The Big Ten took a major step forward today as it officially announced new recommendations for the NCAA and its treatment of student athletes. Not only is it a major step for the conference to demand change from the NCAA, but the recommendations themselves were pretty significant. We can't be sure how far these recommendations will go and whether they will lead to any serious change, but there are some major reasons to be excited.
In the past, the Big Ten has consistently been known as an innovative conference. Not only did the Big Ten lead in the creation of college athletics, but it also revolutionized college sports with the Big Ten Network and reshaped the outlook of the nation with expansion in the 1990s and 2010s. Not every move has been popular, but there's little doubt that each one had a significant impact on the NCAA.
Now, with the Big Ten recommending full cost of attendance for athletes, guaranteed scholarships, lifetime education opportunities, and medical insurance, the conference is setting the stage for another major overhaul of college athletics. It may not seem like it now, but these recommendations could have a tremendous impact on the conferences and the power structure of the NCAA.
First, let's get this out of the way. This is a good move whether this change is realized or not. There has been a lot of debate about whether college athletes should be paid, but I think it would be pretty hard to find many that would disagree with most of what the Big Ten is currently recommending. Is it really that ludicrous to be guaranteeing a kid a scholarship or providing medical insurance? Even to the most radical supporters of the current system, these recommendations are going to be popular. The most controversial is likely the full cost of attendance, but even then, I don't think people will be too annoyed with a player getting a stipend.
This leads us to the next piece of our discussion. What does this mean going forward? Even if these changes are the wrong ones - they aren't - they would have some big impacts. The first thing to assess is whether these changes would be accepted universally, on a conference-wide basis, or on a team-by-team basis. Essentially, is every NCAA team going to be doing this, or are we only going to be seeing some do this?
Assuming these changes are eventually approved, the answer is likely the latter. I highly doubt you are going to see smaller and less financially sound conferences supporting this. It's the major conferences that are going to be able to afford to put these changes into effect and keep them. Another thing worth considering here is that conferences may opt to only accept some of these changes. Oversigning isn't as big of an issue in college basketball, but it is a big one in college football. The SEC has been oversigning for years, but if they were forced to guarantee scholarships, you might see this come to an end. A significant thing to note here is that even if the SEC did not adopt this, it would give Big Ten schools a significant selling point on the recruiting trail. Some programs are already doing this, but having it nationally known that all Big Ten teams do this - especially if others do not - would be a big recruiting boost.
Another thing worth considering is that if lifetime scholarships are created, you might see guys jump to the pros earlier and more often. For me, I don't think this is a positive or negative aspect. Being able to come back for an education is a tremendous positive, but you do worry that some guys will jump to early to the NBA. Maybe I am overselling the impact here, but "coming back for the degree" won't really be an argument anymore. Perhaps it evens out over time, but I suspect you will see a lot of "fringe" guys jump more often if this change is instituted.
The last thing that I want to acknowledge about these changes is that they would have an impact on the bottom line for athletic departments. When you're talking about adding extra costs to a scholarship, offering them even after players leave, and medical insurance, there are going to be costs. One could argue these are worth it, but it's just a fact that this would cost more than the current system. It's hard to anticipate just how much this will cost and whether it will have a significant impact on athletic department budgets, but you might at least see some curbing in sport expansion and perhaps a little less facility upgrading. There's some data to suggest athletic departments - especially in the Big Ten - have plenty of money to use, but it's hard to gauge until we actually know these costs.
Overall, this was a big day for the Big Ten and it's nice to see the conference taking such a proactive approach to benefit the student athletes and give them resources that the vast majority of the public will support. There may be some changes in the college structure and for athletic departments, but this still appears to be a positive change going forward and shows a great deal about the Big Ten as a whole.