CHICAGO – The longer Jim Delany spoke Wednesday afternoon, the more his audience fidgeted.
When the Big Ten Conference commissioner finally opened the floor for questions, a reporter raised his hand and admitted to being confused.
He wasn’t the only one.
That’s because Delany not only talked about what was wrong with the NCAA, he offered four ways to fix it.
Is it a pipedream? Perhaps. But at least Delany’s approach was practical.
“I’m in favor of whatever restructuring will lead to resolving or improving certain areas where I think we’re weak,” Delany said. “If we restructure the NCAA and don’t address some of the substantive concerns, I wonder why we have restructuring.”
Those comments came just two days after Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby talked to the media about a need for “transformative change.”
Delany gave specifics:
– A lifetime opportunity to graduate. In other words, former student athletes could return to school years later and finish their degrees, as if they were still on scholarship.
– Strict enforcement of the NCAA’s 20-hours-per-week practice limit, giving athletes more time to actually study.
– A year of residency for student-athletes deemed to be at risk for academic struggles.
– Additional financial support, beyond traditional scholarships. A stipend.
“I think we’re on the same page,” Delany said of Bowlsby and other conference commissioners. “I tried to focus a little bit more on the outcomes that we’d like to see as a conference and a little bit less about whether or not the NCAA will be restructured.”
Delany went on to say changes could come fast. Maybe within a year, he said.
So with time winding down, why not try a Hail Mary — toss a few idealistic initiatives into the air and see how many are batted down?
My guess is, the stipend will stick. The rest, I’m not so sure about.
Remember, it took Division I powerbrokers more than a century to settle on a college football playoff.
The debate over how to compensate student athletes was raging in the late 1960s, when Delany was playing basketball at North Carolina.
“We had a $15-a-month laundry check,” Delany recalled. “I can tell you that $15 a month was about two-thirds of my cash, between the money I got from mom and dad at home.”
There’s nobility in Delany’s plan, but not much reality.
You could almost hear former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez chuckling when Delany talked about adhering to the 20-hour rule.
Would you give your quarterback a pass if they started spending less time in the film room?
Granting students a non-competitive year while they acclimate to college life doesn’t seem to mesh with a culture that covets basketball players who are one-and-done.
It makes more sense to give athletes free tuition for life.
They could still be responsible for their own living expenses but have access to the education they missed while representing that university on a national stage.
There’s bound to be naysayers, however, and arguments about how to implement such a lofty notion.
The greatest flaw with Delany’s four proposals, including the stipend, is that it will likely have to include non-revenue sports.
And that is a dealbreaker.
“I’m not thinking it’s simple,” Delany acknowledged. “I didn’t try to simplify it. I’m talking about a stipend, a miscellaneous expense that meets Title IX rules.
“We have a federal law, and there’s no exemptions for football or basketball.”
Delany’s focus is on athlete assistance. Good for him. If more people took the same view, we might not be in this mess.
But in this age million-dollar television contracts and 24-hour sports programming, it seems a little naive.
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue