To pay or not to pay—there hasn't been a hotter topic in the world of collegiate sports in the past six months or so.
It also happens to be one of the most complicated and emotional topics in the college sports arena as well.
You've had players writing "A.P.U—All Players United" on their gear just this past weekend.
There were the Arian Foster revelations. You had the Sports Illustrated five-part exposé about rampant NCAA violations allegedly going on at Oklahoma State over the past decade-plus.
It all comes back to one theme—something's got to change.
Yet, most of the people throwing bombs and wanting to bury the NCAA and the conferences that make all the money have done a lot of talking and very little in the way of offering solutions.
However, one figure in a position of power has actually been very vocal about change and actually offering solutions to the problems that exist right now—Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
The latest solution from the outspoken Delany? Let them go pro. Said Delaney Thursday, per ESPN.com:
Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness and establish it on your own. But don't come here and say, "We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000." Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don't ask us what we've been doing.
It's a concept that I've personally been floating for some time and one that would work best for all involved.
The radical idea Delany is proposing? Capitalism.
It may be a novel concept to the world of sports, especially given the legal "cartel" status most leagues (including the NCAA) have in this country, but it is what players are really advocating for and it would help the NCAA, both financially and PR-wise.
Delany also resented the fact that the NCAA has essentially become the "minor leagues" for professional sports:
You don't have to play for the Redskins or the Bears at 17, but you could develop IMG. My gosh, there are lots of trainers out there. There are quarterback coaches teaching passing skills, guys lifting weights, guys training and running. They can get as strong and as fast in that environment as they can in this environment. Plus, they don't have to go to school. Plus, they can sell their likeness and do whatever they want to do. We don't want to do that. What we want to do is do what we've been doing for 100 years.
Sure, it may be a radical departure from what we know today, but let's face it: It cleans up the games of college football and basketball and allows those "elite" athletes to use their bodies, images and likenesses all while working their way to the NBA or NFL.
Ultimately, this is America and no one should be stopping anyone else from maximizing their earning potential. A professional minor league or "academy" model works for sports like hockey, baseball and soccer all over the world. Why not open up the possibilities to it for basketball and football in America, too?
Some may say, "What about protecting the kids and making sure they get an education?" Well, do you think the majority of high-level players are at school because of the education, or because they see dollar signs in their futures?
If the kid doesn't care about his or her education, why should he/she be forced to get one?
The option to still go the college route would still be there—it would just be their choice to either forgo the instant gratification of money in order to earn an education and degree, or to immediately step into the real world.
Let's face facts though: Delany is speaking like this now because what has become clear is that a lot of players at major universities stand would like to be getting paid and getting paid well at that.
What Delany offers is a solution to those who think they are worth what college athletics gets out of them, but on the open market.
- The average full athletic scholarship at an FBS school left “full” players with a scholarship shortfall (out-of-pocket expenses) of $3,285 during the 2011-12 school year.
- FBS football and men’s basketball players would receive full athletic scholarships plus an additional $6 billion between 2011-15 if not for the NCAA’s prohibition of a fair market.
- The lost value over a four-year career for the average FBS football and men’s basketball player is $456,612 and $1,063,307, respectively.
- The lost value over a four-year career for the average football and men’s basketball player in the six BCS conferences is $715,000 and $1.5 million, respectively.
- University of Texas football players will be denied approximately $2.2 million, incur scholarship shortfalls of over $14,000, and live below the federal poverty line by $784 per year between 2011-15.
- University of Louisville men’s basketball players will be denied approximately $6.5 million, incur scholarship shortfalls of over $17,000, and live below the federal poverty line by $3,730 per year between 2011-15.
However, the advocacy group never bothers to deal with the fact that for the most recent year available, just 23 of 228 public Division I institutions made enough to cover expenses, per the most recent analysis from USA Today. Of those that made a profit, only Ohio State would be able to afford the increase to cover the scholarship shortfall, and we haven't even touched "paying" players yet, either.
That's the harsh economic reality of how the NCAA system is working right now. So, unless there's change to how coaches and administrators are being paid or a huge bump in budgets comes through across the board, where exactly is all this money going to come from?
For quite some time now, Delany has spoken out on some of the controversial issues in college sports, and it is clear he is on the side of the players on many issues (especially in closing the gap on scholarships for athletes).
He also proposed another "radical" idea of making a commitment to the student-athlete's education regardless of what happens after they arrive on campus—at least in the form of always having the education paid for as a fallback. Via CSTV.com:
Now, many schools provide some additional support. But what I'd like to see is an explicit commitment by higher education through the conferences for funding and also to the athlete at the time they sign, that if you come up short within the four years, if you go professional, if you drop out, that we'll stand behind you so when you're ready to get serious or when you have the time, we'll support your college education degree for your lifetime.
So, while recent attention-grabbing efforts by some players suggest "All Players United," the reality is that all players are not united in this effort, as a recent article in the Tulsa World Herald may suggest.
The reality is that while those advocating for player pay would like to see the economic world of the NCAA model in black and white terms, it just isn't that simple. There is plenty of grey area, with things like partial scholarships, Title IX and a host of other issues that come into play.
At the end of the day though, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany may have the start of the idea that works to save college athletics from financial ruin and to allow those who want to just pursue professional sports as their dream to do so too.
*Andy Coppens is the Lead Big Ten Writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter for more coverage of all things B1G.