subtle shot at Emmert.

The bulk of the conversation with Tuberville focused on the bill the former football coach, along with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), is in the middle of writing. The bill, which is expected to be completed in the first half of the year, will serve as the latest college athlete legislation introduced in Congress in several years.

Tuberville and Baker talked about college football in general, says an aide in the former coach’s office. Tuberville also invited Baker to attend the annual rivalry game between Alabama and Auburn, the Iron Bowl, this November.

Hiring Baker as NCAA president was a clear indication that the association wanted an experienced, popular leader who could maneuver through political circles and encourage lawmakers to pass a NIL bill. A Republican who governed a highly-approved Democratic state, Baker is seen by many as a pragmatic leader who can work with both sides of the aisle, a critical skill in what has become a partisan issue.

Blumenthal believes there is a greater chance that Congress will pass federal legislation than in years past.

“That’s the direction everyone is going — the schools, the legislatures, the states,” he says. “There seems to be a recognition that standards and protections for athletes make a lot of sense. We start with a head start compared to the previous session because we spent half the session setting up our account and doing auditions. I think we have a much higher degree of consensus.”

Blumenthal and Booker plan to reintroduce the college athletes’ rights bill sometime this year, he says. The two senators have been in talks with Tuberville and Manchin as they work on their own legislation. The Tuberville and Manchin legislation is likely to be more conservative. The two bills could set up a showdown between the two sides.

As of 2019, Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach a compromise on a college athlete bill despite multiple legislative proposals and at least half a dozen hearings on the issue. Another hearing, in Parliament, is scheduled for March 29.

Democrats want a broad bill that would govern multiple aspects of college athletes’ rights, including long-term health care, lifetime scholarships and more. Republicans are aiming for a narrower bill focused on governing the NIL, specifically the recruiting aspect, which college officials say is an unwieldy mess of rule-breaking where boosters and booster-led sororities use the NIL to keep or sign athletes to their schools.

Baker and the NCAA aren’t the only entities fighting a congressional bill. Last month, Power 5 commissioners met in Dallas to devise a more unified strategy to use in their efforts to see a bill passed. Several high-ranking college officials regularly made the trip to D.C. for meetings with lawmakers, including SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.

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