B1G leaders seek athlete welfare upgrades

The Big Ten presidents and chancellors on Tuesday outlined a series of athlete welfare reforms while maintaining their stance that athletes shouldn't be paid.

A statement signed by all 14 presidents or chancellors comes four days after league commissioner Jim Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA trial in California. In agreeing with Delany's testimony, the presidents stated that the "best solutions rest not with the courts, but with us," and outlined the following reforms:

  • Four-year scholarships should be guaranteed, even if athletes can't complete their playing careers

  • If athletes leave school to play pro sports, the scholarship guarantee remains and they can return to complete their degrees

  • Consistent medical insurance must be provided for athletes and the rules governing what schools can provide must be reviewed. "We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them," the presidents' statement reads.

  • Scholarships should be increased up to federal full cost-of-attendance figures. The presidents "must do whatever it takes" to ensure the increase takes place.

None of these ideas are really new, but there's symbolism in the league's presidents unanimously supporting them, especially as the debate about athlete welfare reaches its peak.

The most significant part of the statement pointed to what would happen if schools are required to pay their football and basketball players.

Across the Big Ten, and in every major athletic conference, football and men’s basketball are the principal revenue sports. That money supports the men and women competing in all other sports. No one is demanding paychecks for our gymnasts or wrestlers. And yet it is those athletes – in swimming, track, lacrosse, and other so-called Olympic sports – who will suffer the most under a pay-to-play system.

The revenue creates more opportunities for more students to attend college and all that provides, and to improve the athletic experiences through improved facilities, coaching, training and support.

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. 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.

Eliminating sports has been mentioned as a consequence of paying players, but now it's in writing from the Big Ten chiefs.

Again, not much new here, but the presidents have made clear their position that while things must change, paying players isn't the solution. It will be interesting to see how the College Athletes Players Association and other athlete welfare advocates react.

What do you think? Send me your thoughts.