Charlie Baker’s NCAA Presidency May Usher In New Gambling Relationships

Written By Derek Helling on December 19, 2022
massachusetts governor charlie baker ncaa president

Charlie Baker became the next NCAA president for one reason; his governmental experience. That political experience contains some work on legal US gambling.

While there are certainly other aspects of his candidacy that made him fit for the job in the eyes of the organization’s board of governors, his political resumé and apparent commitment to maintaining the power structure in college athletics look to have been what put him in the president’s chair.

It’s too early to say what that could mean for the NCAA with certainty. At the very least, he steps into leadership when college sports is fragmented on the issue as it is on many other topics.

Charlie Baker set to take NCAA reigns

Baker will probably answer one of the crucial questions about his NCAA presidency quickly. Specifically, that inquiry is just how involved Baker will be in administering the organization’s daily business.

His predecessor, Mark Emmert, acted as a de facto commissioner for college sports; except without the power that accompanies that role in other professional sports leagues. Much of Emmert’s public-facing work consisted of embodying the hundreds of member institutions.

In that role, much of Emmert’s aim was as an apologist for the NCAA’s chattel economy. His goal was to spin events to enable thousands of athletic directors, coaches, and college presidents to continue to collect their perks and salaries. Those individuals do so off the backs of the NCAA’s uncompensated and under-compensated laborers.

Baker likely won’t deviate from Emmert in that course. The Athletic‘s Nicole Auerbach reported that Baker aims to maintain the structure of the organization.

Preserving the status quo on the power dynamics between the member institutions and their workers could be the very reason Baker got the nod.

Baker’s political history made him an attractive candidate

In his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, Baker built a reputation for bipartisan results and favorable impressions. The NCAA governors likely prized that reputation as their greatest fear is that legislation will dismantle the system that has enabled college football coaches to have access to private jets while athletes struggle to feed themselves.

In Baker, they gained a person capable of working to dissuade such legislation. Baker’s political work encompasses a wide array of efforts. Among those are gambling measures. For example, Baker was among the most ardent supporters of legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts.

Pushing for gambling expansion as governor of a state is altogether different from managing the relationship that the gambling industry has with NCAA member institutions, however. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that Baker will push members to embrace the gambling industry.

Like many other issues, the NCAA is not a monolith when it comes to gambling. Its various members have taken very different approaches. Baker has several options in front of him.

Could Baker’s presidency usher in a new era of US gambling?

Several NCAA-member institutions count gambling companies among their sponsors. Perhaps the most prominent of those is LSU, which counts Caesars among its partners.

At the same time, other voices within the organization like Pitt AD Heather Lyke have been vocal in lobbying against legalized sports betting on collegiate events.

Officially, the NCAA itself discourages gambling on collegiate sporting events, even within regulated systems. However, it also won’t penalize any member institution for taking sponsorship money from gambling companies or advertising such partners.

Thus, the NCAA’s official stance is problematic. As long as the “company line” is to castigate betting on college sports as nefarious behavior but take no action to discourage its members from enjoying the perks, the organization is essentially clutching its pearls.

Baker’s embrace of gambling expansion at the very least suggests he understands the benefits of regulation. Whether he will be able to spread that awareness, or if he will even try, is unknown.

Baker could toe the laissez-faire line and let members make these decisions themselves. There are pertinent matters to attend to.

NCAA’s education, revenue, and uniformity

Among the most glaring issues in college sports when it comes to gambling is a lack of a uniform procedure for reporting athlete injuries. While colleges are under zero obligation to modify their practices to make things easier for oddsmakers at sportsbooks, there are concerns for the athletes they purport to care about so much.

Lax standards around such reporting open the door to scrupulous actors trying to manipulate athletes to obtain insider information. The NCAA’s head-in-the-sand approach to educating athletes about the dangers of divulging such information widens that exposure.

Additionally, the NCAA’s purported concern about “competitive balance” that it has trotted out to defend its chattel economy is weaker because it attempts to appear to be keeping gambling at arm’s length. As some conferences and members have already sold the rights to their data feeds and taken on gambling companies as sponsors, they have an advantage when it comes to revenue.

That’s been consistent when it comes to the NCAA’s policing of money in college sports; as long as the workers who produce the cash aren’t getting their fair share, everything else is kosher. It’s too early to tell whether Baker’s presidency could mean a national standard for injury reports. Better education for athletic workers about attempts to manipulate betting markets is no sure thing either.

What is certain, though, is that come March the NCAA will have a figurehead that has more of a history with the gambling industry than Emmert did. Hopefully, March will start to put an end to some of the NCAA’s self-deprecating madness.

Photo by AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Derek Helling Avatar
Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

View all posts by Derek Helling
Privacy Policy