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Will Charlie Baker return to politics after heading the NCAA? Heres what he said

Months before Gov. Charlie Baker was named the next president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the popular Republican leader had ruled out the possibility of running for president of the United States in 2024.

But the governors unexpected career shift this March of managing complex issues among college athletic programs and student athletes doesnt mean Baker is done with politics just yet.

I have already said that if youre in public life, you never say never, Baker told MassLive Tuesday during an interview at his ceremonial office in the Massachusetts State House. I build my career one brick at a time. I dont know what the next thing will be.

Baker, who has just days left in office, said he was skeptical about his new job when Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy recommended him for the position to NCAA recruiters.Read more: As Charlie Baker departs, outgoing governor gives nod to Western Mass.

But then the opportunity started to make sense to Baker, a former basketball player at Harvard, as he could wield his political acumen and decision-making skills to tackle thorny issues at the NCAA, including regulations tied to name, image and likeness compensation for student athletes.

Baker didnt divulge Tuesday how long he intends to stay at the NCAA or how exactly he may intend to reenter politics, which the governor has decried as increasingly divisive, particularly in the social media era with a constant churn of information.

Careers go in plenty of directions, Baker told MassLive. But I am looking forward to the challenge and opportunity of what Im gonna be doing.

Baker, asked what hell miss most about serving as governor, swiftly answered: The people of Massachusetts, by far.

Bay Staters treat him like their neighbor, Baker said, after seeing him so frequently on television.Read more: Heres why Gov. Charlie Baker took the job as NCAA president

They talk to you the way they talk to somebody they know, and I love that good or bad, Baker said. Its a blessing to be able to get to really know the people in Massachusetts the way you get to know it in this job.

Earlier this month, Bakers post-gubernatorial career move remained a mystery.

Even First Lady Lauren Baker had emphasized during the first week of December the uncertainty about their next chapter as they focused on the bittersweet transition process. Still, she signaled a future in public office could be on the horizon for the outgoing governor.

I think he really feels called to this work, Lauren Baker said. Its not like hes driven to have another elected position, though its the work that he really enjoys. I wouldnt be surprised if he stays engaged somehow in public service.

During a virtual NCAA press conference earlier this month, Baker insisted the chance to helm the massive organization had no influence on his decision last December to not seek a third term in office.Read more: State Rep. Jake Oliveira prepares to succeed Sen. Eric Lesser on Beacon Hill

Rather, he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito both of whom adhere to a moderate, bipartisan governing style in an overwhelmingly blue state wanted to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and other unfinished business this year without the added pressure of politics.

The Massachusetts Republican Party is in turmoil, and Baker nationally has warned that political extremism fueled Republicans lackluster performance in the midterm elections, including in battleground states.

Baker, sticking to his brand of collaborative leadership, said at the NCAA press conference he plans to immerse himself in the organization by listening to stakeholders.

In this role in particular, the way I see it as this point is about being the convener and the collaborator of a very large organization that has a lot of points of view and seeking to find those places where people can come together, can agree, and can make a case generally to the public, to their student athletes, to their alumni and their fans about the best way to ensure that we dont lose this jewel going forward, Baker said.

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