The Big Ten has long been a major power conference in college athletics. It has managed to remain competitive in athletics while upholding high academic standards and managing league expansions. Rutgers University will soon be joining the prestigious academic universities like Northwestern and Michigan in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten is recovering from a scandal at Penn State that shocked and devastated people around the country. Penn State University, under new head coach Bill O’Brien, has managed to endure the penalties handed down by the NCAA in such an admirable fashion that the NCAA has recently decided to reduce some of the sanctions.
The Big Ten is ready to lead by example in another issue now facing all major college athletics: the debate over whether college athletes should be compensated for participating in athletics. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney is offering a very simple solution to this issue: allow football and basketball prospects to forgo college and directly enter the draft.
Currently, the MLB and NHL allow players to enter the draft immediately after they graduate from high school. Very rarely do we see these individuals find success in their chosen sport at the professional level at the age of 18. Where do they go if not college? The answer is simple: the minor league system for baseball has long been in existence and is a very efficiently way to develop layers.
The same system exists in the NHL, and there are also hockey leagues in countries around the world where players can go do develop their talents. A handful of basketball players have recently began experimenting with going to Europe for one year of play before entering the NBA draft so that they may be paid for one year of play prior to beginning their NBA career.
Even with these rare occurrences of basketball players who travel abroad before turning pro, there has yet to become a viable alternative to college athletics for basketball and football players.
Essentially Delaney, has called everyone’s bluff. He is confident in the value of the education players receive at Big Ten schools. More importantly, he is confident that the NFL and the NBA do not have any desire to shell out money to create a minor league system to develop players and prepare them for professional sports.
Professional football scouts have at least a three-year window to monitor player development while the players mature physically, mentally and socially. Many universities have classes specifically designed for players who may enter the draft after a collegiate playing career. Universities even host pro days for athletes to showcase their skills. Universities spend money developing and marketing the players who attend their institutions.
Recently, we heard Houston Texans running back Arian Foster describe his time at Tennessee, where he was so hungry that coaches had to buy food and bring it to him because he could not afford anything to eat. Mr. Foster is not the only person who may have experienced this in his early 20s while attending college.
In fact, this claim is being refuted by Tennessee coaches. Most universities have a meal plan for their athletes to eat for free on campus.
Delaney is once again being a progressive, forward-thinking commissioner and he should be commended for doing so. He is aware of the value and opportunity that athletes receive at quality universities. These are opportunities that thousands of high school athletes dream of every day, only to realize that they will never be able to put on the maize and blue or walk down the tunnel in Lincoln.
It is not feasible to pay college athletes when there are so many young men and women who would gladly do anything just to make a team. The spectacular athletes may be gone from the game but who knows, perhaps the pride and passion for the team would flourish, and the quality of the game would thrive.