TAMPA — NCAA president Charlie Baker does not have authority over the College Football Playoff and the decision-making process that led 12-1 Alabama to get the final spot ahead of 13-0 Florida State.
Baker wants to keep it that way — at least when the issue of increased transparency comes up.
“Honestly, I think it’s up to them,” Baker told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday morning before the NCAA women’s volleyball national championship at Amalie Arena.
“The teams that are involved in this, the schools that are involved in it, they make their own rules, right? And they should decide what they think makes the most sense.”
Though Baker leads the NCAA, he does not lead the College Football Playoff — a separate entity that shapes football’s national championship race. The playoff is the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s Office. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is among the politicians who have asked for more transparency from the organization and its selection committee after the Seminoles’ exclusion.
Baker — the former Republican governor of Massachusetts — said that decision was “just a punch in the gut” for everyone at FSU.
“I’m glad they’re going to 12 teams next year…” Baker said of the playoff’s upcoming expansion. “I’m hoping when they go to 12, we won’t have that kind of challenge. We’ll probably have something that happens between 12 and 15 or whatever.”
A few other topics from our wide-ranging interview:
On Tampa as an NCAA championship host
Baker attended the Frozen Four at Amalie Arena in April — a month after he started the job — and called his experience in town “terrific.”
“If you think about it, it’s set up in a way that makes it particularly advantageous as a host, because you’ve got a ton of hotel rooms, a bunch of restaurants, a bunch of open space and the facilities themselves all within walking distance, and you’re right on the ocean,” Baker said. “It’s a pretty good place to have one of these events.”
Future NCAA scheduled in Tampa include the 2025 Women’s Basketball Final Four and first/second round games for the men’s tournament in 2026.
On volleyball’s rise
The attendance for Thursday’s semifinals (19,598) was a record for the event. The more telling number for the NCAA, however, is the average semifinal viewership of 1.1 million on ESPN — a 52% increase from last year.
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“I think women’s volleyball is going to be very, very, very big moving forward,” Baker said. “I’m very excited about that. I think it’s a great spectator sport — live or on TV. The athleticism is incredible. The rules changes (to speed up the game) made a huge difference. … I think the numbers are definitely showing that.”
Those numbers come at an important time because the NCAA is renegotiating its media rights for a bundle that includes women’s sports (including volleyball and basketball) and baseball. Baker cited a rise in youth volleyball participation as one reason why he thinks it has “tons of upside.”
On his recent $30,000 player compensation proposal
Earlier this month, Baker proposed a new subdivision within Division I that would require schools to invest $30,000 or more for at least half of their athletes. Baker called it an “enabling element,” where schools “can do whatever they want, basically” within the framework.
Baker doesn’t like calling it a “trust fund” proposal; he prefers “enhanced educational benefits” because the money could help with things like internship living expenses.
Either way, it was the starting point for a larger discussion.
“I would say that most people have said it’s directionally correct,” Baker said.
Baker’s goal is for that conversation to gain meaningful traction this summer in the next six or eight months.
On the NCAA’s bureaucracy
“As odd as it might be for me to say this coming out of government,” Baker said, “the NCAA’s governance structure is ponderous.”
Specifically, there are about 180 committees with 2,000 participants.
His conversations with all 97 conferences have shown a desire for the NCAA to be “simpler and less complicated, easier to understand and more flexible.” Different groups have different ideas on how to fix it, but Baker said change is something “at some point we probably need to take a look at.”
“What I need to do is create a process that people feel like they’re being heard, which I agree is always important given my own background, and then move and go and see where it takes you,” Baker said.
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