The Big Ten is considering doing something unthinkable with some of the $20 million a year in TV revenue that every school's athletic program generates: Giving cash to student-athletes.
No, I'm not talking about under the table at Ohio State. I'm talking about above-board payments for every athlete at all 12 Big Ten schools.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN that the conference discussed it in a meeting in Chicago this week, and that he thinks it's a natural step to take, given the realities of the way college athletics have grown.
"Forty years ago, you had a scholarship plus $15 a month laundry money," Delany said. "Today, you have the same scholarship, but not with the $15 laundry money. How do we get back more toward the collegiate model and a regulatory system that is based more on student-athlete welfare than it is on a level playing field, where everything is about a cost issue and whether or not everybody can afford to do everything everybody else can do?"
Delany is right that the current regulatory system in the NCAA doesn't make student-athlete welfare its highest priority, but what's fascinating about the idea of paying players -- the figure being thrown around is $3,000 per athlete per year -- is whether the NCAA would allow the Big Ten to do it, and what it would mean if Big Ten athletes were getting money that athletes at other schools didn't get.
If a football recruit is choosing between Illinois and Missouri, or choosing between Iowa and Iowa State, or choosing between Michigan and Notre Dame, is he going to be more likely to pick the Big Ten school because he'd be able to get $3,000 in spending money a year that he wouldn't get at the other school?
And if $3,000 wouldn't be the difference, what about $10,000? What about $100,000? What about offering bonuses for becoming All-Big Ten, or All-American? Where would we draw the line?
These are versions of the same questions that come up every time the subject of paying college athletes comes up, and no one ever seems to have an answer that satisfies everyone. And the fact that the answers always seem so unsatisfactory is why I seriously doubt the Big Ten is actually going to start giving money to student-athletes beyond the room, board, tuition and other benefits that student-athletes already get.
But if the Big Ten could find a way to start paying athletes, that would be a game-changer in "amateur" college athletics.