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Geo Baker criticizes NCAA on NIL rights

The Rutgers captain spoke out on Saturday and his comments are important for the future of student-athletes.

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Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

On Saturday, the NCAA March Madness account on Instagram promoted a podcast featuring Baylor head coach Scott Drew that included an image highlighting a quote of his that said “Guys are breaking up with their long-time girlfriends to keep the bubble tight and play games.”

Rutgers captain Geo Baker left a comment on the post stating “and we still ‘amateurs.’”

He expounded on the issue with two additional comments after he was criticized for his initial response within the Instagram post.

“That’s nothing compared to what we bring to our schools. Not even saying schools should pay players. (Which already happens anyway). But Others can create their own business and make money off it so why would an athlete not be allowed to do that?? I have to sign a paper that says my name and likeness belongs to the school. Modern day slavery.”

“u realize we are playing in a pandemic being told to stay away from everyone we love just for y’all entertainment but i can’t sell my own jersey with my last name on it to help my future financially. That makes sense to u?”

Regarding Baker’s comments about school’s paying players already, he is referencing stipends that can be allocated to players to use for food and other expenses.

Baker’s comments were picked up by national outlets on Saturday, including Yahoo! Sports and Fox News.

There were some outspoken Rutgers fans who did not agree with Baker’s comments, as he was criticized on message boards and social media forums for not appreciating the value of an athletic scholarship and being ungrateful for the opportunity he is provided.

For those that interpreted Baker’s argument that way, they are mistaken.

Geo Baker is a lot of things, but ungrateful isn’t one of them. In his four years at Rutgers, he has exhibited class, respect and appreciation for the opportunity the school and program have provided him. The comments he made on Saturday do not take away from that in any way.

His comments are specifically addressing the NIL rights of players, which is name, image and likeness. The NCAA has always blocked players from profiting off of the use of their name, image and likeness. This is the issue that Baker was referencing when he stated “modern day slavery.”

While some may find the characterization of the situation as an extreme exaggeration or inappropriate, consider another point of view in this article from last March written by Julia Chaffers of Princeton University. She addresses the similarities between slavery and NCAA amateurism in detail by focusing on the aspect of uncompensated labor. Longtime sports columnist Kevin Blackistone of the Washington Post has made a similar argument in the past as well.

The NIL rights topic has gained more and more attention in recent months. States like California are enacting laws to allow student-athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. It helped force the NCAA’s hand to agree last fall that they would change the rules beginning in August 2021. The catch though is that each school could block player deals that are “deemed to conflict with existing school sponsorship arrangements.”

From this USA Today article in November:

“Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that the restrictions appear to make the proposal “functionally useless” and, as a result, it “will do little to change the current exploitive state of college athletics.”

Blumenthal is among a group of senators, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who have called for the enactment of what they term a college athletes’ “bill of rights.”

Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have proposed the Booker-Blumenthal bill, which would expand the NIL rights even further from what the NCAA is considering. The NCAA recently delayed the vote on NIL rights, which both Booker and Blumenthal criticized here.

The NCAA has masqueraded as a non-profit business for decades despite generating over a billion dollars in annual revenue before the global pandemic COVID-19. Yes, the NCAA and universities provide tremendous opportunities for student-athletes to receive a free education and other benefits like housing, food, etc. However, just because they provide these services for student-athletes, it doesn’t excuse them from withholding other benefits directly related to the impact that student athletes make on the revenue that is generated.

The argument that amateurism should preclude student-athletes from profiting off of the use of their name, image or likeness because they receive other benefits already is both weak and hypocritical.

The value of something doesn’t supersede the the principle of something. Just because a player gets A, B and C doesn’t meant they shouldn’t be entitled to D as well. In the case of the NCAA, student-athletes receive a cost benefit but are ineligible to receive a profit in the use of their own name, image or likeness because why? Mark Lewis, a former NCAA Vice President is quoted in Chaffers’ article stating “The challenge with college sports is you’ve made everything else professional, except the labor model.”

Baker should be applauded for speaking out on the issue rather than chastised as being ungrateful or ignorant. Change doesn’t occur when people in charge or organizations are allowed to remain comfortable despite improper conditions existing. It takes leaders to speak out on those issues and force those improper conditions to be addressed. Baker did this despite the fact that any potential changes with NIL rights for student-athletes will likely take place after he graduates. He knew he would be criticized for taking this stance publicly, but he did it anyway because he knew responding to an NCAA affiliated account would generate national attention on this issue. He didn’t do it to help himself, he did it to help future student-athletes.

Baker isn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful, he is being selfless. Complain about the timing of doing this the day before a game and in mid-season, but fighting for what you believe in doesn’t fit into a schedule.

The NCAA amateurism model was hanging by a thread before the global pandemic COVID-19 existed. The strict conditions that student-athletes are forced to live under due to this global health crisis has rightfully brought more scrutiny. The mental health issues that student-athletes are enduring this year isn’t for a free education. It’s for the NCAA, major conferences and individual universities to make money.

Criticize Geo Baker for speaking out if you must. However, in doing so you are supporting an institution in the NCAA that doesn’t prioritize its own student-athletes, but rather the profits it can make off of them.

Update: After Sunday’s win over Northwestern, Baker clarified his comments from Saturday and head coach Steve Pikiell spoke about the issue as well here.