One of the most anticipated sessions at Big Ten Media Days was that of Conference Commissioner Jim Delany. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 already had their media day events, and the commissioners were adamant that big changes were coming, with or without the NCAA.
Delany, widely regarded as one of the most powerful men in college athletics, may have surprised some by toning down the aggressive rhetoric and instead spending a lot of time talking about change.
He made five major points during his remarks:
- Year of Readiness for At-Risk Student Athletes
Give them their four years of eligibility. Give them the financial aid they need, but let's make sure that we haven't shortchanged anyone or exploited anyone because we've taken at-risk students and haven't given them the adequate time to prepare to transition educationally.
Delany is advocating an extra year for college athletes in order to make sure they're ready for college academically and culturally as much as athletically. If you asked any freshman on campus what their biggest challenge was upon entering college, I am guessing that that majority would say figuring out how to manage their time properly in order to be academically successful - can you imagine what it is like to manage a new environment, a new level of coursework AND athletics all at the same time?
- Time Demands
There is a 20-hour limit regarding the amount of time student-athletes may spend per week on athletic-related activities. Schools, coaches, and athletes find ways around this rule to the point that the concept is laughable.
Delany's comment on the subject:
I talked to our coaches this morning. And quite honestly, I said, "How can you help us with that?" Because it's my belief that if you're going to be a full-time student, you have to have time to be a full-time student.
There is so much pressure on collegiate athletics at every level that it might be close to impossible to do anything here. (This is where I could mention baseball and cold-weather schedules that force obscene travel as an example.) Still, Delany mentioned it if for no other reason that it can be the part of a conversation that gets dismissed. You should always have talking points that are easily dismissed because some people just want to say no to everything.
- Lifetime Academic Support
Any full scholarship athlete who didn't graduate during their period of eligibility could come back at any time in their life and earn a degree tuition-free.
This is a no-brainer. It's difficult to understand how and why this hasn't already been done before other than universities are incredibly cost-conscious right now and no one has forced their hand.
- Stipends for Student Athletes
A yearly stipend that would provide a set amount of extra money to cover the difference between the actual cost of attending a school versus what a full ride scholarship provides. Delany stated a fixed cost of anywhere from $2000 to $5000 per athlete.
This had been brought up last year (check) but squashed because there are plenty of schools/athletic departments that cannot afford it. Were it to be required, this would be a problem for them. Were it to be optional, it would create a separation between "haves" and "have-nots" that would automatically give the "haves" a recruiting advantage.
- The NCAA Will Not Split Apart/Implode
During Q&A, Delany was specifically asked whether implementing some of these changes would result in a split in the NCAA or worse, the five major conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big 12) leaving the NCAA to form their own structure.
The language of other conference commissioners has been more aggressive in moving towards splitting from the NCAA, but Delany took a more subdued approach.
His point - they can make this work without blowing everything apart. It's a darned good point as blowing everything apart can be pretty darned disruptive.
Example: The stipend would not need to be required by all schools within the same division, but optional. It should also apply to all scholarship athletes, regardless of sport. If the lower tier athletic departments can't afford that, then fine, but do not stand in the way of other, wealthier schools that can.
Fans grumble out one side of their mouth that "college football is all about money" and out of the other side of their mouth loudly cheer on the arms race imploring their school to chunk out more more more for coach salaries, facilities and whatever else, especially if it means beating the SEC in football.
There are billions of dollars pouring into collegiate athletics now. Providing athletes with more benefits, i.e., a stipend would help counter the belief that "college football is all about money" because if they do not do this, collegiate athletics will ultimately be destroyed as there will be few left who can defend it.
It would help the case of the major conferences if the NCAA (meaning the organization, not Mark Emmert) were more transparent about who oppose changes such as the stipend. Fans tend to see the NCAA as an enormous monster (picture that one in Cloverfield, you never get a real good look at it, it doesn't have a name, and no one is sure where it came from) that must be destroyed at any cost with pitchforks and fire. If it were known, for example, that the entire Sun Belt stood in the way of stipend, more pressure could be applied to that conference rather than the NCAA as a whole.
In the end, Delany's changes should be implemented because they're the right thing to do.