Dec 4, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; (left to right) Ohio State Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney former head coach Gary Williams and Maryland Terrapins athletic director Kevin Anderson pose after Williams, former head coach at both schools is given an award before their game at the Schottenstein Center. Ohio State won the game 76-60. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Op-Ed: I Kinda Like The Big Ten A Little More

It’s going to take awhile for me to warm up to the idea that the Big Ten is my conference of choice after having spent all those seasons in the ACC, but they’re already starting to woo some fans over, namely me. Yesterday, the Big Ten presidents released a joint statement urging the NCAA to explore the idea of guaranteed four-year scholarships for some student athletes, some form of medical insurance, and actual cost-of-attendance scholarships for student athletes.

You can read the full statement here or you can get the gist of it from the bullet points below, taken directly from the Big Ten president’s joint statement:

  • We must guarantee the four-year scholarships that we offer. If a student-athlete is no longer able to compete, for whatever reason, there should be zero impact on our commitment as universities to deliver an undergraduate education. We want our students to graduate.

  • If a student-athlete leaves for a pro career before graduating, the guarantee of a scholarship remains firm. Whether a professional career materializes, and regardless of its length, we will honor a student’s scholarship when his or her playing days are over. Again, we want students to graduate.

  • We must review our rules and provide improved, consistent medical insurance for student-athletes. We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them.

  • We must do whatever it takes to ensure that student-athlete scholarships cover the full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government. That definition is intended to cover what it actually costs to attend college. 

For me, that’s a hugely powerful statement. The NCAA has been kicking the can down the road for decades concerning the issue of student athlete reform, and a lot of that is because no school (or conference) has the gall to shake up the status-quo and do the right thing. Since the 70’s when the argument was first brought up, every single NCAA president has made empty promises about the issue and it took an Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and Northwestern threatening to unionize for anyone to pay attention.

Here is a reality: there are some college athletic programs that generate more revenue than every NHL franchise combined. Another: annual broadcasting revenue from the five major conferences is expected to have grown by $1.2 billion by the year 2020. One more: there are college coaches making up to $7 million a year. I’ve sat through testimony on Capitol Hill from Baylor University’s president to Ed O’Bannon’s lead economist to former NFL Ivy League athletes who all feel that the situation should change.

There has to be some kind of financial reform in college athletics that, rather than continue to funnel money to both the coaches, bigger and better facilities, and recruiting, actually gives student athletes a more robust aid package. The Big Ten’s proposal of guaranteed four-year scholarships for students, at least verbally, gives the argument legs. It’s completely unfair that players who don’t necessarily perform up to snuff get taken off scholarship because of performance. It’s also crazy to think that coaches can make millions upon millions of dollars, and yet student athletes can’t at least get coverage for injuries they sustained on the field.

These players devote almost 60 hours a week to the university for almost five months of the year and bring in, as was stated earlier, a gravy train of money to the university. You can call them student athletes (a term that was invented by Teddy Roosevelt to avoid legal issues arising from health and safety issues) all you want, but the reality is that these players are big business employees who deserve to at least get some form of fair-market value for their performance.

The NCAA spends millions upon millions of dollars trying to keep this price-fixing model around and stymie any amount of money that inevitably trickles to players, yet won’t allow them any compensation. College athletics is big business that has gone unregulated and it shows. If the USA champions the free market as an economic standard, they ought to allow collegiate athletes and the university presidents to explore different models that would allow these players to be compensated in some form.

That doesn’t necessarily mean paying them; it means following through on models put forth by Jim Delaney and his Big Ten counterparts who are the influencing bodies regarding this issue. Give them four-year guaranteed scholarships that are only voided because of major legal issues. Support them in their attempts to become successful in professional sports and, when the majority of them fail (which they do), support them in their attempts at becoming a graduate of your university.

The Big Ten, at least on the surface, seems poised to stop moving those goalposts back more and more and deal with the issue, and it’s making me like them more and more.

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