The Big Ten conference has notified the NCAA of its new recommendations to provide student-athletes with more benefits, including guaranteed scholarships through four years and beyond if an athlete goes pro and returns to school, plus improved student-athlete health insurance.
The Big Ten is among the big 5 college athletic conferences that are now allowed more autonomy in how they handle their student-athletes after the decision in the Ed O’Bannon suit earlier this year. Those 5 conferences are the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12.
The Big Ten had already proposed most of these changes, but today things became more official as the conference announced that it has officially recommended the changes to the NCAA. It’s now on the Big 5 conferences to hash out the recommendations before deciding whether or not to implement them as a group.
The major points the conference has laid out:
- Guaranteeing scholarships: The conference wants scholarships to be guaranteed to student-athletes for all 4 years, even if the student-athlete becomes unable to compete at some point during their 4 years.
- Guaranteeing scholarships “for life”: If an athlete leaves school to turn pro before graduating, the new Big Ten recommendations would have his or her scholarship still available if he or she comes back to school years down the road, after the professional career has wrapped up.
- Medical Insurance: The conference aims to provide “improved, consistent medical insurance for student-athletes.”
- Redefining the cost of education: The Big Ten aims to recalculate a “full ride” to cover the entire cost of attending school, as determined by the federal government
Obviously, football and basketball are the major sports in mind when the conference deliberates these benefits. Things like health insurance have a much larger impact on those sports, where the risk of major injury is very high, than less injury-prone sports like swimming. But these initiatives would still have a major impact on swimmers if they catch on around the NCAA – especially the idea that an athlete could sign his or her scholarship deal, turn pro after a couple seasons and return to finish out a free education later on in life.
The recommendations obviously don’t cover straight “pay for play” setups, where athletes would sign contracts and actually earn money on top of their scholarship. That’s still a very contentious issue – for evidence, look no further than the press release Indiana University sent out today as well, which theoretically calculated the actual value of a student-athlete’s college scholarship.
IU found that for an out-of-state athlete, the true value of a 4-year athletic scholarship came out to be just under a quarter of a million dollars. An in-state athlete was found to gain about $135,000.
The IU calculations found the “traditional” costs associated with college (tuition, room & board, books) to be about $45,000 per year for an out-of-state student. The remaining values, about $10,000 a year, came from indirect benefits provided to athletes – academic advisors, tutors, gear, apparel, and access to computer labs and technology among others. (You can view the full breakdown of IU’s numbers here, courtesy of Indiana University).
Though the debate over how much a 4-year scholarship should be valued at (and consequentially, whether athletes should be paid above and beyond that total) is likely far from concluded, the announcement by the Big Ten does seem to be a good faith step in the right direction. The NCAA and its member schools routinely say that getting students to graduate is a major goal. Guaranteed four-year scholarships and a lifetime extension of those four years seems like natural ways to promote that goal and encourage more student athletes to eventually graduate.
It will be interesting to see if the other 4 major conferences (the ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12) express agreement or come up with their own recommendations on the heels of the Big Ten’s decision. And, of course, in an issue that’s still far from settled in terms of public opinion, it’s almost certain we’ll see plenty of new developments in the overall conversation about student-athlete status in the coming months.