SBD/June 25, 2014/Colleges

Big Ten Leaders Call For Academic Reform In Final Days Before Autonomy Vote

Big Ten conference presidents and chancellors yesterday issued a statement with a call to "work within the NCAA to provide greater academic security and success for our student-athletes," according to George Schroeder of USA TODAY. The presidents and chancellors noted that college athletics "is under fire" and that the "conversation ... is about compensation rather than academics." Their proposals "included multi-year scholarships covering the full cost of attendance, guaranteeing scholarships after athletes' playing careers are finished, and improved medical insurance." Several Big Ten presidents said that the statement, which is "similar to one released last month by their counterparts in the Pac-12, had been under discussion for months." But its release "comes amid the final days of a push by the 'Power Five' conferences for autonomy to make their own rules." Perhaps "more critically, it comes four days after" Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's testimony in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust case. A comment period from NCAA members "on the draft proposal for legislative autonomy ends Monday." The steering committee on governance is "scheduled to meet July 11 to consider the feedback and to draft a final proposal; the Division I board of directors is expected to vote Aug. 7." Delany said, "If autonomy doesn't pass, (the presidents and chancellors) still want to do these things. We need to do this, and we'd love to do this within the NCAA" (USA TODAY, 6/25). SI.com's Andy Staples noted Big Ten presidents and chancellors "originally intended to write an op-ed, but most papers blanche at the thought of 14 bylines." Instead, they "opted for a statement from the league and a few interviews to let everyone know they stand united atop the shifting ground of major college sports." Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman: "The folks that are advocating for paying players and all the rest have been more dominant in the news and in the media than I think they should be. I thought it was important that those of us who feel strongly in another direction have their voices heard" (SI.com, 6/24).

TIMING HARD TO IGNORE: In N.Y., Ben Strauss writes the timing of the statement "is hard to ignore." One of the cases filed against the NCAA and its five largest conferences seeks to "turn high school recruits into free agents." The letters "may serve the O'Bannon plaintiffs' case, which argues there has not been enough done to support athletes' academics." Oregon State President Ed Ray said, "Timing isn't the issue because these are conversations we've been having." Strauss notes some wonder "if these latest efforts from the conference are too little too late -- simply part of a new arms race to increase benefits without actually paying players" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/25).

PLENTY TO GO AROUND: In Chicago, Hopkins & Richards cite an examination of athletic department budgets over the past five years for Big Ten schools showing that they "generate tens of millions of dollars in operating surpluses." The review found that many of the schools "could compensate players beyond just the value of a scholarship if they dipped into their year-end athletic department surplus: They could afford some form of payment to members of the men's basketball and football teams, which are revenue-generating sports, and could even cover certain extra costs for all scholarship athletes." Financial reports submitted to the NCAA were available for 10 of the 12 conference teams -- Northwestern and Penn State did not share data -- and a closer look at the '12-13 school year showed "all but Purdue reported year-end surpluses." Eight of the schools "could afford to provide football and men's basketball players a few thousand extra to pay collegiate incidental expenses." The financial reports also show that seven of those schools "could pay their men's basketball and football players annual amounts of $7,500 -- a figure that mirrors what some minor league baseball players earn as they try to reach the majors." That would be "in addition to tuition and housing" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/25).
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Colleges, NCAA, Big Ten

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