The Big Ten announced Wednesday that all of its institutions will grant athletic scholarships for the entire term of an athlete's enrollment and allow some athletes who leave school to return and finish their degrees on scholarship.
Scholarships will be "neither reduced nor cancelled" as long as athletes maintain good standing in school, within the athletic department and in the community. If athletes leave school for "a bona fide reason," they will be allowed to return at a later date to complete their degrees on scholarship.
Several individual Big Ten schools had announced similar scholarship initiatives for athletes, but the league felt a policy statement was needed after its athletic directors, senior woman administrators and faculty representatives met Monday and Tuesday at league headquarters.
"It was just a matter of pulling it together," commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com. "It's understood that this would be more expensive, but it's what we talked about, keeping faith with the athletes."
The Big Ten last week announced four initial recommendations to the NCAA to improve athlete welfare: enhancing the value of scholarships to cover the full cost of education, a multiyear scholarship guarantee, ensuring that scholarships are available for life to those who leave before they complete their degrees, and improved medical coverage.
Delany said the individual schools would determine whether an athlete who leaves would qualify to return and complete his or her degree, but added that those who leave to play professional sports or to attend to family issues at home would be welcomed back.
"You want good citizens, you want people making an effort," he said.
Asked if he expects other leagues to follow the Big Ten's lead, Delany said, "I have no idea. I hope we're all moving here. It's the reason we asked for autonomy."
The Big Ten this week also discussed the response to head injuries during competition. Michigan last week admitted it made communication errors in handling a head injury suffered by quarterback Shane Morris in a Sept. 27 game against Minnesota. Morris remained in the game for a play after sustaining a concussion and was allowed to return to the field without being cleared by the medical staff.
Delany plans to have NFL officials speak to the Big Ten schools about its injury-monitoring protocols, adding that several Big Ten schools, including Michigan, now have injury spotters in the press box and independent neurologists on the sidelines during games.
"This is a teachable moment for everybody," Delany said. "Everybody's on high alert. We want to keep getting better, keep doing the research, keep instructing to get to pint where when we execute it's a fire drill, it's well understood."
Delany expects the league's presidents to discuss concussion protocols in December, and that the league's sports medicine directors will examine the topic during their next meeting in the spring.
"[The presidents] want us to be first in class," Delany said. "We think we are but you also have to acknowledge when you make a mistake, whether it's a communication mistake or a protocol mistake, and sharpen everybody's approach. It starts with teaching of the technique and the enforcement of the rules and accountability with everybody.
"You have to be able to execute under competitive pressures. That didn't happen at Michigan."