CHICAGO — Jim Delany said Wednesday at Big Ten men’s basketball media day that he does not support the idea of college athletes profiting from their likeness, calling it a slippery slope toward a pay-to-play system.
In a 20-minute news conference that marked the start of media day, the outgoing conference commissioner fielded multiple questions on the newly signed California Senate Bill 206 — known as the Fair Pay to Play, which will allow players to earn money off their name, image and likeness — and reiterated his opposition to the law on multiple fronts.
“My view is that there may be some players who are ready for the professional ranks, but that’s not the college ranks,” Delany said. “And I would like to see players who are ready for the professional ranks be able to access the professional game, either through the (G)-League or I’d like to see the owners and the unions open up opportunities for young people, as you have in baseball.
“Same thing about the NFL; we’re not the minor leagues. We’re involved in an enterprise that touches 100,000 players, and maybe there’s 1 percent or 2 percent that may have commercial value.”
Delany called that “a belief system that I have,” while acknowledging that other people feel differently about the NCAA system in which scholarship players receive an education while many universities reap millions from television and sponsors.
“I think the law of unintended consequences and the law of slippery slope apply here,” he said. “We’re not perfect, but I think that the opportunities that we have for the great many shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of the 1 percent that probably would have an opportunity to benefit here.
“It’s a college game. It’s different than the NBA, different than the Olympics, different than the playground. So I hope we’re able to maintain the opportunities we have for men and women and avoid pay for play insofar as we can.”
The newly signed bill won’t take effect until January 2023, and Delany said he expects the situation to change between now and then. He also expressed his belief that a national situation would be preferential to a state-by-state approach; similar bills have been introduced in other states.
“Ultimately I think there has to be a national solution,” he said. “Whether it comes from Congress or whether the NCAA is able to find a middle road here, that’s sort of to be determined.
“I would just like to see more opportunity, more choice for our students … as to which college they want to go to or if they’re on a professional track. To me it should be more like baseball where the minor leagues — I think there’s 6,000 young people playing in minor league baseball and really none in the NFL and just a few in the NBA.”
Delany also addressed what his message would be to students who feel they are entitled to a share of the league’s revenue, which measures in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“My point would be that the student who plays athletics in the Big Ten is in school for education first, that there’s an amazing opportunity to get a world-class education here, and there’s also amazing opportunity to compete in a great conference with great recognition and, if they so choose, to prepare themselves to be a professional someday,” he said.
“The world has changed a lot, and I think we have responded to that in a lot of ways, whether it’s the scholarship plus full cost of attendance plus degree completion, come back when you need to, a voice and a vote inside the system that didn’t exist a while back, multi-year scholarships.”
Delany stressed, however, that the limit to what college athletes should be paid ends with the cost of college.
“Once we’re beyond the cost of college, we’re in pay for play, and I think that puts us in a totally different game,” he said. “And while I understand their point of view, I have a different point of view, and I don’t know that I can convince them of the rightness of my position. I respect theirs.”