NCAA's new proposal could help ensure its survival if Congress gets on board

If you told any athletics director at a power-conference school that for $15 million per year, they would never have to worry about revenue sharing, making players employees or collective bargaining with their athletes, they would take it in an instant and never look back.

Based on the framework of a proposal that NCAA president Charlie Baker sent to schools on Tuesday, it might not even cost that much.

While it’s a huge deal that the NCAA is ready to acknowledge the inevitability of paying athletes in the current legal environment around college sports, what the NCAA actually put on the table is not revolutionary. And it certainly shouldn’t be viewed as satisfactory in the larger sense of what's fair for athletes.

But it might just be enough to get a deal done with Congress.

The specifics are not completely filled in, but there are two key basic points:

The first would be allowing schools to bring their name, image and likeness operations in-house and make marketing deals with athletes directly. This would essentially formalize and legalize what is already going on in the shadows with booster collectives that are kinda-sorta but not really supposed to be working as a go-between for schools to make deals with athletes.

The second piece would be forming a new subdivision within Division I athletics where schools would be required to put at least $30,000 per year into a trust fund for at least half of their scholarship athletes. Some athletes could get more, and it's unclear how schools would determine who is and isn't eligible for the payments, but schools would have to ensure 50 percent of the money goes to women in order to comply with Title IX.

The bottom line is that a major conference athletic department with around 500 scholarship athletes — some have more, some have less — would only need to spend about $7.5 million more to be part of the new subdivision. If it decided to fund the trust for all of its athletes, it would be $15 million. If, let’s say, it bumped it to $50,000 annually, you’re talking $25 million.

MORE: What does the NCAA proposal to pay players mean for college athletics?

Big numbers, to be sure.

But when we just watched Texas A&M commit $77 million to fire football coach Jimbo Fisher and even a football agnostic school like Indiana pay $15 million to get rid of Tom Allen, this is not a game-changing amount of money.

The schools will find it — especially if it means getting what they want on Capitol Hill.

For years, attempts by the NCAA to wrangle some type of bill through Congress that would regulate NIL and protect the NCAA from more legal challenges that might result in revenue sharing and employment status for athletes, have stalled.

Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts, was hired specifically to work the political side of keeping the NCAA alive. Without some type of help from Congress, there is real legal exposure that could potentially result in a splintering of the NCAA or even a full-on implosion.

What Baker’s proposing could be the last, best effort to keep the Ohio States and Texases of the world under the same umbrella as the Virginia Commonwealths and Bethune-Cookmans, even if they are playing by different rules for the same championships.

But it also seems like the kind of thing that could be key to a larger deal with Congress.

It seems highly unlikely that Baker, who has been a consistent presence in D.C., released this without getting a sense of how it would be received by the people whose support he needs to get an NCAA-friendly law passed.

As with most things in Congress, there have been deep divides about what kind of bill could pass. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate is tough, even on issues where there's a lot of agreement across party lines.

When there have been hearings, they’ve ranged from comical to completely off the rails. The last time NCAA leaders went in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a few members decided to use their time for political grandstanding on pet issues like transgender athletes or pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses. It’s generally been a joke and a waste of time.

But you can sort of see how this proposal might close the gap on some of the issues that both Democrats and Republicans might want in a big college sports bill. It significantly increases athlete compensation while potentially giving the NCAA or conferences more ability to regulate the NIL environment without the threat of lawsuits.

If the NCAA can extract those protections from Congress and codify them into law, it ensures the organization’s long-term future without the looming threat of the next big case that’s going to potentially bankrupt it, upend the entire model or turn athletes into employees.

The NCAA would take that in a heartbeat.

Schools are tired of operating in the realm of uncertainty about what’s allowed in NIL and what might be coming down the pike next. At this point, they just want to know the rules of the road and will do what they have to do to comply.

For power-conference schools whose budgets range from $250 million down to the $90 million range, diverting $15 million or $20 million to stave off the potential of revenue sharing and collective bargaining would be a great deal. They could stay in the NCAA with the power to essentially play by their own rules and not worry about getting hauled into court.

It will be more of a strain for schools outside the Power Five, and some may not come along to this new subdivision. It will undeniably formalize the split between haves and have-nots in college sports, but that was playing out every day in the real world anyway.

And, of course, it would benefit athletes in a substantial way, including women and those who don’t play revenue-generating sports.

But it’s also a long-awaited admission from the NCAA that it’s time to cut its losses and finally make a deal. If Baker can push this through while also getting Congress to ensure that schools will never have to deal with a players’ union or pay players their fair market value, he’ll be the most important figure in the modern history of the NCAA.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA's new proposal could ensure its survival, if Congress goes along