Why Proposed Freshman Ineligibility Rule Would Be Worse for Notre Dame

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterFebruary 27, 2015

Jim Delany, Big Ten Commissioner,  speaks with reporters at the NCAA's Autonomy Business Session during the final day of the NCAA Convention in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. The five most powerful and wealthiest conferences in college sports passed NCAA legislation that increases the value of an athletic scholarship by several thousand dollars to cover the federally determined actual cost of attendance. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Cliff Owen/Associated Press

The Big Ten wants freshmen to stay on the sideline.

Just months after the Big Ten won back a large bit of respect on the field with Ohio State's national championship, conference commissioner Jim Delany's "year of readiness" proposal is creating shockwaves across the college sports world. 

Calling on "a diverse group of thought leaders" in a released statement, the conference is exploring the idea of forcing freshmen from competition in basketball and football with the hopes of stressing the importance of academics.

"We're trying to figure out a way to communicate the idea that education comes before athletics," Delany told the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine.

Here's a novel idea, Jim:

Just do it. 

It doesn't take a group of thought leaders to figure out that Delany's proposal is pretty much the empire striking back.

After lawsuits by Ed O'Bannon and others and calls for unionization coming from Northwestern football players within his own conference, Delany's radical proposal would have all sorts of unintended consequences if it somehow gained consensus across collegiate athletics. 

Joe Raymond/Associated Press

And it would be very bad for Notre Dame. 

No, the Irish wouldn't miss out on the one-and-done athletes who have always been allergic to Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.

And while Brian Kelly's ability to recruit among the elite in the country would be somewhat nullified, the on-field impact of forcing standouts like Jaylon Smith and Nyles Morgan to sit a season would be far less painful than bottom-feeding Big Ten coaches promising early playing time, just like Jim Harbaugh is likely doing in Ann Arbor. 

Rather, forcing freshmen off the field or court would take away one of the very best calling cards Notre Dame has: the ability to actually provide an exceptional experience as both a student and an athlete. 

Notre Dame isn't the only university doing it. Stanford is. So is Duke. So are some of Delany's own schools, with Northwestern the standard-bearer for the conference. 

So while Delany's proposal might serve as a counter to the legal maneuvering that's threatening to radically alter collegiate sports as we know it (viewed by most as an entirely good thing), it's also the essence of a "lower the bar" mentality that would all but concede failure and acknowledge schools' inability to self-police in the NCAA's two major revenue-driving sports.

(Delany's making Gary Andersen's run from Wisconsin over admissions standards look heroic.)

From a strictly academic standpoint, that's what's so maddening about Delany's proposal. Instead of putting faith in student-athletes that they can work their way through a university in four years while also playing football or basketball, Delany's essentially throwing up his arms in defeat. 

That Presidential Physical Fitness Test too hard in grade school? The Delany approach removes pull-ups and lets you win an Arnold Schwarzenegger-signed certificate if you can crack a 10-minute mile. 

Talk about a tone-deaf message from one of the power brokers within an organization that's spent years bragging about student-athletes' ability to go pro in something other than sports.

If Delany is looking for a way to make this work, he could fill his gas tank and take the 90-minute drive to South Bend. I'm guessing athletic director Jack Swarbrick could spare a few minutes.

No doubt, Irish fans like to crow about their school's achievements both on and off the court. And Notre Dame isn't the only school to show that balancing academics and athletics is a war worth fighting.

But while most laughed about the Irish's lopsided defeat to Alabama in the BCS title game after their undefeated 2012 regular season, not nearly enough people applauded Notre Dame's even rarer victory that season. 

Joe Raymond/Associated Press

Notre Dame closed the regular season ranked No. 1 in the BCS poll and No. 1 in the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate. There's proof you can do it right there, Jim.   

Of course, there's no reason to take what Delany's selling at face value. After all, this proposal is coming from the very people who have been protecting the hypocrisy of amateurism for decades all while watching the conference rake in millions. 

Whether they've done it on the record or off of it (just ask Gordon Gee about the Big Ten Network, conference expansion, etc.), Delany's comments reek of a larger motive.

"We don't want to be perceived and don't want to be a minor leagues for the NBA and NFL," Delany said.

Then don't be. But leave the kids alone already. 

You can care about the college in college athletics while also separating yourself from being a breeding ground or feeder system. And the NCAA hasn't even had a chance to see if its current solution—passed in 2012 and being put into effect in 2016—will work. 

Forgot about that one? Well, it's essentially the kind of common-sense proposal that does everything Delany says he wants to do but doesn't punish elite athletes forced by the NFL and NBA to spend time in college. 

"We want to give young people a fair chance to meet the new standards by taking core academic courses early in their high school education," NCAA Board Chair Judy Genshaft, president at South Florida, said way back in April of 2012. "The presidents have every confidence that future student-athletes will do the work necessary to be academically successful in college."

Maybe Delany is worried he doesn't have until 2016 to beat back the courts and the lawsuits breathing down the NCAA's neck. Or maybe—and let's give the guy some credit here—he actually does think that making a radical change like this could help improve graduation rates in basketball and football. 

But so would some self-discipline. 

So forcing freshmen off the field or court because it worked from the late 1800s until 1971 is bad math. You know what else didn't exist back then either? Mega-million-dollar TV deals or coaches making $5 million a season.

If you're looking for a correlation, take dead aim at that one—the one created by Delany and his cronies. 

High school athletes have never been more prepared for the rigors of their sport than they are today, with year-round training and coaching just part of the work prospective student-athletes commit themselves to in their pursuit of a free education and the chance to play sports professionally. 

While Notre Dame's academic issues the past two offseasons have shined an unkind light on the football program, it's also the product of holding student-athletes to the same standard as students who don't play sports.   

Take note, Jim. 

So let's give that a try before taking away opportunities for young athletes who spent the first 18 years of their lives working to be ready for college—some just as diligently in the classroom as on the field of play. 

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