Let's be fair to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany: When Delany speaks in this USA Today article on the problems plaguing major college athletics and the potential "fundamental changes" (to use Delany's Big 12 counterpart Dan Beebe's term) that might result, he's clearly not expecting the NCAA's power conferences to secede from the current model:
"Don't blame structure," Delany says, "until you have a group of core presidents, athletic directors, commissioners and coaches who are willing to embrace real change" and are shot down.That's a lot of people to all wrangle onto the same page. But if that "group" is "shot down"?
"At that juncture," he says, "then I think it's fair to look at how else you get it."Delany's not spelling it out, but he doesn't have to. "How else you get it" means one thing and one thing only: taking the Big Ten's (and the SEC's and Pac-12's and I guess the Big 12's and ACC's) ball and going home to a post-NCAA college athletics superleague.
And if that first quote indicates that (as the USA Today writes) that kind of split isn't yet "on the agenda," it's not that difficult to see that kind of consortium coming together over Delany's full-cost scholarship proposal. Those kinds of athlete stipends already have wide-ranging support (including, critically, from the SEC's Mike Slive) and are seen by many as one possible antidote to the improper benefits scandals that have given college football the black eye it's sported the last several months.
If Delany and his "group" champion those scholarships as a way to help clean up the sport, only for the non-AQ schools of Division I (which outnumber the AQ schools more than four-to-one and may vote to protect their men's basketball interests) to veto it in the name of competitive balance, then what? It seems as if this would be the exact excuse Delany would be looking for to "look at how else" college athletics might be managed.
Of course, these kinds of discussions are still off in the relatively distant future, and a NCAA split remains the nuclear option even Delany and Slive will likely take great pains to avoid deploying. But that Delany is already using that threat as a kind of posturing -- potentially to suggest to the rest of the NCAA membership that it should fall in line -- suggests that whatever deliberations and debates will surround full-cost scholarships and other sweeping reform measures, don't expect them to progress smoothly.