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N.J. Rep Mikie Sherrill presses NCAA’s new president Charlie Baker on equity, calls for faster reform

N.J. Rep Mikie Sherrill presses NCAA's new president Charlie Baker on equity, calls for faster reform

New NCAA president Charlie Baker made it barely a week before the first public Congressional requests to reform college sports started to land in his inbox.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) sent a letter to the new leader of college sports this week asking for his help in improving the gender equity differences in men’s and women’s basketball. Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts, was hired in part for his political experience in a time when NCAA leaders are hoping Congress will help them regain some control of a rapidly changing business model and fend off a steady onslaught of legal challenges to amateurism. Baker told ESPN in an introductory interview last week that he knew he would have to come to Capitol Hill with an open mind in order to make progress on any federal legislation related to college sports.

Sherill wrote in her letter that she was concerned that the NCAA has yet to implement many of the recommendations made in a third-party review of gender inequities in how the NCAA manages its marquee basketball tournaments and men’s and women’s sports in general. The report, completed by the Kaplan Hecker & Fink law firm, was commissioned after women’s basketball players highlighted major differences between the two tournaments on social media. The NCAA has since made several changes to it’s women’s tournament, but Sherrill said much more needs to be done.

“It is my sincere hope that under your new leadership, the NCAA can truly live up to the spirit of Title IX,” Sherill said. “I stand ready to partner with you in these efforts and am requesting to meet with you during your first 100 days so that we may discuss the path forward to addressing gender inequities within the NCAA.”

Baker officially started his tenure March 1. He said he also intends to speak to each of the NCAA’s nearly 100 conferences during his first 100 days.

Sherill shared some specific issues that she hoped Baker could implement quickly. They include: Changing the NCAA’s leadership structure to put the vice president in charge of women’s basketball on equal footing with her men’s basketball counterpart; providing financial incentives for teams that win games in the women’s tournament similar to those that exist for the men; and seeking ways to increase the revenue produced by women’s basketball by adding transparency to their TV rights negotiations and giving women’s sports more ability to negotiate with sponsors separate from the men’s tournament.

NCAA leaders are hoping Congress can help them pass a federal law that will restore some control for the organization over how athletes make money from endorsement deals and codify schools’ positions that college athlete are not employees. Those efforts made little progress under previous NCAA president Mark Emmert. Several members of Congress, including Sherill, have told college sports leaders that any progress made on employment issues would have to come hand-in-hand with the NCAA doing more to address gender inequity and health and safety issues in college sports.

Baker said he knew that any progress on federal legislation would require a two-way conversation, in which he listens to what federal lawmakers would like to see change in college sports as well as telling them what the NCAA wants.

“I think the conversation with Congress will inform the conversation with membership about this stuff — and vice versa,” Baker told ESPN. ” … I’m also going to take what I learn from conversations with Congress and take them back to our folks and I’m hoping that [with] the membership here I’ll be able to take what they’re seeing and finding in their worlds and share that with Congress.”

Other members of Congress, such as Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Alma Adams, have proposed legislation in the past year to try to make colleges for accountable for following Title IX rules about the resources provided to women’s sports.

Sherill’s letter did not say that she had plans to try to force action through legislation yet, but that she wanted to work with Baker to make change. After listing the main recommendations she hoped to see in the future, she told Baker “this is only the beginning.”

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