Any time a guy like Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany starts talking about giving away free money, proceed with caution.
This week, Delany floated the idea of paying college athletes a cost of living stipend to cover the shortfall between the value of a scholarship and general living expenses. (The figure associated with this gap is somewhere on the order of $3,000.)
To no one's surprise, Delany couched the proposal as a move to benefit athletes, and it certainly would. Who couldn't use an extra three grand a year, even if it's a pittance compared to what you probably deserve?
What is surprising is that Delaney would also reveal his ulterior motives in the course of laying out his plan, even if he wrapped them up in a cute little package. See if you can figure out what he really means here:
"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?"
For now, let's put a pin in the concerns of the Leaders and Legends regarding "student-athlete welfare." The more interesting verbiage is the part about a "level playing field." Delany is advocating in no uncertain terms that some schools should operate under different rules than others. There are haves and have-nots, and it's ridiculous to regulate them the same way.
As Barrett Sallee of CollegeFootballNews.com notes, this stipend would draw a fat bright line between college football's power conferences and the rest of the FBS. It's such a sweet solution on a number of levels for the big boys that the Senator wonders why the major players aren't moving faster on it.
Obviously, the Sun Belts and the vast majority of smaller programs simply can't afford to go this route. If this goes through, the non-AQ schools would face the proposition of either attempting to compete with the pay-for-play programs or forming a new D-I subdivision without the stipends.
In effect, the Big Ten's proposal represents a fundamental restructuring of major college football.
As much as the San Jose States of the world don't want to hear it, I'm betting there are plenty of schools currently buried beneath the glass ceiling whose balance sheets would benefit from giving up on the idea of trying to compete with Texas and Florida. (In fact, the idea that Bowling Green and North Texas are truly "competing" with Ohio State and Oklahoma in the current landscape is somewhat of a farce to begin with.)
Yes, their revenue streams would take a hit if a split in the FBS division occurred. Yet, moving down would also take some of the heat off of smaller athletic departments to pour money into their football infrastructure, and they could still bank some decent money off of body bag games with the upper-division schools. Plus, I'd assume some kind of deal could be arranged to keep the March Madness cash cow mooing.
Of course, if you're really feeling cynical, this could all be posturing.
With the ongoing talk in Washington and the press about the inequities of the FBS postseason, isn't it at least possible that Delany and Mike Slive and Dan Beebe and Larry Scott are using the opportunity to remind the non-AQs just who wears the pants in big-time college football?
Like it or not, the little guys need the power programs a helluva lot more than they need them. Floating this idea shows the non-AQs just how easy it would be for the major powers to take their ball and go home, and do so in a palatable way from a public perception standpoint.
In plain English: The non-AQs will take what the power conferences give them, and they'll like it.