Jim Delany Wants To Increase College Scholarships: Good For Him

Remember a few months ago when HBO’s Real Sports ran that “damning” piece on college athletics? You do remember, right? A little about Stanley McGlover? Some stuff on hundred dollar handshakes? Most importantly, remember how the whole show was supposed to shake the NCAA to the core, and make us re-evaluate everything we ever thought we knew about college athletics?

Yeh, umm, about that. I’m pretty sure it never happened.

Instead, the show turned into nothing more than a well-produced fluff piece, no different than the 40,000 magazine articles, blog posts and TV features you’ve already seen on the subject. Sure it might’ve shaken you to the core…if you’re a 46-year-old housewife in Des Moines who can’t find Auburn, AL on a map. But for the rest of us, it was old news, business as usual. I don’t know person- no matter their opinions on college athletics- who came away with a changed or altered view from that piece.

One thing did catch my ear though, and it came from former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. In between Billy Packer yelling at everyone, and Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock blabbing on about some “revolution,” that I’ve still yet to see happen, I thought Rodriguez brought up a really good point. He mentioned how the core tenants of the NCAA are in their proper place, and that it is the school and coach’s responsibility to make sure that a kid is focused on the entire picture of the college experience, and not only thinking about the NFL (And really, Rodriguez should know. Because after watching his  Michigan teams the last few years, I think it’s safe to say that most of his former players will be going pro in something other than football. Kidding! But not really).

Rodriguez then followed that up with a better point, discussing something that he thought should be changed. To paraphrase, he believes we need to re-evaluate what the value of a college scholarship is really worth, and maybe expand it a bit. Maybe allow a couple extra bucks for an out-of-state kid to head home on a bye week, or make it more affordable to eat out, buy new clothes, whatever. Whether the kid actually uses the money responsibly is beside the point. What’s important is to be more flexible with how we hand out the cash to begin with.

And I’ve got to say, I loved the idea.

For one, I had never heard anyone make that proposal in quite the way Rodriguez did. It’s smart, different and realistic, something that is almost never the case when people start throwing out ideas on how the NCAA should change the way it operates. I also like the idea that it came from the right place. For all the talk that we as sportswriters, bloggers and the media in general make about changing college athletics, it was cool that this came from someone on the ground floor. A guy in the trenches, who spent almost all of his adulthood around NCAA athletics. For lack of a better term, someone who knows what they’re talking about.

In hindsight, Rodriguez’s idea apparently didn’t seem so crazy, since on Thursday, a man Rodriguez knows well, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany made a similar suggestion. He told reporters he’d be interested in seeing a full athletic scholarship “cover the full cost of attendance,” beyond just room board and books. Like Rich Rod, he believes it should include some travel expenses and flexibility for food and clothing etc. As Delany said, “Forty years ago, you had a scholarship plus $15 a month laundry money. Today, you have the same scholarship, but not with the $15 laundry money.” Good point.

Obviously right now this is just all talk, and for anything like this to take place, there’d be quite a few loopholes to jump through. For a scholarship increase to happen for a single conference like the Big Ten, it would need approval from representatives of every conference, something that just isn’t going to happen. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Delany probably knew that when he made the statement.

But even if Delany is blowing smoke to a degree, at least he’s being progressive and thinking a bit outside the box. Which is more than most of his contemporaries can say.

Starting from the beginning, and starting with the most obvious “call for reform,” I’m sorry, but we’re not paying any college athletes any time soon. You’ve obviously heard the reasons why, but most of them have to do with law and legislation. Essentially if you pay men you have to women, if you pay scholarship athletes you’ve got to pay non-scholarship ones, and if Ohio State pays it’s athletes then Eastern Tennessee Tech has to do it too. Again, as romantic as the idea of paying college athletes sounds, the reality just isn’t there.

But to increase some scholarship money? It seems feasible, at least in a few conferences, namely Delany’s Big Ten, the Pac-12, ACC and SEC.

For starters, those are the conferences that seem to have the money to do it. You remember the Pac-12 signing a TV contract a few weeks ago that’s bigger than theGDP of most South American countries, and will pay their member schools over $20 million a year, right? That number is right around what the Big Ten’s schools make, with the SEC coming in at $17 million a year and the ACC $13 million. And incredibly, that’s just TV revenue, and has nothing to do with licensing money, ticket sales or donations. In other words, there’s a lot of money flowing around these college athletic departments right now.

To which I’ve got to ask: Are you happy with where the money is going right now? Are you satisfied that AD’s get five and sometimes six figure bonuses for doing next to nothing (These numbers are closely guarded, but just for example, Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton has a $300,000 retention bonus that kicks in, simply if he keeps his job until 2014. It doesn’t matter how his teams perform, if they’re in trouble with the NCAA or whether or not they win titles. Only that he has his job in 2014. Huh?)? Are you happy that a coach makes millions a year just to get a team to 6-6 and some lousy bowl game? We all know the money is going to the wrong places right now. Is it the worst thing in the world to put a little more cash in the pockets of the actual revenue producers?

Now obviously the big thing that everyone will object to is the idea that some conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12) have the ability to expand their scholarships while others don’t. Simply put, it’s a huge competitive disadvantage for all these small schools in Conference USA and the Mountain West if the Big Ten adds a couple grand to each scholarship, right?

Well, I don’t see it.

Anyone who follows college sports knows that no matter how much we talk about tradition, facilities and everything else, only one thing matters to a recruit: Can a coaching staff get the kid to the next level. That alone is sadly the overriding factor in most of these college decisions.

Think about it. Have you ever wondered why Terrelle Pryor chose to go to Ohio State, even though his skill-set so clearly suited him better for Rich Rodriguez’s offense at Michigan? It’s because he believed that Ohio State would best prepare him for the next level. It’s the same reason why a pro-style quarterback like Matt Barkley would never play for Chip Kelly, and why Trent Richardson chose Alabama instead of Florida. Those systems suited them best. I doubt a couple thousand dollars in scholarship money would’ve swayed them one way or the other. Especially when there are a millions more to be made on the back end.

Besides, it’s not like in the current system where all scholarships are equal, kids are tripping over themselves to go play at small schools when a big school offers. I read a lot of recruiting stuff every February and don’t once recall a kid saying, “You know, Mack Brown and Texas wanted me really bad, but there was just something about Eastern Michigan that I just couldn’t say no to.” Whatever intrinsic advantages big schools have they’re always going to have. After all, the reason that a guy like Andy Dalton ended up at TCU isn’t because he was swayed by the beauty of Ft. Worth. It’s because according to his only other scholarship offer was from UTEP. It’s not like the entire Big XII and SEC were knocking down his door and begging him to come to their schools. Same with Kellen Moore, Case Keenum and all the other guys who end up at non-AQ schools.

Ultimately though, as was mentioned before, this is all just talk for now. If anything, if a proposal like this were ever to go through, it would need a lot of approval from a lot of people who don’t seem keen on approving it…namely the small-conference commissioners. I can’t blame them for that.

And obviously, even a slight bump scholarship money does little to absolve the other big problems in college football. It won’t stop boosters from giving out $100 handshakes or stop a kid from accepting them, free cars, free tattoos or whatever else. Not to mention that if we’ve learned anything in the tragic deaths of Alabama’s Aaron Douglas and Austin Box of Oklahoma in the last week, it’s that maybe the biggest problem that no one has a total grasp on is illicit drug use. How much is going on really is anyone’s guess right now.

Still though, those are big picture problems that might be solved in time, and might not be. In some cases- especially with drug testing- it’ll take major overhaul all the way from the top with the NCAA.

As for more scholarship money, that can be addressed, and addressed right now. As for whether anything happens or not remains to be seen.

But at least Jim Delany is trying to do something.

It may all be smoke, but still. Credit him for that.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.