As the pay-for-play movement builds steam among student athletes — particularly those playing Division-I football — Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has weighed in.
The debate has raged for some time now over whether student athletes should be compensated by their educational institutions due to the immense amount of money that college football takes in. Particular attention was brought to this issue thanks to a lawsuit filed against the NCAA for its use of student athletes' likeness in popular video games, with those players receiving no money from the sale of those video games.
So, Delaney, in a report published by ESPN.com, posed this question: If athletes are so intent on making money for playing football and basketball — the two sports that generate far and away more money than any other in collegiate athletics — why not just let them go to the pros?
"Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks," Delany told ESPN.com. "If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG (International Management Group), get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness and establish it on your own. But don't come here and say, 'We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.' Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don't ask us what we've been doing.
"If an athlete wants to professionalize themselves, professionalize themselves. We've been training kids for professional sports. I argue it's the color, I argue it's the institution. If you think it's about you, then talk to John Havlicek about that, you've got to talk to Michael Jordan about that. These brands have been built over 100 years."
Current rules in the NFL and NBA force their athletes to be out of high school for a specific amount of time before entering those leagues. Basketball players used to be able to jump directly to the NBA, but that's no longer the case. Athletes can go directly to the professional ranks in other sports, which Delaney pointed out.
"I think we ought to work awful hard with the NFL and the NBA to create an opportunity for those folks," Delaney said in the report. "We have it in baseball, we have it in golf, works pretty good, we have it in golf, we have it in hockey. Why don't we have it in football, basketball? Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?"
Delaney has a point, too. Minor League Baseball is a massive minor league system, and there are dozens of minor league hockey leagues around the world, in which players who are affiliated with NHL teams play. The NBA does have the D-League, but the NFL has no comparable minor league system, practically relying solely on NCAA football for developing their future stars without having to pay a single one of them until they leave college.
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Delaney's argument is an interesting one, as more and more college football players are rallying around the pay-for-play idea, with many sporting the letters "APU," or All Players United, during last week's games in a show of support for the movement. This was organized by the National College Players Association, which is fighting for a number of very respectable NCAA reforms dealing with player safety and the effects of serious injuries. They also are looking for several reforms that would allow student athletes to earn extra money, not necessarily through the institutions. Their list of missions and goals includes 11 specifics.
There's no doubt this is a sticky situation that will continue to get stickier. On one hand, the college athletes are the ones driving the billion-dollar business. Without them, there is no billion-dollar business. But on the other, these athletes who technically have the word student at the front of their title are also given scholarships to some of the best educational institutions in the world. And college educations cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These won't be the last comments from a conference commissioner — or likely from Delaney.