Many of you have probably heard of the O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, which seeks to fight the NCAA practice of profiting off of player's likenesses for things like video games or jersey sales. Many believe that the outcome from the case could eventually lead to the end of the "amateur" system of college athletics, paving the way for a pay to play system in college sports. One person we know is NOT a fan of that idea is Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Andy Staples of SI.com recently wrote a story that showed just how much Delany doesn't approve. If pay-to-play happened, Delany believes the Big Ten would downshift their athletic programs like the Ivy League.
Delany: "It has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten's schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs," Delany wrote. "Several alternatives to a 'pay for play' model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten's philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes."
Delany originally wrote that declaration back in an op-ed from 1996, but stood by his remarks again now
. He does not believe that a pay to play system is in concert with the stated values of the Big Ten, and if it became the law of the land, so to speak, he thinks the league wouldn't want to participate.
It's important to point out that Delany is just speaking for himself, and says he hasn't asked any university presidents or athletic directors about a possible move to D3, or another model all together.
Is Delany just trying to blow smoke to increase his leverage? On one hand, it's awfully difficult to imagine the Big Ten, or at least the major programs like Ohio State or Michigan, following the lead of former Big Ten member University of Chicago and downgrade, especially after the league just spent a ton of money on bringing Rutgers and Maryland (and maybe more!) into the fold, and with the massive infrastructure investments in stadiums. Not only would the university struggle to make up the money that athletics bring, and not only would students and fans rebel, but they schools could face tremendous political pressure as well, given the economic importance of college sports to places like Columbus, Iowa City and State College.
It isn't totally impossible though, given the academic focus on Big Ten universities, and the potentially murky waters in creating a pay to play system that would comply with Title IX, something that could potentially result in schools having to cut even more sports.
Personally, I still believe the idea of an Ohio State-Mount Union conference game is still awfully remote, but it is hard to oversell the potential of the O'Bannon lawsuit to dramatically change the way college sports are governed and organized, and that it could force some schools, if not the Big Ten, to make some hard choices about the level they want to compete with.
Delany is probably overselling things a little bit. After all, he said he didn't think the Big Ten would want to participate in a football playoff (surprise! they are). Still, it's worth keeping an eye on how the Leaders and Legends approach this thorny issue.