Big Ten Commissioner
Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Commissioner, Coaches Share Thoughts on Fair Pay to Play Act

October 02, 2019

One of the hot topics at Big Ten Media Day on Wednesday was the impact of SB-206, nicknamed the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” passing in California and the fallout for college sports as a whole.

Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg, a former NBA player who stayed at home for college and became a star at Iowa State, was one of the first coaches asked about the bill.

“As a former student-athlete, I would have loved to be compensated for my likeness, there’s no doubt about that, especially playing in my home town,” Hoiberg said. “I think that could have been a pretty good deal for a guy like me. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out and I have no idea how it will play out, but I do think it’s progress, no doubt about that. It’s going to take people a lot smarter than me to figure out how to get this thing moving in the right direction, but I do think it’s progress.”

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino shared similar thoughts, calling the bill progress and a good idea as long as everyone is on the same page. Maryland’s Mark Turgeon said it’s a complex issue but he wants what’s best for the student-athletes so long as everyone has an even playing field.

Wisconsin’s Greg Gard and Michigan’s Juwan Howard both more or less side-stepped the issue rather than speaking for or against the bill.

Indiana coach Archie Miller offered a longer response, saying the big thing is “if you’re not evolving or forward-thinking, you’re standing in cement.” He did say there are a lot of unanswered questions and he he wants to take care of the student-athletes and make their lives better if they can do it, but he also said it’s important to protect the universities and the game as a whole. Miller was a player himself and he said at the time, he wasn’t thinking about where the money was going.

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo said he read nine different stories to learn about the bill and they had nine different opinions about it. 

“I sure as hell don’t think its politicians job to get involved in it,” Izzo said. “I’m baffled by that.”

Even so, Izzo said he’d be open to players getting what they can but isn’t sure what might come with that. In any regard, Izzo said the NCAA needs to get ahead of it.

Outgoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wasn’t nearly as open to student-athletes receiving any kind of compensation beyond what they’re already getting than his coaches are.

“I’m a huge basketball fan, and as such I appreciate the games that are played on the playground the games that are played in high school, I love the college game and I watch the NBA in the spring and I with the Olympics every four years, and I think each of those has an appropriate place,” Delany said. “Certainly, the high schools and the colleges are education-based systems. I think that there’s going to be a period of time between now and the time that bill goes into effect, and I’m sure there will be lots of NCAA conversations, maybe some congressional conversations conversations, maybe some litigation.”

Delany advocated instead for the removal of the one-and-done rule by the NBA to allow basketball players to jump directly to the professional ranks, whether that’s the G League (Which he called the D-League, which it hasn’t been since 2017) or the NBA itself.

“We’re not the minor leagues,” Delany said. “We’re involved in an enterprise that touches 100,000 players and maybe there’s 1% or 2% that may have commercial value, but I would prefer they have the choice to move that into the professional ranks because I really don’t see much difference myself between name, image and likeness payments by a corporate sponsor and pay for play. It’s a belief system I have; I know people differ on it. I think the law of unintended consequences and the law of slippery slope apply here …

“We’re not perfect, but I think that the opportunities that we have for the great many shouldn’t be sacrificed at the alter of the 1% that probably would have the opportunity to benefit here. It’s a college game. It’s different than the NBA, different than the Olympics and different from the playground, so I hope that we’re able to maintain the opportunities we have for men and women and avoid pay for play insofar as we we can.”

Asked about the obstacles to putting the Fair Play for Play Act into action, Delany said he believes it needs to be a national solution, either by Congress or the NCAA, rather than one passed by individual states. Delany said he views it as a “unique setting.”

“We have 100,000 student-athletes in Division I, about 500,00 throughout the system,” Delany said. “In fact, the Big Ten alone has 10,000 student athletes which is double the number of all the professional sports in America.You have less than 5,000 professionals and you have 10,000 athletes in the Big Ten an 500,000 [overall]. What works in the Olympics with 500 athletes every four years, what works in the NFL or NBA with 1,500 players doesn’t necessarily work for 100,000 players. So it’s very different systems.”

Delany then reiterated his desire for a viable alternative to college sports as opposed to the NCAA model adapting and evolving.

“To me, it should be more like baseball with the minor leagues,” Delany said. “I think there are 6,000 young people playing in minor league baseball and really none n the NFL, and just a few in the NBA. I think it’s an appropriate track for people that want to pursue that and I think the college system is uniquely separate, uniquely different historically and should be retained insofar as possible. As Arne Duncan said, other than the military it probably does as great a job of educating and providing leadership for young people as any institution in the country.”

One writer asked Delany what his message is to student-athletes in the face of the hundreds of millions of dollars in the revenue the NBA brings in.

“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 an amazing opportunity to compete in a great conference with great recognition and, if they so choose, to prepare themselves to be a professional some day, whether it’s in Europe, Asia or in the U.S.,” Delany said. “It is unique. It’s not the NBA, it’s not the WNBA. It is an educational arrangement, full-time students playing basketball or football.”

Delany said he thinks the NCAA has actually adjusted to the times well to offer the student-athletes more, such as multi-year scholarships, cost of attendance stipends and more of a “voice and a vote inside the system.”

“I’ve been an advocate for students and for support of students, but to me the outer limit is the cost of college,” Delany said. “Once we’re beyond the cost of college, we’re at pay for play and I think that puts us in a totally different game. It probably does affect 1 or 2% of the players, but I would rather see the resolution to have those 1 or 2% of players have the opportunity to go directly into professional sports, whether it’s baseball, basketball or football, and really not to ask the whole system to turn. I think there is a law of unintended consequences, I do think it would undermine the fairness in the recruitment and while I understand their point of view, I have a different point of view. I don’t know the I can convince them of the rightness of my position and I respect theirs. 

“There are cases in litigation, there is action in state legislature, ultimately there may be a federal solution, but my view is you can differ with somebody and still have tremendous respect for them and I certainly do for our students and I’m glad we have them and am glad they can take the opportunity of a world-class education while playing at a very high level in the college game.”

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.