What a weird hire. The dumpster-fire organization known as the NCAA had to make the right move in naming its next president. Mark Emmert’s tenure left the NCAA a mess so bad people questioned why the organization even existed in the first place. To fix all the issues at hand, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is on the job. The Republican leader of one of the bluest states in America will leave the political spectrum (sort of) and head to Indianapolis to be the czar of college athletics.
Baker, who has never worked at a college or in education at all, will start his term as the NCAA’s sixth president in March, inheriting the organization that horribly mismanaged the college basketball bribery scandal, while having basketball be what drives most of the organization’s revenue. There are a plethora of other issues the NCAA will face in the coming years including the implementation of name, image, and likeness, the inevitable formation of super conferences as well as whether the NCAA should cease to exist at all.
To lead that endeavor someone whose strengths haven’t proven to be in sports, business or education, and who doesn’t appear to have strong connections with college athletics at all, is the man to do it. Baker’s an odd, unconventional hire — an outsider to say the least. The NCAA zigged when it could’ve zagged. And in several years, it might’ve been the exact right move. There’s reason to believe this exact serpentine wasn’t the right direction, especially if the organization wanted to plaster an anti-Emmert hire. There is an incredibly low bar for Baker to look better than his predecessor, but being a non-traditional candidate is a risky move.
Let’s state the obvious here. The speculation of who the next NCAA president was going to be wasn’t like hiring a football or basketball coach. The massive speculation of up-and-coming coaches who deserve their chance with a big-time opportunity was never going to be the trajectory of how this plays out. This was never going to be Brian Kelly spurning Notre Dame for LSU. Appointing someone who becomes the new face of blame came along with the search, evidenced by this quote on the transfer portal at his introductory press conference: “I think the transfer portal is one element of a whole series of elements that needs to be part of the conversation going forward.”
Maybe he’s perfect for the role, because I have no idea what that means. Baker had at least 24 hours to prep an answer to an obvious question he’ll get and that was a spectacular politically familiar nothing-burger. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun hold one all beef patty, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. It’s a singular piece of mystery meat, just as intended. Not exactly the alleviating of murkiness you’d hope for in a post-Emmert NCAA.
Where I believed the hire was going was within college athletics itself, someone with a ton of business experience and expertise on how to manage an uncountable number of projects at once. That someone who understands the scope of the job and wouldn’t mind admitting running college athletics isn’t a one-person task. I’d want a Brett Yormark-type hire, who would’ve been great if he wasn’t hired as Big 12 Commissioner. The experience of working at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment as well as Roc Nation would have served him beautifully. Heck, to serve the greater good, having the Big 12 find a new leader isn’t an inconceivable option. Someone with phenomenal business experience would’ve been too straightforward. Baker will have to spend some time in Washington during his tenure because of Congress’ involvement with the organization over the last few years. But strength in having friends in the nation’s capital shouldn’t have been enough to put him over the top for this hire.
The mind-boggling thing about Gov. Baker’s hire is that I’m not sure of his vision to change things for the better. He deserves time to prove it, but this could end up being more of the same from the NCAA. With the ability to pick a candidate from such a wide range of backgrounds, going pure political science, with no track record of sports or education, is a questionable decision from the governing body of college athletics that loves the phrase student-athletes. Baker’s not responsible for this mess. His mop alone won’t cover this spill.
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