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Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany: ‘We Believe Students Are Students, Not Employees'; Dave Brandon Vows To Fight For ‘Collegiate Model’

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Tom Lewand, President, Detroit Lions, David Brandon, Athletic Director, University of Michigan and Jim Delany, Commissioner, Big Ten Conference speak at WWJ's The Business of Sports Luncheon on April 16, 2014. (credit: WWJ)

Tom Lewand, President, Detroit Lions, David Brandon, Athletic Director, University of Michigan and Jim Delany, Commissioner, Big Ten Conference speak at WWJ’s The Business of Sports Luncheon on April 16, 2014. (credit: WWJ)

AshleyDunkak Ashley Dunkak
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By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Is it fair to pay for hallowed ivy-covered halls with a big boost from student athletes who are banned from receiving paychecks?

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon took on the biggest issues in college athletics Wednesday at Ford Field during WWJ Newsradio’s Business of Sports panel.

Delany began his segment with a preemptive strike.

“The more collegiate we are, the more sustainable we are, and we also believe in people’s rights to pursue what they think is important,” Delany said. “The universities I think not only have a responsibility, but an obligation to fight for what we believe in, and for us that’s opportunities for men, opportunities for women, opportunities in Olympic sports and opportunities in football and basketball.

“If this is not tied to an educational effort, it won’t be sustainable in the long term,” Delany added, referring to the union movement as he continued. “We believe students are students, not employees. We believe that the benefits that we bring to the table through intercollegiate athletics should be broadly distributed, not to one single class of students over another. We’re not going to know immediately whether or not the process and the programs we have are sustainable, but we believe it’s important to stand up for them, to articulate the rationale behind them and eventually to prevail. Now whether or not we do or not is not in our hands.”

If athletes are paid, should they all be paid? Would the quarterback earn more than the kicker or the backup offensive lineman? Would the swimmer and gymnast, who work just as hard but whose sports generate no income, be compensated also? Should universities even continue to fund programs that make no money?

The NCAA situation is a messy one, with no easy solution and certainly no fast solution.

College athletes get penalized for receiving any benefit other than their scholarships, but universities and conferences make millions from football, basketball and television revenue. Athletes lose a year of eligibility if they transfer, even if the coach who recruited them leaves, an action a coach can take at any time without any penalty.

Most recently, there is a movement to unionize college athletes. While that group has not demanded pay for play, it is always the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, why should the players of the sports that generate the revenue not be compensated according to fair market value, which for some could exceed the value of a college scholarship?

All of these questions have circulated in recent months, and Brandon has a general take on preserving what he calls the collegiate model of the more popular sports subsidizing the other ones.

“They all deserve the same investment in their future, and just because the collegiate model is one that affords us the ability to generate revenues from certain sports to subsidize the rest of the sports, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Brandon said. “I think that’s a great thing.

“With all the turmoil that seems to be swirling around, the one thing I’m going to fight for and continue to fight for is the preservation of that collegiate model, that opportunity for equality, that opportunity for diversity, that opportunity for us to reach out and sponsor sports that don’t necessarily draw 110,000 people,” Brandon continued. “But to those student-athletes, and to those coaches, it’s the most important sport in the world … They deserve our support.”

While also supporting the NCAA’s purported academic emphasis, Delany did list reforms that he said he hoped would be passed in a restructured NCAA. His ideas included instituting more limits on the time student-athletes spend on athletics; covering the full cost of attendance; putting in place a lifetime trust so athletes who pass on college or leave early can return and finish their college education later on; and giving student-athletes more of a voice and vote in the governance of the NCAA.

“When we get a restructured NCAA opportunity and when we get these items on the agenda, those are things that we can control,” Delany said. “We have lots of opportunities that are worth protecting. We have lots of resources that are worth spreading.”

While Delany acknowledged the NCAA has some “imbalances” that need to be addressed, he protested the idea that student-athletes should be allowed to transfer without penalty when the coach who recruited them leaves the school.

“I’ve always had a strong feeling that students should be making choices about where they go to school based on the university, but It’s incontrovertible that the coaches recruited them, they’re both athletes as well as students, and so when you see a coach leaves prior to enrollment, I’m inclined to answer that question in favor of the athlete,” Delany said. “After enrollment, I’m inclined to answer that question in favor of the institution. And so I think that the regulations around transfer and around movement prior to enrollment are interesting ones.”

Delany was also asked to respond to the comment that Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, whose Huskies won the national championship this year, that he sometimes goes to bed starving because he cannot afford food.

“I was surprised by that comment,” Delany said. “I’ve been around athletics for a long time – as a student athlete on scholarship, as an employee of the NCAA, as an investigator, 10 years as commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and 25 years here. All I can say is that was a very surprising comment because as I travel around our campuses, as we meet with students in a variety of circumstances, it’s the only time I’ve heard that comment.”

The prevailing feeling around the country appears to be that change is descending on the NCAA, like it or not, but Delany and Brandon seemed to generally favor less change in the system versus more.

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