Syndication: USA TODAY

LAS VEGAS -- If the NCAA is evaporating into irrelevance, it is not going away quietly. Not with Charlie Baker, the association's 67-year-old president, who for a brief moment Monday took the "pulpit" out of bully pulpit. 

"I was certainly trying to be calm and have a discussion [with Baker]," Collin Sherwin, college sports editor at DraftKings Network, told CBS Sports. "He clearly wanted to get something off his chest."

Sherwin had just asked a question while attending a gambling panel during the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics annual convention at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Baker sat in the back row as a spectator before speaking to the convention's attendees later in the day.

When Sherwin rose to question a panelist's suggestion prop bets be banned in the new legal sports gambling landscape, Baker told Sherwin, "I couldn't disagree more."

Baker didn't relent, being seen later in an agitated discussion with Sherwin that looked one-sided.

"No cussing [from Baker]," Sherwin said, "but I did get hit with a, Lleave the kids alone.'"

If NCAA membership wanted an engaged, aggressive leader after the rudderless tenure of Mark Emmert, they got their man. Charles Duane Baker Jr. is no wallflower. Say what you will about what has certainly become a diminished NCAA, but its leader has shown a quality rarely seen in the association's history: a level-headed, intelligent, involved ability to lead. 

If the membership wanted a pugnacious Northeasterner with a broad political background and an agenda, they got that too. 

Baker took the stage Monday to address that NACDA convention to the strains of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up." The symbolism could have been taken multiple ways as Mick Jagger sang, "You make a grown man cry."

Mark Emmert, he ain't. 

"I think you could say I was an unusual choice," Baker told the 3,000 attendees. "I left politics because it became so divisive and dysfunctional; I just couldn't stand it anymore."

Tired of politics as usual, a Republican governor from Massachusetts in a decidedly blue state thought he'd try his people skills with what might be one of the worst-perceived brands in the country. One of Baker's few connections with the slow-moving athletic monolith was that he played Ivy League basketball at Harvard.

When he became a serious NCAA candidate in late 2022, the mandate was basically to turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub. 

"The message was pretty clear," Baker said. "Just do something."

History has yet to fully weigh in only 15 months into Baker's residency as NCAA president. The association is certainly a leaner, meaner, more fiscally responsible monolith. But perhaps the biggest win is that it's still around at all. Baker was part of the force behind the House v. NCAA settlement that bundled a series of crippling antitrust lawsuits.

Then again, what else could he have done? Doing nothing would have likely resulted in a loss at trial that could have bankrupted the NCAA. The whole process was being labeled "a race to the bottom" for not only the association but college sports.

Baker has gotten to this point by projecting not power, exactly, but a competency mixed with energy and a certain amount of flair. Sporting a green tie, Baker said, "Celtics in five," at the end of his remarks. During a Q&A session, he quickly named his all-time Celtics team. 

Back in the real world, his Project DI proposal in December set the stage for the House settlement which allows revenue sharing with athletes for the first time. 

But if you really want to trigger Baker, raise the gambling issue. He's against those prop bets that are essentially micro-wagers. They can be placed on everything from how long it takes to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to the over/under on points scored in the first quarter. 

Baker believes prop bets add more pressure on athletes and officials if they don't perform as prescribed in the wager itself. Of the 38 states with legalized sports betting, 18 don't allow prop bets. Maryland, Ohio and Vermont banned college prop bets this year. 

Baker released a statement in late March calling for a ban on prop bets. 

"I think prop betting, in some respects, is one of the parts I worry about the most," Baker told CBS News in November.

He was so concerned about the blowback from the betting public on athletes and officials that he hired a company to track and report to the platforms the negative social media. 

"Some of the stuff that is being said is horrifying," Baker said Monday. "I don't think people appreciate yet how big a deal this is going to be."

The irony, of course, drips from the ceiling. Baker reiterated his stance here in Sin City, the gambling capital of the world the NCAA has deemed worthy of hosting the 2028 Final Four. 

"I can't believe I'm saying this, and I can't believe I'm saying this here," Baker told the convention. "I kind of wish sports betting would stay in Vegas." 

Baker was asked about prop bets again Monday in a brief meeting with reporters after his formal remarks. 

"When was the first time you started to hear student-athletes and professional athletes talk a lot about harassment and threats and intimidation?" he asked.

That would be 2019 when state-sponsored gambling in a landmark Supreme Court decision. That harassment has ripened, so to speak. Major League Baseball players complained to USA Today on Monday about death threats and criticism from misguided gamblers. 

In the end, there were no hard feelings. Sherwin may have got caught up in the backwash of Baker's ardent gambling stance. The journalist asserted that banning prop bets would push them to unregulated, offshore markets where they couldn't be monitored by U.S. regulatory agencies. Baker argued the opposite, passionately, in public. 

"He certainly has a different opinion," Sherwin said. "As he reminded me, he has spoken to multiple attorneys general and gaming commissions and they all say the [illegal offshore] player college prop market is not a problem. That's what he says. 

"I would say, if it's not an issue, it's going to become one if we don't legalize these markets. There's no incentive for anyone in Costa Rica or the Isle of Man to [oversee prop bets]."

"Beautiful message," an attendee told Baker as the NCAA president descended the stage. 

Mark Emmert, he definitely ain't.