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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

NCAA president proposes new subdivision for high-revenue Division I programs

Fans will fill Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2023 SEC Championship game between Georgia and Alabama, Saturday, December. 2, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)  (Jason Getz)
Tribune News Service

NCAA president Charlie Baker has proposed a new subdivision within Division I athletics that would allow for direct compensation of athletes by the sport’s highest-revenue programs, according to multiple reports on Tuesday.

Baker sent a letter to Division I members outlining the proposal, which schools could either opt into or opt out of. Schools in the new subdivision could reach Name, Image and Likeness deals with their own athletes and set up trust funds — with no cap on the amount of money involved — to directly compensate players.

“It kick-starts a long-overdue conversation among the membership that focuses on the differences that exist between schools, conferences and divisions and how to create more permissive and flexible rules across the NCAA that put student-athletes first,” Baker wrote in the letter, via Yahoo Sports. “Colleges and universities need to be more flexible, and the NCAA needs to be more flexible, too.”

The NIL change is a departure from the current set-up, in which loosely affiliated “collectives” raise money for distribution to athletes, without the school or coaches being directly involved. NCAA rules prohibit NIL funds from being used a recruiting inducement, though enforcement of those rules has been somewhat lax since NIL came into being in 2021.

According to Baker’s letter (as reported by The Athletic), the new proposal would give “the educational institutions with the most visibility, the most financial resources and the biggest brands an opportunity to choose to operate with a different set of rules that more accurately reflect their scale and their operating model.” In other words, the financial “haves” (the majority of schools in power conferences such as the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12) would be separated from the “have-nots” (most of the Group of 5 schools).

The new subdivision would remain part of the NCAA, and schools in the two subdivision would continue to compete against each other for national championships in every sport except football. The FBS national championship is run by the College Football Playoff, which is operated by conference commissioners and a small group of school presidents.

Baker’s proposal remains just that for now, but will certainly be discussed in a more formal fashion at the NCAA convention in January.