HOUSTON -- New NCAA president Charlie Baker watched Iowa's Caitlin Clark make history with a 41-point performance in a 77-73 upset of South Carolina on Friday.
The star power, growth and value of the women's NCAA basketball tournament is clear, he said, as the NCAA enters the final season, 2023-24, of its $34 million deal with ESPN to broadcast all Division I championships, except football and men's basketball.
"I think the biggest opportunity there -- and I would argue that the investments that have been made in the women's game have had a tremendous return to the women's game and to the players and the coaches and everybody else -- is the fact that the timing on the bid associated with this is perfect," Baker told reporters at the men's Final Four in Houston on Saturday. "Basically, this thing is going out this year and it's going out on the heels of what will have been the most successful tournament. ... Let's see what the market thinks it's worth. I think the market is going to think it's worth a lot."
Prominent women's basketball coaches have publicly supported a financial increase for their product this season. That includes South Carolina's Dawn Staley, who said the "high demand" warrants a separate, more lucrative TV deal for the women's tournament. An independent NCAA study showed that the rights for the women's tournament could be worth up to $112 million alone by 2025.
Baker said any conversation about including women's teams in the distribution of units -- men's NCAA tournament teams accrue six-figure units that are paid out over time to their respective leagues for each win -- will depend on the next TV deal.
"The first thing we have to do is find out how much this tournament, as it has progressed over the last several years, is going to be worth in the marketplace overall," he said.
Baker also spoke about a multitude of issues that could impact the future of the NCAA, including name, image and likeness laws. He said he's concerned about athletes getting what they're promised. He added that a "standard" NIL contract and a "registry" for every NIL contract that a player signs would be a valuable tool.
But any sweeping changes would have to come from the federal government, which Baker believes is willing to act on behalf of the NCAA. Earlier this week, Congress held a hearing to address NIL in college sports.
"The feds are pretty serious about trying to do something around and we're encouraged by that," Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts, said. "But if you want to have a national standard around how NIL works, it's going to be very hard to do that without federal legislation. States are just going to make their rules and say the NCAA stuff doesn't count."
Baker will travel back to Dallas in time to see Clark and Iowa face Angel Reese and LSU on Sunday afternoon.
While he enjoys the makeup of the current tournament, Baker said the committee charged with considering a possible expansion of the NCAA tournament could make a recommendation by late summer or early fall.
"I'm going to let them do their job because they've done a really good job with this tournament and I've been on the job for 30 days," he said.
The NCAA's waning stake in collegiate sports has also been a trending topic. Between the autonomy of the College Football Playoff and growing influence of the Power Five leagues, Baker said his greatest task is shaping the role of the NCAA in this new landscape.
"Remember, I came out of a public sector environment where there are a lot of distributed, decision-making models," he said. "I generally believe that if you respect the model you can usually find a way to get to someplace that works for people. But I've also said that that is, in some respects, some of the biggest challenges that will face anybody in this job."