Bernstein: The Big Ten’s Awful Idea

By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(CBS) Now we have a better idea what Big Ten officials do behind closed doors in their strategic-planning meetings. Some of them lick the lead paint of the walls, others are huffing industrial solvents, and the rest are using the conference room table to snort lines of bath salts.

That’s the only rational explanation for the conference deciding to study the idea of freshman ineligibility for football and men’s basketball.

They really are, and proudly, with no sense of irony or absurdist humor. It’s with nothing but high-minded educational concern that they may want to turn the clocks back to 1972, when the old rule was last in place. The student newspaper at the University of Maryland had the story — that Big Ten leadership is trying to get member schools to back the idea and begin a “national discussion.”

There’s nothing to discuss, despite what Maryland President Wallace Loh declared to The Diamondback from his ivory tower perch.

“It puts right up front the basic issue,” he said. “Are we basically a quasi-professional activity or primarily an educational activity? And if you support it, you are basically saying very clearly the number one priority is the education of the students.”

What’s so ridiculous is that rhetorical question has been answered and settled. For football and basketball, Wallace, you are basically a quasi-professional activity, if not entirely so. The very fact that your college is even part of the conference in the first place is the existence of something called the Big Ten Network, which by broadcasting those sports will soon be making $44.5 million per year, PER SCHOOL. The freshmen recruited to play for these teams are the new lifeblood of the programs and the programming. Not that the athletes get to share in any of the revenue they generate, of course.

Coaches in many states are the highest-paid public employee within the borders for that very reason, and it’s perfectly understandable. They pay the freight for everything else in the athletic department and more.

The document is titled “A Year of Readiness,” as if these old, white men are in any position to determine who is trying to prepare for what. Many of the big, tall, fast kids recruited to that campus are getting ready for something other than a degree, merely utilizing the truest available professional feeder system. To paternalistically define what’s best for their readiness is both laughable and insulting, as the players are expected to dedicate themselves fully to the sport that brings them there, pulled away from classes by games, practices, workouts and demanding travel schedules in a commitment to their craft that looks a whole lot like the “quasi-professional” activity it is.

Of all conferences, the filthy-rich Big Ten should know how hypocritical and tone-deaf it appears trying to get the magic sports genie back into the bottle. POOF! There’s a big bag of cash. ZAP! Another one! ZING! More wishes for more big bags of cash, provided by a controlled labor force that essentially works for free!

But they just want what’s best for the kids, of course.

Graduation rates for football and basketball are around 75 percent, which is troublesome to those who put this document together for the purpose of assessing “the health of the educational experience.” What they fail to understand is that many in that other 25 percent aren’t there for the same experience sought by others, and trying to enforce that path on them while delaying their athletic development and exposure would be just the latest injustice piled on players already being exploited by schools, conferences and the NCAA cartel.

This is a shockingly bad proposal, one that further demeans athletes by making condescending decisions about their interests that smack of discrimination. Real players are there to play, and to pretend not to know that is a joke.

Professional educators should be expected to be smarter than this.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Boers and Bernstein Show” in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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