The NCAA has selected Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as its next president, succeeding Mark Emmert.
Baker, a Republican who has been governor since January 2015 but will conclude his second term in January, will begin his new post March 1. He played power forward for Harvard's basketball team during the 1977-78 season, but has no previous collegiate administrative experience. He has spent most of his career in Massachusetts state government but spent a decade in health care administration. The 66-year old Baker holds degrees from both Harvard and Northwestern.
In April, Emmert announced he would be stepping down. He has led the NCAA since November 2010 and in April 2021 had his contract extended through 2025. Emmert will remain in an advisory role until June. Baker said he believes he's joining the organization at a "pivotal" time for the NCAA, which is in the process of transforming the way it governs college sports because of political and legal challenges to its business model.
"I think it's worth doing," Baker said in a news conference Thursday afternoon. "It's big and complicated, but so have been a lot of the things I've done in my life. Most of the time they were absolutely worth doing."
Linda Livingstone, chair of the NCAA's board of governors and Baylor University president, helped lead the search for a new president along with six others, including former Duke standout basketball player Grant Hill, now co-owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Livingstone said Baker stood out as a candidate because of his track record of building bipartisan consensus during a time when the NCAA is aiming to "engage and motivate" Congress to create federal legislation that will give the NCAA legal clearance to regulate how college athletes are compensated.
"We are excited to welcome Governor Charlie Baker to the NCAA and eager for him to begin his work with our organization," Livingstone said in a statement. "Governor Baker has shown a remarkable ability to bridge divides and build bipartisan consensus, taking on complex challenges in innovative and effective ways. As a former student-athlete himself, husband to a former college gymnast, and father to two former college football players, Governor Baker is deeply committed to our student-athletes and enhancing their collegiate experience. These skills and perspective will be invaluable as we work with policymakers to build a sustainable model for the future of college athletics."
Baker's background in politics and policy fueled his candidacy, as the NCAA has faced several high-profile legal challenges in recent years. In 2021, the NCAA began allowing athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, but the rules vary between states as there is no federal policy, despite a desire from athletic directors and major conference commissioners. In a release announcing Baker's hire, the NCAA noted "untenable patchwork of individual state laws" have limited its authority.
Baker told reporters Thursday that he was not ready to dive into details about some of the specific issues reshaping college sports, such as increased transfers between schools and the evolving ways in which NCAA athletes are allowed to make money. He said his goal will be, in part, to make changes while preserving the part of college sports that he believes is "one of the truly greatest human potential development organizations ever devised."
Under Baker's predecessor, Emmert, the NCAA has started to make an effort to shift more power from its central national office in Indianapolis to individual divisions or conferences. Baker said he believes this a good fit for his experience, having spent much of his career working in "distributed decision-making models" of leadership.
"It's about being a convener and a collaborator of a very large organization that has a lot of points of view and seeking to find those places where people can come together, can agree and can make a case ... about what the best way is to ensure we don't lose this jewel going forward."
Baker, whose term as governor ends Jan. 5, said he plans to attend this year's NCAA convention in mid-January so he can begin building relationships and developing a better understanding of the organization he will soon lead.
ESPN's Dan Murphy contributed to this report