First and 10: New president, same problems. Can Charlie Baker save college sports?
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
He’ll assume responsibility for this mess in March, decades of mismanagement thrown at his feet as he walks through the doors in suburban Indianapolis.
He better be working on it now.
You may not know Charlie Baker, but the former and wildly popular Massachusetts governor will enter his new job as president of the NCAA and face this nonsense:
— Jalen Hurts, in his 3rd season in the NFL, makes $1.3 million a year. He is the favorite to win MVP of the league.
— Jaden Rashada, a high school quarterback who has yet to step on any university campus, allegedly was offered $13 million over 4 years ($3.2 million per) in NIL money to play quarterback at Florida.
Welcome to your new gig, Gov. The fate of amateur sports hangs on your every decision.
“Every president in the past took the job and tried to be everything for everyone,” an SEC AD told me. “Well, there are winners and there are losers. Someone has to bleed. If you don’t govern like that, you end up with what we have.”
What they have is an unwieldy concoction of more than 350 member institutions in various divisions, each trying to syphon as as much as they can out of the firehose. More dangerous: the elite 65 or so universities — those with the most power — pulling in 30 or so different directions, with different philosophies, ideas and plans of execution.
When there’s no leadership at the top, no galvanizing force who can pull sides together, the results are 1 of 2 things: slow and plodding change, or — significantly more dangerous to the health of the organization — immediate reaction to big-picture problems.
Always a patch, never a fix.
It is here where we return to Baker, who in 8 years as a Republican governor in a blue state, was lauded for his ability to reach across the aisle and get things done. The fact that he was re-elected should underscore that rare quality.
This job, this unique position of standing on the edge of the abyss and staring at the end of the NCAA as we know it, will be a heavier policy lift than anything he dealt with in 8 years as the leader of the Commonwealth.
When he was named last month to replace outgoing president Mark Emmert, Baker said his goal was to “modernize college sports to suit today’s world, while preserving its essential value.”
That ship passed a long time ago, under the watchful eye of Emmert, who was equal parts punching bag, big idea/mistake man and — by the end of his 13-year run — an indifferent, gutted soul who cashed a $3 million-a-year paycheck to allow everyone to point the finger his way.
That left amateur sports — and specifically, its bell-cow sport, football — in a precarious situation of boosters controlling the future. If you don’t think that’s where we are, you’ve obviously ignored the Jalen Hurts/Jaden Rashada anecdote.
The question facing Baker isn’t how you fix it; it’s can it be fixed? Is it too late after incredibly short-sighted and simultaneous moves of instituting name, image and likeness without rules — again, there are no rules — and free player movement?
NIL is a good thing. So is free player movement.
But they need tangible, precise rules and unwavering enforcement to make it work. They need an NCAA president who can get both sides together — players and universities — to iron out these rules and proceed down a clear, unambiguous path.
It’s either that, or every wannabe hero with millions (or in some cases, billions) in his pocket controlling how college rosters are built.
2. How we got here
Emmert isn’t the reason for the ills of amateur sports; he was simply the facilitator for those who make the rules: NCAA presidents.
Emmert’s job was to build a coalition among member institutions and develop the best practices for an ever-changing NCAA. The problem is, they all continued to ignore the 1 thing that made it all work — and the 1 thing that could bring it all down.
They can no longer be ignored, and can no longer be placed in this archaic ideal of “student-athlete.” Because that name, like it or not, implies debt.
You play for us, we give you an education and prepare you for a professional career, if you’re so fortunate to be the less than 1 percent — the NCAA proclaim this fact on its own commercials! — to get paid to play professionally.
Think about this: When the new Playoff is complete for the 2024 season, it could generate as much as $1.6 billion annually in media rights. That deal, and the estimated $4 billion annually from the combined media rights deals of the Power 5 conferences (for all televised sports), leaves nearly $6 billion annually in the Power 5 coffers.
Players — beyond education expenses and professional development, and a $5,500 stipend — get none of that ever-expanding media rights money.
The NCAA agreed to NIL legislation because it was forced to the table by the states of California and Florida (and eventually, a majority of the 50 states), who passed state laws allowing amateur athletes to earn money off their name image and likeness.
Now, here’s the key: While the legislation was passed in California and Florida, it wasn’t law for nearly 16 months. In other words, the NCAA had significant time to figure out a smart and beneficial way forward for both sides.
It instead chose to beg Congress for help with national legislation, and kicked the can down the road until it no longer could. Until the Supreme Court of the United States eventually said — and I’m paraphrasing — this is much greater than NIL; you’re potentially on the hook for much more. And we’re watching.
So now here we are, with Rashada and his camp (do I really need to explain who’s part of that “camp?”), trying to get millions from a collective (see: boosters) that makes deals with high school players (allegedly, without input from coaching staffs) — and will eventually have control of who plays and who doesn’t, and if a coach is fired or extended.
Don’t blame Rashada, blame the system that evolved from an indifferent NCAA, which believed the amateur model would hold weight in the courts — when it hasn’t, over and over and over.
Rashada is simply doing what you or I or any Joe Six-pack does when negotiating for a new job. In fact, the art of negotiation is the only rule, or standard, that is a typical practice in this entire NIL mess.
And just for giggles, the NCAA decided to throw in free player movement in conjunction with the birth of NIL. Another big idea/big mistake from Emmert and the presidents — at least, in it’s timing and roll out — that has led to de facto free agency with no salary cap.
Welcome, Charlie, to your new world.
3. The Fixer, the Epilogue
So how does Charlie Baker make sense of it all, and more important, make it work and fit?
It begins with involving the players in every step, every decision, along the way. You’ve gone 150-plus years without getting input from players.
Maybe it’s time to roll with player input over the next 150.
If Baker can succeed in getting 2 diametrically different political parties to work together, he certainly can get the NCAA and players to make nice. Because at the end of the day, the common theme in politics and amateur sports is money — who gets it, and who benefits most.
In a perfect world, everyone gets most of what they need — not necessarily what they want. That’s the key moving forward for Baker and the NCAA.
Players must get what they need, including but not limited to free education (no matter how long it takes to earn the degree), annual salaries that far exceed the current $5,500, and long-term medical insurance for debilitating injuries.
In return, players agree to specific guidelines for NIL deals as a way to keep booster influence from infecting and ruining college football/sports. Because a healthy college football is the engine that drives college sports.
The easiest way to make that happen: NIL deals are only allowed after 1 year of service.
If a player is found to have made a deal prior to completing 1 year of college football, he’s ineligible for a year and loses all benefits for that same time period. He also forfeits his right to have NIL deals for the remainder of his college career — but will continue to receive salary and benefits after the initial year of probation.
For example: If Johnny Utah is a player at a Power 5 school, he makes $50,000 a year in salary, his education is paid and he receives full health benefits.
If he is found to have secured an NIL deal before completing 1 season, he sits out of competition for 1 full year, and loses his salary, education and medical benefits for 1 year — and loses his right to secure NIL deals for the remainder of his college career.
The devil in the details is giving players enough on the front end (salary) that they won’t need to search for an NIL deal until after they’ve completed 1 season.
4. QB U.
In a matter of a week, Lane Kiffin made it clear that the quarterback room at Ole Miss must get better.
Adding a former 5-star recruit (LSU’s Walker Howard), and a 4-year starter (Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders) from the transfer portal made that very clear.
Don’t think that doesn’t mean returning starter Jaxson Dart isn’t on notice.
Dart’s first full season as a starter was solid. He made plays in the passing game, and was a willing and dangerous runner. He accounted for more than 3,500 yards (614 rushing) and 21 TDs (1 rush).
But Ole Miss also lost 4 of 5 games to finish the season, and Dart’s efficiency decreased over those 5 games (he threw 5 INTs in those games). Understand this: Sanders could’ve gone wherever he wanted as the starter, including a couple of SEC schools with standing offers (Auburn, Florida).
He chose Ole Miss, despite Dart returning as the stater. Howard also could’ve transferred just about anywhere in the SEC, and he chose Ole Miss.
He didn’t leave LSU — where he couldn’t get on the field in 2023 with Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier ahead of him — to arrive and sit at Ole Miss. He’ll compete for the job, too.
This spring practice at Ole Miss will be the most competitive at the quarterback spot in years. The Rebels weren’t that far away from 10 wins (or more) in 2022 with a higher level of play from the quarterback.
That doesn’t mean Dart can’t get there in 2023. It just means he’ll now how more competition.
5. The Weekly 5
The top 5 national championships odds for SEC teams in 2023, brought you by our friends at FanDuel:
- 1. Georgia (+250)
- 2. Alabama (+450)
- 3. LSU (+1800)
- 4. Tennessee (+3000)
- 5. Texas A&M (+8000)
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Auburn RB Tank Bigsby.
“I really like him as a football player. Like the way he carries himself, I like how it’s important to him. He’s a strong, decisive runner with deceptive speed when he gets to the second level. He’s a big guy now, and he has that ability to plant and hit a crease and go. He’s not a game-breaker, but I can easily see him as a significant contributor. He wasn’t a guy they threw to, but that just as easily could’ve been scheme thing as a player thing. ”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: most important portal loss and gain (so far):
1. Georgia: Loss: WR AD Mitchell (Texas); Gain: WR Dominic Lovett (Missouri).
2. Alabama: Loss: OL Javion Cohen (Miami); Gain: TE CJ Dippre (Maryland).
3. Tennessee: Loss: WR Jimmy Calloway (Louisville); Gain: LB Keenan Pili (BYU).
4. LSU: Loss: TE Jack Bech (TCU); Gain: LB Omar Speights (Oregon State).
5. Mississippi State: Loss: WR Rara Thomas (Georgia); Gain: K Nicholas Barr-Mira (UCLA).
6. Ole Miss: Loss: LB Austin Keys (Auburn); Gain: QB Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State).
7. South Carolina: DE Jordan Burch (Oregon); Gain: TE Trey Knox (Arkansas).
8. Kentucky: Loss: DT Justin Rogers (Auburn); Gain: QB Devin Leary (NC State).
9. Arkansas: Loss: S Jalen Catalon (Texas); Gain: DE John Morgan (Pittsburgh).
10. Florida: OL Michael Tarquin (USC); Gain: OL Damieon George (Alabama).
11. Missouri: Loss: WR Dominic Lovett (Georgia); Gain: WR Theo Wease (Oklahoma).
12. Auburn: Loss: OL Keiondre Jones (Florida State); Gain: DT Justin Rogers (Kentucky).
13. Texas A&M: Loss: CB Denver Harris (LSU); Gain: CB Tony Grimes (North Carolina).
14. Vanderbilt: Loss: RB Ray Davis (Kentucky); Gain: Edge Aeneas DiCosmo (Stanford).
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you see LSU losing more players to the transfer portal? I feel like this team could contend for the SEC right now. — Joshua Dickson, Los Angeles.
There might be 1 big move still remaining, depending on how spring practice plays out. I can’t imagine QB Garrett Nussmeier, if he doesn’t clearly make a move on incumbent starter Jayden Daniels, staying at LSU.
He’s too talented (see: SEC Championship Game) to stay and sit, especially when he could be a starter for numerous Power 5 schools. I wouldn’t expect LSU coach Brian Kelly to make any definitive statement about starter and backup during spring ball, making Nussmeier’s decision more difficult.
Does he stay and bet on himself and try to win the job in fall camp? Or does he leave and get a full summer of work with another team?
This position isn’t unique to LSU. There are numerous Power 5 programs that could lose quarterbacks after spring practice.
2. Georgia landed 2 critical additions to the roster early in the transfer portal process: WRs Rara Thomas (Mississippi State) and Dominic Lovett (Missouri).
The duo combined for 100 caches, 1,472 yards and 10 TD last season. By comparison, Georgia’s top 5 receivers in 2022 combined for 143 catches, 1,826 yards and 13 TDs.
10. Quote to note
Mississippi State coach Zach Arnett on new offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay: “He’s an outside the box thinker with a brilliant Xs and Os mind. His attacking offensive philosophy will be an excellent fit for our program.”