Big Ten presidents propose scholarship, medical improvements

Big Ten presidents propose scholarship, medical improvements
June 24, 2014, 4:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

With the Ed O'Bannon trial still going on in the courts, the presidents of the 14 Big Ten schools released a statement on Tuesday afternoon defending the current amateur system of intercollegiate athletics as well as proposing several changes.

As the debate over whether student-athletes should be paid a portion of the billions of dollars in revenues brought in by the NCAA each year continues to dominate the landscape, the Big Ten presidents stood firm in their opinion that the athletes should not be paid. However, interestingly, their proposals echoed many of the talking points of former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who has been arguing for collective-bargaining rights for student-athletes all year.

"The amateur model is not broken, but it does require adjusting for the 21st century," part of the statement read. "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."

[MORE BIG TEN: Siemian on Northwestern union: 'It's not even an issue now']

The statement followed Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney's testimony during the O'Bannon trial, when he brought many of these issues and opinions to center stage.

Colter and his College Athletes Players Association, who sparked the unionization attempt at Northwestern (one that looks increasingly unlikely to happen), have brought up many of the talking points mentioned in Tuesday's statement. The fight for collective-bargaining rights has been centered around scholarship reform, greater medical care and insurance and a general seat at the table for student-athletes. Some of that was specifically proposed Tuesday by the Big Ten presidents.

"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."

[MORE BIG TEN: Kain Colter takes Northwestern union fight to 'Daily Show']

The presidents referenced the O'Bannon trial, arguing that it is their own duty rather than that of the courts to bring about necessary change in college athletics.

"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," the statement read. "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."

Those currently are in charge of the NCAA and other institutions governing college athletics have argued that the payment of players would have drastic effects on college athletics as a whole and could even bring about their demise. Delaney specifically said in his testimony that if one of either the Big Ten and Pac-12 paid its players, the Rose Bowl would no longer exist. Those on the other side of the debate aren't fond of that argument. Well, the presidents made it again in their statement Tuesday.

"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."

Here's a link to the entire statement released by the presidents on Tuesday.