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Big Ten Presidents Speak On O’Bannon Trial

Our own Mitch Daniels was part of the Big Ten group of Presidents that issued a statement about the O'Bannon Trial.


I don't know if you have been keeping up much with the O'Bannon Trial going on, in which the very model of the NCAA itself is being pushed by former athletes. If you want to get caught up, SB nation has an excellent story stream with most of the highlights right here.

It appears that the Big Ten as a conference is getting ready for the day when amateurism is blown up. I know I am on the side that says these athletes are compensated in the form of an athletic scholarship that is invaluable in this era of crippling student loan debt, but the trial is not going the way the NCAA wants. Even Jim Delaney, our own commissioner, appeared to damage the case:

In his cross-examination, Delany discussed all the ways the NCAA is currently doing a poor job of integrating athletics and academics - the exact opposite of what the organization needs to prove.

That's okay to do in speeches designed to help with public relations, because it shows Delany recognizes the issues in college sports and allows him to talk about his plans to fix the system. However, the O'Bannon trial is about what's going on right now, and it can't help the NCAA's case that one of its commissioners and witnesses is criticizing the model, from competitive balance to the balance of school and sports.

I will give Delaney credit; he is trying desperately to get the Big Ten, and as a result, Purdue, in front of the entire situation. The Presidents of the 14 Big Ten universities are also working to get in front too, as yesterday they issued the following joint statement:

While testifying last week in the O'Bannon trial in Oakland, Calif., Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany spoke to the importance of the inextricable link between academics and athletics as part of the collegiate model, and to the value of establishing a 21st century system to meet the educational needs of current and future student-athletes. During his testimony, Delany conveyed sentiments long supported by the conference and its member institutions. Today, the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten schools issue the following statement signed by the leaders of each institution:

As another NCAA season concludes with baseball and softball championships, college athletics is under fire. While football players at Northwestern fight for collective bargaining, former athletes are suing to be compensated for the use of their images.

Football and men's basketball are at issue. Compensating the student-athletes who compete in these sports will skew the overall academic endeavor - for all students, not just those wearing a school's colors.

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. 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 tradition and spirit of intercollegiate athletics is unique to our nation. Students play as part of their overall academic experience, not for a paycheck or end-of-season bonus. Many also compete in hopes of a professional career, just as our biology majors serve internships and musical theater students perform in summer stock. These opportunities - sports, marching band, campus newspaper, and more - are facets of the larger college experience and prepare students for life. And that, in its purest form, is the mission of higher education.

The reality of intercollegiate athletics is that only a miniscule number of students go on to professional sports careers. In the sports that generate the greatest revenue and attention, football sees 13 percent of Big Ten players drafted by the NFL and basketball sees 6 percent from our conference drafted for NBA play.

For those student-athletes who are drafted, their professional careers average fewer than five years. They still have several decades and, potentially, several careers ahead of them in which to succeed. And their college experience - their overall academic experience - should be what carries them forward.

This is why we propose working within the NCAA to provide greater academic security and success for our student-athletes:

  • 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.

Across the Big Ten, and in every major athletic conference, football and men's basketball are the principal revenue sports. That money supports the men and women competing in all other sports. No one is demanding paychecks for our gymnasts or wrestlers. And yet it is those athletes - in swimming, track, lacrosse, and other so-called Olympic sports - who will suffer the most under a pay-to-play system.

The revenue creates more opportunities for more students to attend college and all that provides, and to improve the athletic experiences through improved facilities, coaching, training and support.

If universities are mandated to instead use those dollars to pay football and basketball players, it will be at the expense of all other teams. We would be forced to eliminate or reduce those programs. Paying only some athletes will create inequities that are intolerable and potentially illegal in the face of Title IX.

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

Higher education provides young people with options in life to thrive in the future. For a tiny minority, that future will be a professional sports career and all of its rewards. For all graduates - athletes and non-athletes - it is the overall academic experience that is a lifetime source of compensation in the form of a well-rounded education.

The TL;DR version of this is that men's basketball and football drive an Amazon-sized River of money to the 14 schools in the conference, and only a small handful of players go on to have a lucrative professional sports career. We see this at our own university, as no basketball players, two football players, and two baseball players were drafted into their respective high-dollar sports leagues in the last year, and none of them have a guaranteed shot of making it.

The Big Ten is proposing some simple, yet needed changes. It wants to guarantee four-year scholarships instead of scholarships that are renewed each year. This helps a guy like Jay Simpson, whom Purdue technically did not owe a single thing once he was forced to give up basketball this spring. The Big Ten also wants to cover the full cost of an education, not just the education itself, and provide medical care.

At Purdue we're all too familiar with the medical care aspect. Yes, Robbie Hummel is off to the NBA after a torn ACL, but look at Drey Mingo, Robert Marve, Keith Smith, Anna Drewry, Sterling Carter, and so many others that suffered serious injuries, but did not have a pro athletic career to fall back on.

The Big Ten is trying to put the "student" back in "student-athlete", and that is critical. It really is true that most of these kids will go pro in something other than sports. Therefore, they need to be given the tools to succeed in their respective areas. Yes, they do have a leg up on the average student because of their already existing scholarships, tutors, and other tools that athletes get, but times are changing. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar entity that has more than enough money made off the backs of those that receive a pittance in terms of compensation.

The Big Ten itself is a leader in that, as we had the first conference-specific television network and the lucrative Rotel-and-queso dollars have been flowing through Ann Arbor, Bloomington, Champaign, Columbus, East Lansing, Evanston, Iowa City, Madison, Minneapolis, State College, and West Lafayette for years with new tributaries in College Park, Lincoln, and Piscataway. The College Park and Piscataway tributaries were done explicitly to get even more money into this machine. What schools pay out in athletic scholarships is nothing compared to the millions generated by the Big Ten Network alone. That's before you even factor in the ESPN and CBS TV monies.

Purdue talks of having its athletic scholarship costs funded strictly from John Purdue Club members like me, so it can be argued that all the rest of the money is made strictly on their performance. The O'Bannon Trial is an exercise in common sense almost in that the former athletes are seeing all this cash made on them and they want to get some. The Big Ten here is simply trying to do something before it is forced to.

To me, there is no doubt that college athletics and the NCAA itself are going to be forced to undergo fundamental change in many areas before long. Fortunately, Purdue is about as far out in front as it can be because of its association with the Big Ten.