The Big Ten Conference’s academic leaders collectively called for an adjustment of the NCAA model, four days after the testimony of conference commissioner Jim Delany last week in the Ed O'Bannon federal antitrust trial.
Signed by presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten's 14 member schools, including interim Ohio State president Joseph Alutto and outgoing Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, a statement released Tuesday called for guaranteeing four-year scholarships for student-athletes, guaranteeing a scholarship if a student-athlete turns pro before graduating and returns to school, providing consistent medical insurance for student-athletes and ensuring that scholarships cover the full cost of a college education.
“These issues have been issues of the day since 2009 when O’Bannon filed his lawsuit,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday during a Big Ten Network interview. “It’s sort of morphed and changed and there’ve been a variety of other lawsuits that have been filed in the last three to four months.
“Our presidents felt like it was important for them to make a statement of priority, in terms of the interrelationship between athletics and education. They wanted a statement they could all sign on to, not a statement by one or two of them.”
The Cedar Rapids [Iowa] Gazette obtained documents through open-records laws showing that Coleman completed and circulated the statement June 8, originally intended to run in San Francisco-area newspapers at the start of the federal antitrust trial a day later.
Last week in the O’Bannon trial — a case that seeks to decide whether college athletes should be paid for the use of their likenesses — Delany testified that he could not see Big Ten leaders agreeing to pay student-athletes and went so far as to suggest that if college athletes were paid, it could lead to the collapse of the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten.
Tuesday’s statement from the Big Ten’s academic leaders also addressed the issue of paying athletes, a hot-button topic that faces the NCAA right now.
"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," the statement read. "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.
"The amateur model is not broken, but it does require adjusting for the 21st century. 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."
The Pac-12 Conference last month released a 10-point reform agenda addressed to the the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12, and the Southeastern Conference — all five are the NCAA’s wealthiest conferences and seek more autonomy within the NCAA — similar to the Big Ten’s statement.
“If we’re going to restructure, we need a substantive agenda,” Delany said.
The O'Bannon trial enters its 13th day today in federal court in Oakland, Calif.