NJ representative presses new NCAA president over capital

New NCAA President Charlie Baker made the first public pleas from Congress to reform college sports a week before they began arriving in his inbox.

Mickey Sherrill, DN.J., sent a letter to the new leader of college sports this week asking for help in improving the gender equality gap in men’s and women’s basketball.

Baker, a former Massachusetts governor, was hired in part for his political experience at a time when NCAA leaders hope Congress will help regain control of a rapidly changing business model and fend off a steady onslaught of legal challenges to the hobby. Baker said in an introductory interview with ESPN last week that he knows he has to come to Capitol Hill with an open mind to make progress on any federal legislation related to college sports.

In her letter, Sherrill wrote that the NCAA is concerned that the NCAA has yet to implement many of the recommendations made in a third-party gender disparity review of how the NCAA administers its basketball tournaments and men’s and women’s sports in general. The report, completed by law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink, was commissioned after women’s basketball players pointed out key differences between the two tournaments on social media. Since then, the NCAA has made several changes to the women’s tournament, but Sherrill said more needs to be done.

“It is my sincere hope that under your new leadership, the NCAA will truly live up to the spirit of Title IX,” Sherrill said. “I look forward to partnering with you in this effort and look forward to meeting with you in your first 100 days to discuss how to address gender inequality within the NCAA.”

Baker officially took office on March 1. He also said he will speak at each of the nearly 100 NCAA conferences in his first 100 days.

Cheryl Baker shared some specific issues she hoped she could implement quickly. These include: changing the NCAA leadership structure to put the vice president in charge of women’s basketball on par with his men’s basketball counterpart; financial incentives for teams winning games in the women’s tournament, as in the men’s; and seek ways to increase revenue from women’s basketball, add transparency to their television rights negotiations, and allow women’s sports to negotiate with sponsors separately from the men’s tournament.

NCAA leaders hope Congress will help them pass federal legislation that would restore control to the organization over how athletes make money from endorsement deals and codify the policies of schools where college athletes are not employees. Those efforts made little progress under former NCAA president Mark Emmert. Several members of Congress, including Sherrill, told college sports leaders that any progress made on employment issues requires the NCAA to do more to address gender inequality and health and safety issues in college sports.

Baker knew that any progress on federal legislation would require a two-way conversation, where he would listen to what federal lawmakers want to see change in college sports, as well as what the NCAA wants.

“I think talking to Congress informs talking to members about this — and vice versa,” Baker told ESPN. “…I’m also going to take what I’ve learned from talking to Congress and bring them back to our people and I hope. [with] membership here, I can take what they see and find in their world and share it with Congress.”

Other members of Congress, such as Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Alma Adams, introduced legislation last year that would try to hold colleges accountable for following Title IX rules on resources for women’s sports.

Sherrill’s letter did not say he has plans to try to act through legislation yet, but said he wants to work with Baker to make a difference. After listing the key proposals he hoped to see in the future, he told Baker, “this is just the beginning.”

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