Mark Richt said during the G-day telecast that high school seniors are coming to college better prepared than ever (and given the way some of Georgia’s early enrollees played Saturday, he’s not lying). The NCAA’s new high school academic protocols kick in for good this season, stiffening the course requirements for those same high schoolers.
And yet here comes Jim Delany, doubling down on his freshman ineligibility proposal. The timing, to say the least, is hard to figure.
Speculation about Delany’s end game has been rampant across college athletics the past couple months, and it will only intensify after Delany sent out a 12-page treatise Friday on why he favors freshman ineligibility.
Delany stopped short of calling it a proposal, acknowledged potential drawbacks/arguments against it and emphasized again that the Big Ten will not implement this idea without other conferences doing the same.
But even in the face of initial backlash, Delany is pressing on, arguing Friday that the balance between athletics and academics has tilted too far in the wrong direction, that the professionalization of big-time college sports “jeopardizes the model of broad-based intercollegiate athletics” and that making freshmen ineligible would be a potential way to bring things back into alignment.
There are statistics and charts, anecdotes and catch phrases. Delany does not call it freshman ineligibility, which sounds a lot like punishment, but rather “a year of readiness.”
Honestly, it’s strange. Slive opposed it strongly. And now, as part of Delany’s doubling down…
To make up for the roster limitations that would come with freshmen not being allowed to play, FBS football programs would be allowed about seven additional scholarship players. The current limit is 85. Men’s basketball teams in Division I would be allowed about three extra scholarship players; the current maximum is 13. Using those “ball park estimates,” 5.4 women’s scholarships per Division I school would need to be added to equal the $47.25 million spent on new men’s scholarships.
… he’s come up with something that’s bound to alienate pretty much every mid-major program scraping by, financially speaking.
So what’s it all about? Beats me. Here’s what Delany claims:
— Because of the stakes involved in competition at the highest level, football and men’s basketball players do spend a significant amount of time on their sports, which can be a burden academically.
— There are inherent factors that drive toward a higher probably of academic fraud, which should be eliminated if possible.
— It is undeniably true that football and men’s basketball players on the whole enter college less prepared to succeed academically than their counterparts.
— It is “exploitive,” as Delany says, not to give athletes a “legitimate and substantive” educational experience.
“If we cannot defend the educational value of the student-athlete experience in the sports of football and men’s basketball, then we cannot defend the model as educational,” Delany said. “If we cannot defend the model as educational, then we cannot defend the model.”
There’s a bunch of stuff thrown out there, but I have a hard time seeing how much of that gets fixed by not letting freshmen play football or basketball. The economics don’t change. Whatever pressure to commit academic fraud exists, how does that change, if these kids are just as ill-prepared coming in as ever?
It comes off as a Potemkin village approach, particularly since freshmen would still be able to practice with their teams, though participation and travel would be limited. Would that make as much of a difference as the new high school academic core requirements change will? I’m doubtful.
Here’s what I do think is certain to come from Delany’s special year: your typical high school McDonald’s All-American is going to think long and hard about going to Duke and Kentucky. So, if this is a way to hammer one-and-done in men’s basketball, it’ll have an impact. On the football side, you’re now talking about the top student-athletes only playing in competition for two years. That’s great for the NFL – less wear and tear on its future stars – but not so great if you’re a fan of a college team that’s just landed a bunch of five-star recruits.
And how many of Alabama’s rivals are going to be thrilled with the idea that Nick Saban can lock up another seven kids a year? I’m thinking very few.
Like I said, this is a puzzler. Delany claims he’s pushing this to start a national dialogue, but it’s hard to see who wants to have a discussion with him about it. All I can come up with is that it’s a nice fig leaf to offer Congress when Delany goes to Washington hat in hand to ask for that juicy antitrust exemption.
In the meantime, if he’s that convinced that players are being exploited by the current system, there’s nothing holding the Big Ten back from going it alone on the freshman ineligibility front. Go for it, Big Jim!