B1G presidents view change as vital in college athletics

Statement proposes guaranteed scholarships, medical insurance, stipends

Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany talks with the Iowa football team during a visit to the team's practice Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 in Iowa City.  (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany talks with the Iowa football team during a visit to the team's practice Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — In the midst of a court case that could decide the fate of college athletics, leaders of the Big Ten’s current and future institutions proposed major adjustments to a system many deem as broken.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon and signed by all 14 presidents or chancellors, the league denounced the possibility of paying student-athletes in football and men’s basketball as a way that could eliminate nonrevenue sports. The league instead proposed stricter guidelines aimed at helping athletes attain academic achievement and provide stipends up to the cost of education.

“The best solutions rest not with the courts, but with us — presidents of the very universities that promote and respect the values of intercollegiate competition,” according to the statement. “Writing on behalf of all presidents of the Big Ten Conference, we must address the conflicts that have led us to a moment where the conversation about college sports is about compensation rather than academics.”

The league reemphasized initiatives discussed by Commissioner Jim Delany last summer. Those include:

n Guaranteeing a four-year scholarship regardless of an athlete’s status

n Providing scholarships without a time limit for athletes who leave for the professional ranks before graduation

n Provide consistent medical insurance for athletes

n Cover scholarships to the full cost of education as defined by the federal government

These proposals are not new. Delany touted stipends three years ago at the Big Ten’s spring meetings. Last year, Delany strongly suggested reform should include scholarships beyond an athlete’s eligibility. But the statement comes amid multiple court cases where judges could dictate terms of change to the NCAA and college athletics.

The NCAA and its schools are on trial in California for profiting off an athlete’s likeness, while the student cannot receive compensation for appearances or autographs. The NCAA will pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit for allowing likenesses on video games. Earlier this spring, Northwestern’s football program was ruled a union and the players as employees by the National Labor Relations Board, which could result in collective bargaining.

Should colleges be forced to pay football or men’s basketball players, schools will eliminate many or most nonrevenue sports, according to the presidents. That also could violate Title IX, a federal law.

“Paying only some athletes will create inequities that are intolerable and potentially illegal in the face of Title IX,” according to the statement. “The amateur model is not broken, but it does require adjusting for the 21st century. Whether we pay student-athletes is not the true issue here. Rather, it is how we as universities provide a safe, rewarding and equitable environment for our student-athletes as they pursue their education.

“We believe that the intercollegiate athletics experience and the educational mission are inextricably linked. Professionalizing specific sports or specific participants will bring about intended as well as likely unintended consequences in undermining the educational foundation of these programs, on Big Ten campuses and others throughout the country.”

According to documents received by The Gazette via state open-records laws, the statement was completed and circulated by Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman on June 8. It originally was slated to appear in San Francisco-area newspapers to coincide with the start of the O’Bannon trial on June 9.

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