Imagining Jim Delany's Minor League Football System

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IMarch 19, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 3: Jim Delany, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, addresses the media during a press conference to announce the New Era Pinstripe Bowl's eight-year partnership with the Big Ten Conference at Yankees Stadium on June 3, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jason Szenes/Getty Images
Jason Szenes/Getty Images

There may not be a more polarizing figure in all of college athletics than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Love him or hate him, there's also no denying he is one of the most forward-thinking minds in college athletics today. 

It was his power and vision that brought the conference its basketball tournament, which has become an annual sellout. He also was unafraid to take his time to get expansion right for his conference and managed to add two of the most iconic names in college football (Penn State and Nebraska) in the process.

Then, there's the matter of this little dream called the Big Ten Network. Just seven years ago, there was no such thing as a conference-only network, yet thanks to the vision and success of BTN, other conferences are now following suit. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07: Denicos Allen #28 of the Michigan State Spartans holds up the Big Ten championship trophy after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 34-24 at the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The point is, when Jim Delany speaks about the future, it's perhaps wise to at least listen and take notes. Chances are what he has to say may end up shaping the future of college athletics.

On the heels of a former quarterback from one of his member institutions trying to change the landscape of college sports forever, Delany has put forth his own vision for college athletics.

That vision is for college athletics, for men and women, to be less about being the de facto minor leagues for the pros and become more about being a true student-athlete experience, according to Ivan Maisel of

Just last week, Delany raised some eyebrows with the suggestion that college athletics should be a choice but not the only choice for those who wish to pursue athletics as a job. (h/t

I want choice. I want people to have the freedom to choose to come and play under those standards. But, if they choose not to be full-time students, if they choose to follow athletics as a vocation, I want them to be free.

What Delany is advocating for, and has been since September, is that the two biggest revenue sports—football and basketball—move to a model similar to that of baseball or hockey. 

Not only does he see a future with professional minor leagues, Delany sees the future of his sports as more collegiate and less professional. 

"What I'm confident about is that the more collegiate we are, the more sustainable we are," Delany said, via Maisel's article. "The less collegiate we are, the more I think the environment we are in is going to be challenged."

Think what you want about the motives. Delany's vision is intriguing, especially for the future of college and professional football.

If Delany's vision comes to realization, what would the new minor league football system look like?

Let's get one thing straight out of the gate: 18-year-old kids aren't jumping straight to the NFL proper. The reality is, the game of football is a different animal than any other sport out there.

Football is a violent game at any level, but putting kids up against fully mature adults (we're talking bodies, not actions or minds) is a recipe for disaster.

In order to set up a level playing field, the NFL (or some other entity) needs to look toward a modified version of minor league baseball for the new system that Delany envisions. 

With that parameter set up, let's dive in to a new vision for the future of the NFL and college football. 

The new minor league would be only for players aged 18-21 years old first and foremost. It would also involve a drafted system just like Major League Baseball has, only this would last just 32 rounds (enough to replace every starter on offense and defense and more). 

Said draft would take place each January and players would begin negotiations for the next couple of months. If they chose to sign a professional contract, they give up the right to a collegiate scholarship in the future. If they don't sign with the NFL right away, they can go to college and then go in the regular collegiate draft after three years. 

Beyond that, each NFL team would have one minor league team, unlike baseball. Each team would be able to pull a player up to the main roster if they feel that player is ready to take on the challenge of the NFL or need to fill a roster spot.

However, after turning 21 (in-season players must wait till season is over), each player must be signed to a full professional contract and put on the main roster or allowed to become a free agent. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 21: Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 21, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It protects the investment made by the NFL team in the player, while also allowing the player freedom after a short period of time as well. 

As for the money situation, just like baseball, there can be a set amount paid to each player regardless of where they were drafted. However, unlike MLB's issues with paying minor league players, each would earn $45,000 a year and could earn more based on draft status and negotiated signing bonuses. 

Why $45,000 a year? It's enough for a player to live off of and could be more than enough to be comfortable with signing bonuses. However, it also isn't a crazy-high salary that would make going the collegiate route unsustainable either. 

At most schools, the full cost of attendance can come very close to (if not well over) that $45,000 a year salary. For some, the option to attend college could be more worthwhile than the minor league system, a la what happens for some in the baseball system. 

While all of this may seem pie-eyed and just the ramblings of a college football writer, you can bet Delany has a system of his own.

Delany may be well ahead of his time in suggesting this vision, but as long as he's around, expect him to be a strong advocate for this type of change to occur. We all know he's got the staying power to get big ideas done. 


*Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.


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