With the status quo in college athletics under attack on multiple fronts, Big Ten presidents and chancellors issued a statement yesterday that recommends significant changes to the college sports model.
The statements said that the current system “is not broken,” but acknowledged that it needed “adjusting.”
The presidents advocated four major reforms:
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• Guaranteeing four-year scholarships regardless of whether an athlete is able to compete on the playing field.
• Maintaining a scholarship for a player even if he leaves college early to pursue a professional career.
• Providing “improved, consistent” medical insurance for players.
• Ensuring that athletes’ scholarships cover the full cost of attendance, as defined by the federal government.
The statement comes after Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s testimony in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, which challenges the NCAA’s prohibition on athletes being compensated for the use of their names, images or likenesses. That, along with the push for unionization by Northwestern football players, threatens to upend the traditional model of college athletes.
“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 Big Ten’s statement says. “We must address the conflicts that have led us to a moment where the conversation about college sports is about compensation rather than academics.”
Ohio State’s interim president, Joseph Alutto, signed the statement. New OSU president Dr. Michael Drake takes over on July 1.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he was unaware of the statement, but he has been deeply involved in many of the issues raised in it.
“It’s an Armageddon scenario,” Smith said. “If we have to come up with a model to compensate student-athletes for their likenesses, then it will have a financial effect that will cause us to significantly change the amateur model, reduce the number of sports we offer, change the way we do business.”
Smith said that Ohio State already has instituted some of the recommendations made by Big Ten presidents.
He said that OSU athletes lose scholarships only if they violate the student code of conduct or don’t meet academic requirements. He said that Ohio State already allows an athlete who leaves early to pursue a pro career to return on scholarship to earn a degree.
As for health care, Smith said that Ohio State has had a policy that predates his 2005 arrival to cover former athletes.
“If you break your leg in your senior year and you have to have surgery after you graduate and it relates to that injury, we take care of that,” he said.
Smith said the coverage is provided through existing revenue streams, not insurance. He believes that if Big Ten schools, probably in concert with the other four major conferences, would likely negotiate with an insurance company to provide that coverage if the recommendation comes to fruition.
As for paying for the full cost of attendance, which Smith has long advocated, that likely will be addressed when the five major conferences vote in August to form a subset within the NCAA.
“If the new governing structure goes into place, I personally think that should be and probably will be the first piece of legislation that comes out,” Smith said.