NCAA president Charlie Baker ‘hopeful’ during lawsuit settlement talks

AMELIA ISLAND — When the Atlantic Coast Conference began its annual spring meetings Monday, the instability and uncertainty were impossible to escape.

Not just for the conference. For college sports as a whole.

That was obvious by the appearance of NCAA president Charlie Baker and his longer-than-expected briefing with the ACC coaches and administrators at The Ritz-Carlton.

“Obviously, there’s a lot to talk about in college sports these days,” Baker said.

Conference realignment and the ongoing litigation involving Florida State, Clemson and the ACC are only one small part. Baker’s presence was a reminder of that.

The Monopoly-money figures being thrown around with the potential exits of FSU and Clemson — at least $130 million, as much as $700 million — are dwarfed by the pending NCAA antitrust lawsuits. The price tag for settlement talks is closer to $3 billion, according to Yahoo! Sports. That money is earmarked as back payments for players who weren’t allowed to make money off their name, image and likeness at the time. Another $20 million annually per school (or more) is being thrown around as a potential revenue-sharing pool for players to receive.

Baker said he’s “not putting a deadline” on settling these cases, which center on allegations that the NCAA broke antitrust laws in restricting players’ ability to make money in various ways. House v. NCAA (which deals with name, image and likeness) is the most prominent one.

Instead, Baker is focused on finalizing terms that will work with the remaining power conferences and with the parties suing the NCAA.

“I think everybody would like to be in a position where they feel like they could plan,” Baker said. “In the current world we live in, planning is very hard to do.

“The best part about being able to plan is when you can plan, you can invest. You can invest in your students. You can invest in your athletes. You can invest in your program. You can invest in your future and have some idea of what the ground’s going to be like underneath you.”

But the ground has been shifting for years. Players went from being unable to sell autographs to legally making thousands of dollars through collectives clearly aligned with a program. The next step — more direct payments from schools or teams — could be finalized in the next few weeks.

“If we can land this thing,” Baker said, “I think it creates a lot of stability and sort of clarity for schools, and it makes it possible for all of us to start thinking about what the next act will look like as it rolls out instead of feeling like you’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

That feeling of dread probably won’t completely end until Congress intervenes. Even if the NCAA settles these cases, other lawsuits could follow. But if this batch is settled …

“It creates a framework that then makes it possible to have a different kind of conversation with Congress,” Baker said. “In many ways, I’m hopeful.”

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