Going into the Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday afternoon, the previous conferences to have their events set the stage for Jim Delany to take the NCAA to task.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was perhaps the harshest critic of the college sports ruling body, advocating for change in some major ways.
Echoing %%MATCH_8%% State athletic director Gene Smith, Bowlsby suggested the creation of a new division in football that would allow the schools that produce the most revenue to enact some changes. A former athletic director at Northern Iowa among other schools, Bowlsby – like Smith, a former AD at Eastern Michigan – admitted that there are fundamental differences between the richest schools and those lower in Division I that make the current system untenable.
“I think we all have a sense that transformative change has to happen,” Bowlsby said. "It's probably unrealistic to think that we can manage football and field hockey by the same set of rules. I think some kind of reconfiguration of how we govern is in order."
Last week, SEC commissioner Mike Slive spoke on a similar track, especially when it came to the possibility of providing a stipend to some athletes – a change that has been voted down by schools that don’t have the same revenue streams as those like Ohio State, %%MATCH_7%% and other powers.
"Conferences and their member institutions must be allowed to meet the needs of their student athletes," Slive said. "In recent conversations with my commissioner colleagues, there appears to be a willingness to support a meaningful solution to this important change."
Delany took the podium and agreed, but that wasn’t much his speech – given after each of his league’s 12 head coaches spoke on national television – was mostly about.
While the NCAA has taken hits from just about every angle of late, Delany was just the latest conference commissioner to say he believes that the body is the right one for the future of the sport and that he doesn’t expect his conference to be going anywhere else any time soon.
At the same time, Delany wants to see some changes to the body within the next year – some when it comes to structure, but more in regards to other academic policies.
“I think that the model that has been created and has served so many people over a long time deserves the benefit of the doubt,” Delany said. “There's a lot of discussion about the NCAA and structure. And to me, the NCAA and its structure matters some. But what really matters more than the NCAA structure is what that structure might produce in the future.”
One of those is the establishment of a stipend for athletes in at least football to meet the cost of attendance at schools. Delany harkened back to his days as a college basketball player at North Carolina and the players received a $15 per month laundry check, lamenting that things like that had ever disappeared from the collegiate experience.
“It's the right thing to do,” he said. “Whether that's $2,000, $3,000 or $4,000, I don't know, but we need to address that … I think we could figure out a way to do this. We've done more complicated things than this.”
And while some – like Bowlsby and Alabama coach Nick Saban – have said that competition could end up limited between those in the highest division, should one come into being, Delany wouldn’t shut that door.
“I think without getting into too many details is how we have the flexibility and the autonomy to do what we need to do but also provide structures that allow institutions that don't have the resources to compete in the same events,” he said. “But clearly I think most people would believe that the high-resource institutions are able to attract usually the better players, over time. And so I think it is conceivable that institutions could be in the same tournament and the same competition but provide a different package of benefits based on high resource versus middle resource.”
From there, Delany spoke not of enforcement and other issues but some ways in which academics could be improved by the NCAA. The other three prongs of his plan addressed finding a way to guarantee athletes the chance to complete their degrees even if they leave schools, similar to Ohio State’s longtime Degree Completion Program; reconfiguring time demands on student-athletes; and figuring out way to help at-risk students.
Delany, who comes from a long line of collegiate athletes, said his beliefs come from his time in sports and are reinforced by the fact that the vast majority of the athletes in college sports aren’t stars and do leave with a degree.
“I believe in the opportunity for young people to go to college through intercollegiate athletics, who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to go there,” he said. “And I believe in the equal opportunity of players and students to achieve that opportunity.
These in some ways seem like maybe quaint ideals, but they're more than a quaint ideal to me.”
With that in mind, he said focusing on real-life educational reforms can make a huge difference for the NCAA.
“I think that if we're able to get these things right, we can re-earn some of the support that perhaps we've lost in some of the conversations, some of the narrative about intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “So to the extent that the NCAA can reorganize itself, with high resource institutions or others, I'm happy for that to occur.
“But if it does so in a way without addressing some of these ideas, I think we would have changed our structure but not changed the substance.”