Skip to main content

Jim Delany: "Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?"

Two of the biggest off-the-field topics in college sports right now are the endless debate whether or not student-athletes are entitled to a share of the enormous funds pouring into college sports and the upcoming College Football Playoff. (The continued follies of the bumbling, inept, make-it-up-as-they-go NCAA enforcement process would be major topic number three.) Those subjects converged yesterday as the five major conference commissioners, plus Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, met yesterday at Big Ten headquarters in Chicago for continued planning on the Playoff.

Since reporters can't talk about one topic without inquiring about the other, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was asked about pay-for-play. He had a lot to say. 

"I think we ought to work awful hard with the NFL and the NBA to create an opportunity for those folks," he said. "We have it in baseball, we have it in golf, works pretty good, we have it in golf, we have it in hockey. Why don't we have it in football, basketball?

"Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?," Delany rhetorically wondered. Always a bull in front of the microphone, Delany then went on to dare any 18, 19 or 20-year old thinking they'd be better off without college sports to go ahead and try. 

 "Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks," he said. "If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness, and establish it on your own. But don't come here and say, 'We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.' Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it."

Delany makes a good point. Marketable as a guy like Johnny Manziel may be, how much of that value is afforded to him by the platform provided by Texas A&M? He's certainly better off from a business standpoint playing for an established brand more than a century old than playing in the NFL D League in South Dakota or throwing passes against air at IMG Academy. For every argument saying each and every Texas football player is worth $587,000 a year, there's a more rational point that college sports fans are tuning in to root for laundry, no matter who happens to wear it.

Delany continued: "You don't have to play for the Redskins or the Bears at 17, but you could develop [at] IMG. My gosh, there are lots of trainers out there. There are quarterback coaches teaching passing skills, guys lifting weights, guys training and running. They can get as strong and as fast in that environment as they can in this environment. Plus, they don't have to go to school. Plus, they can sell their likeness and do whatever they want to do. We don't want to do that."

Delany then made his first bad point, concluding his argument by saying, "What we want to do is do what we've been doing for 100 years." The immediate response is that major college programs weren't raking in nine figures of revenue 100 years ago, but who's counting?

While Delany's quotes are technically news since they happened yesterday, this isn't exactly new information. His positions have been out there for a while. Remember four months back when he said the Big Ten would move to Division III before the conference paid a player? Delany's feet are so far dug in, he's waist deep by now. 

So, where do we go from here?

 USA Today writer Dan Wolken, a guy who spends more time thinking and writing about this stuff than just about anybody, tweeted about that last night.

Delany responded, "Yep, pretty much."

His actual quote: "Being a full-time student is basic, providing opportunities for women is basic, providing Olympic sports opportunities for men is basic. The expectation they should graduate at or about the same rate is basic. I don't want to give those things up. Why? Because we're wildly successful in football and basketball? Now, if a judge says, 'You must pay,' I said, 'OK. Tell us what to do now.'"

I don't have any predictions on who wins this debate in the end, but here's one thing I'd bet on: We'll still be talking about this long past the time Jim Delany has exited the conversation.