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The timing, they say, was largely coincidental. But what if the statement released Tuesday by the Big Ten -- and signed by all 14 of its presidents and chancellors -- serves to back up the testimony given last week by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany?

"A lot of things end up maybe better than we planned," Delany said.

Noting college athletics are under fire and the conversation is about compensation rather than academics, Big Ten presidents and chancellors issued a call to work within the NCAA to provide greater academic security and success for student-athletes.

Their proposals included offering multiyear scholarships covering the full cost of attendance, guaranteeing scholarships after athletes' playing careers are finished and improving medical insurance.

Several Big Ten presidents told USA TODAY Sports the statement, which is similar to one released last month by their counterparts in the Pac-12, had been under discussion for months. But its release comes amid the final days of a push by the "Power Five" conferences for autonomy to make their own rules. Perhaps more critically, it comes four days after Delany's testimony in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust case, in which the plaintiffs seek to allow players to be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

"It would be foolish to say there's absolutely no relationship between the two," Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank told USA TODAY Sports.

But the presidents and chancellors acknowledged the need for change. Minnesota President Eric Kaler, echoing colleagues in the Big Ten and across the country, said, "The amateur model isn't broken, but it needs to be modernized."

The Big Ten's priorities, as outlined in the statement:

Four-year, guaranteed scholarships (the current NCAA athletics scholarship is for one year): "If a student-athlete is no longer able to compete, for whatever reason, there should be zero impact on our commitment as universities to deliver an undergraduate education. We want our students to graduate."

Lifetime educational opportunity: "If a student-athlete leaves for a pro career before graduating, the guarantee of a scholarship remains firm. Whether a professional career materializes and regardless of its length, we will honor a student's scholarship when his or her playing days are over."

Medical insurance: "We must ... provide improved, consistent medical insurance for student-athletes. We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them."

Full-cost-of-attendance scholarships: "We must do whatever it takes to ensure that student-athlete scholarships cover the full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government. That definition is intended to cover what it actually costs to attend college."

According to the statement, "The intercollegiate athletics experience and the educational mission are inextricably linked. Professionalizing specific sports or specific participants will bring about intended as well as likely unintended consequences in undermining the educational foundation of these programs, on Big Ten campuses and others throughout the country."

A comment period from NCAA members on the draft proposal for legislative autonomy ends Monday. The steering committee on governance is scheduled to meet July 11 to consider the feedback and to draft a final proposal; the Division I board of directors is expected to vote Aug. 7.

The proposals track with the agenda of the Power Five conferences (the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern are the others) as they pursue the ability, within the structure of NCAA Division I, to make their own rules, allowing them to provide athletes with unprecedented resources. But echoing comments he and other Power Five conference commissioners have made, Delany told USA TODAY Sports:

"If autonomy doesn't pass, (the presidents and chancellors) still want to do these things. We need to do this, and we'd love to do this within the NCAA."

 

June 25, 2014

 

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