Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany says making freshmen ineligible in college football and basketball could help correct the imbalance between athletics and academics.
In a 12-page letter titled ”Education First, Athletics Second: The Time for a National Discussion is Upon Us” and sent to media members Friday, Delany reiterated why he believes a so-called year of readiness would be beneficial at this ”critical moment in the evolution of intercollegiate athletics.”
The letter is not a proposal, he wrote. He did, however, lay out a plan to raise scholarship limits in FBS football and Division I men’s basketball and add scholarships in women’s sports to stay compliant with Title IX.
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The increased costs would be covered with money from TV and media rights deals for the College Football Playoff and NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
”If we cannot defend – through an examination of actions and results as opposed to words – that education is the paramount factor in our decision-making process (rivaled only by the health and safety of our student-athletes), then the enterprise stands as a house of cards,” Delany wrote.
Since February, Delany has been pushing the idea of again making freshmen ineligible to compete in football and basketball. NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from competing in all sports until the early 1970s.
Delany points out that by NCAA graduation rates and Academic Progress Rates, football and men’s basketball were the weakest performing sports from 2009-13. He said there is some evidence showing athletes generally do better academically out of season. Sitting out would especially benefit those who come to college underprepared for the course work, he writes. But it goes beyond academics.
”First and foremost, requiring a year of readiness would make clear to prospects that they have a choice. On one hand, they would be free to pursue their sport as a vocation, where development in the sport is their primary – if not sole – objective. To the extent such avenues are limited in the sports of football and men’s basketball, it is the responsibility of the professional leagues in those sports to provide such opportunities. It is not the responsibility of intercollegiate athletics to serve as professional minor leagues in any sport,” he wrote.
Under Delany’s plan, athletes would still be eligible to play for four seasons. Freshmen would be able to practice with their teams, though participation and travel would be limited.
To make up for the roster limitations that would come with freshmen not being allowed to play, FBS football programs would be allowed about seven additional scholarship players. The current limit is 85. Men’s basketball teams in Division I would be allowed about three extra scholarship players; the current maximum is 13. Using those ”ball park estimates,” 5.4 women’s scholarships per Division I school would need to be added to equal the $47.25 million spent on new men’s scholarships.
Delany also reiterated the Big Ten has no plans to go it alone when it comes to implementing a year of readiness. It is not an idea that many college leaders are embracing.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott have at least expressed interest in exploring the possibility. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive has come out strongly against it. Even within the Big Ten, athletic directors such as Michigan State’s Mark Hollis have referred to Delany’s idea as a starting point for a broader discussion.
Delany said that more than pushing a particular proposal, he is trying to start a dialogue about ways to make college sports more about college and less about sports.
He concluded: ”Let the national discussion begin.”