As a placeholder for a longer discussion: On Friday, Big Ten Commissioner (and UNC alum) Jim Delany, issued a 12-page memo outlining his thoughts on the need to have a more substantive conversation about the future of big-time college athletics. The title – Education First, Athletics second – sums up the thrust of the document. Delany says the balance between sports and academics has tilted too far to the former and that, as a result, schools are failing to provide a meaningful education to too many of their athletes. To Delaney’s credit, the memo clearly distinguishes men’s basketball and football from other sports, in terms of their initial level of preparedness as well as the demands placed upon them. This is a welcome departure from the endlessly annoying efforts of too many defenders of the current system to pretend that college rowers, golfers and tennis players are in the same boat as athletes in the profit sports.
Delaney also actually used a variant of the “e” word (exploitation), arguing that failing to provide these athletes with a real education was exploitative.
Having said that, USA Today’s Dan Wolken expressed appropriate skepticism about Delaney’s motives in circulating this document:
Defending the model, of course, is sort of a big deal these days given that some very good lawyers are lining up to take a nibble at pretty much every facet of the NCAA’s operation.
And “a year of readiness” is a nice catchphrase to have on your “defending the model” bingo card, but it’s little more than that. Delany’s conference lost the moral high ground in that argument the minute it said basketball players from Nebraska would be traveling 1,200 miles to play basketball on a Thursday night at Maryland for the sake of television programming on the East Coast.
It was only two years ago that Delany threw his Division-III hissy fit (though in a subsequent legal filing he reversed himself) in response to the prospect of college athletes being deemed employees. And there is nothing in the current statement that suggests he is in favor of giving back any of the billions of dollars big-time college sports now generate. From that perspective, it’s hard not to view this as part of a larger branding strategy, the goal of which is to persuade public opinion and the courts that big-time college athletics *could* be compatible with a massively profitable enterprise that doesn’t have to pay those who generate the profits.
More to come…