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Highlights from “A Blurred Line: Issues Surrounding the Transition from Amateur to Professional Status in Sports”

March 04, 2014

By Angela Hooks C’14

On Friday, February 28, the Commissioner of the Big 10 Athletic Conference, Jim Delany, shared his insight on college athletics and its role in professional sports as the keynote speaker of Penn Law Sports Law’s inaugural symposium, “A Blurred Line: Issues Surrounding the Transition from Amateur to Professional Status in Sports.”

Delany, a former college athlete and law school graduate, has led the Big 10 Athletic Conference for the past 25 years. Under his leadership, the Big Ten has excelled in creating broad-based programming and innovation, as well as ensuring student-athlete welfare and gender equity.

In front of a packed Fitts Auditorium, Delany spoke about the many challenges currently facing the NCAA. One such challenge is  the role of college in an athlete’s pursuit of a professional sports career. Calling out the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, and the NHL, Delany said, “We’re not your minor leagues. We may be a de facto minor league, but that’s not what our mission is.”

He explained that the NCAA wants to provide access to college, to act as an opportunity engine for student athletes to further their education, as well as excel in their sport of choice. The NCAA is not for athletes who have no interest in college or for those who are not academically ready for higher education.

Yet, in acknowledging the ways in which college athletics provide access, Delany acknowledged the ways in which college athletics exploit students. There is a small percentage of student athletes who do not want to be in college or who are not academically ready who are accepted because of the NCAA’s role as a de facto minor league.

“We need to look at this in a more honest way,” Delany said, “It doesn’t mean we can’t be an opportunity engine, but what it does mean is that there are some people who aren’t ready. But with a year of readiness, they could be ready.”

Delany expressed his belief that a solution to this is to give students choice. College should not be the only channel towards professional careers. In Delany’s view, “Young people should have choice, and there is nothing wrong with Darrell Dawkins, Kobe Bryant, or anybody going from high school to professional sports, and we shouldn’t get in their way. We should make the case for college athletics and the individual should be able to choose.”

He extended this idea of choice to NCAA’s rules for students, saying that student athletes should have choices and a voice in the creation of NCAA rules and regulations that are going to affect whether they can go abroad junior year, get an internship, or afford college.

For full press coverage, photos, and tweets from the entire day-long symposium, visit Penn Law’s Tumblr.