Another softball ESPN interview – Jim Delaney

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney was on with Greenberg and Schlereth this morning.

A few comments of interest:

– Delaney acknowledged that “kids are spending between 35-43 hours” per week on sports, across all divisions, presumably regardless of sport, given the tone of the rest of his comments. Surveys have shown that football players are spending ten hours more per week on their sports than are other athletes, which gets us within range of the 50-60 hours a week that Kain Colter had testified was the norm in football at Northwestern. The university has denied that the time commitment was so significant. NCAA rules, of course, limit athletes to 20 hours per week of “required” and “supervised” practice and training time during the season. So it’s interesting to hear Delaney more or less admit that this rule is openly flouted.

Delaney also conceded that the time demands are much greater on college athletes today than was the case thirty years ago, a state of affairs Delaney says “just crept up on us.”

– Greenberg specifically asked the Big Ten Big Boss about Colter and the Northwestern players’ attempt to unionize. Delaney took some flak last year when he said that if the O’Bannon plaintiffs won, Big Ten schools would not be interested in a pay-for-play scheme and schools like Michigan might shift to a Division III model. Perhaps as a result, he’s dialing back his doomsday talk. Delaney said of Colter that he “respect(s) his view…” and that “it’ll get worked out…” Delaney did allow that he disagrees with Colter and opined: “I think the athletes are students, not employees.” Delaney repeatedly circled back to insisting that his concern is for all college athletes – the 400,000 or so in all sports across all divisions. This stratagem – lumping all athletes and all college sports together so as to obscure the special nature of big time college football and basketball – has become central to the NCAA’s efforts to deny athletes in those two sports appropriate compensation.

– Mark Schlereth chimed in to say that there was nothing “free about the education I got. I paid for it by playing and being injured and all those other things.” He also noted “the astronomical salaries of coaches” to ask about whether the players should receive more compensation than they currently do. It’s important to understand the precarious nature of the NCAA’s claims. Their term for the scholarship that athletes receive is “approved compensation.” In other words, they are acknowledging, on some level, a clear exchange of benefits for services rendered to the university. In general, this is not the nature of other kinds of academic scholarships. Recipients of such scholarships are not typically required to engage in any activity outside the classroom for twenty, let alone thirty or forty or more hours per week.  Delaney acknowledged a “gap” between the value of the scholarship and what the players should be getting, but also said most schools couldn’t afford to pay for an extra stipend. No mention of the consequences for athletic department budgets of the greatly escalating costs of coaches’ salaries.

– Greenberg said that the “one and done” rule “doesn’t work for anybody.” Well, except, you know, for the players deemed qualified to play professionally by NBA franchises, but barred from doing so by age limits. It’s a measure of how little sports commentators think about the rights of athletes that Greenberg could so blithely issue such a statement. Whatever else one can say about the question of age limits, it would be nice if there were an acknowledgment that labor rights are at least *a* consideration in denying access to an individual’s chosen profession. In fact, there are serious legal questions about the NBA’s and NFL’s age rules. These are debatable, to be sure. But to hear the typical conversation on ESPN or elsewhere in mainstream sports media, you wouldn’t even know that such questions exist.

Delaney, at the least, granted that players should have some choice, including whether they should have to go to college at all. In this context, he spoke approvingly of MLB’s rule allowing players to be drafted directly out of high school as an alternative to committing to play for a university.

These softball interviews are the norm, I realize, on ESPN (except for Outside the Lines). But that doesn’t lessen how frustrating they are. They provide a nice platform for the Jim Delaneys of the world to sound reasonable and fair-minded. But they don’t do much to inform the listeners of what’s actually at stake in the issues raised.


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