The importance of the Ed O’Bannon case vs. the NCAA in regards to the future of college athletics cannot be stated enough. As we touched on briefly back in late January, the lawsuit is still on track to become a class-action that could eventually result in college athletes receiving (and deservedly so) a piece of the ever-growing television revenue pot.
Needless to say, that would dramatically alter the idea of amateurism that the NCAA and several college admins hide behind. One of those admins is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. In an intriguing article from Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples, which you can and absolutely should read HERE, Delany openly explored the idea of the Big Ten moving to a de-emphasized athletics model should athletes ever receive compensation in a pay-for-play scenario.
Here’s what Delany wrote in a declaration supporting the NCAA against the O’Bannon’s pursuit of class-action status. In it, Delany introduces the possibility of using a Division III model:
“…it has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten’s schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs. Several alternatives to a ‘pay for play’ model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten’s philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes.”
And this is what Delany told Staples:
“It’s not that we want to go Division III or go to need-based aid,” Delany said. “It’s simply that in the plaintiff’s hypothetical — and if a court decided that Title IX is out and players must be paid — I don’t think we’d participate in that. I think we’d choose another option. … If that’s the law of the land, if you have to do that, I don’t think we would.”
Delany wasn’t alone in filing his declaration. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, Texas athletic directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack have also filed similar documents.
Staples writes candidly “If the Big Ten schools dropped athletic scholarships and moved to Division III or into the non-scholarship FCS realm occupied by the schools of the Ivy and Pioneer leagues, it would inject some intellectual honesty into this debate. Schools and leagues say they want to run amateur sports that enrich the collegiate experience, but then they run football and men’s basketball like professional sports. This would mean a group of 14 schools leaving millions of dollars on the table to run true amateur athletic programs that exist only to enhance the university experience of their students.”
And therein lies the biggest deterrent for Delany and anyone else considering a future with less emphasis on athletics and its revenue potential, whether it’s a DIII model or otherwise: no one, and I say this quite confidently, is going to seriously leave that much money on the table based on some out-of-date belief that those who work hard to help generate that revenue shouldn’t receive even a small portion of it.
(If they did, more power to ‘em. At least someone would be standing by their words. Just be prepared for a massive pay decrease or pink slip.)
But consider Delany’s job description. As Big Ten commissioner, Delany is responsible for serving his presidents and athletic directors. What he wants doesn’t always reflect what his conference wants, or what it will get. By Delany’s own admission, he hasn’t polled them on the idea of moving to another model. But he does feel confident that they would support his idea.
“… I think our presidents, our faculties and our boards of trustees would just opt out,” Delany said of a pay-for-play. “I don’t know what the opt-out means, whether that’s Division III or another model.”
Picture the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State agreeing to de-emphasize their athletics programs. No, really. Go ahead.
How about new members Maryland and Rutgers? The Terps moved to the Big Ten solely because of money and the Big Ten expanded to 14 — and could expand again to 16 — to grow its footprint in richer television markets.
Those schools have factions to consider too, such as wealthy alumni, season-ticket holders and network subscribers. All play a pivotal role in making the Big Ten one of the most recognizable and profitable brands in college athletics.
Delany insists he isn’t bluffing. We’re saying he is, and we’re not alone. Remember how anti-playoff Delany was?
Then again, completely scrapping everything you’ve built for the sake of making sure some athletes don’t get paid is the most college athletics thing ever.