CHICAGO – Three months from Wednesday will mark the first day of Kevin Warren’s tenure as the new commissioner of the Big Ten conference, replacing the outbound Jim Delany. That made Delany’s press conference at the Big Ten’s men’s basketball media day one of his last public appearances as one of the most powerful individuals in college athletics and his time at the podium drew an obvious clash between his career-defining achievement (the creation of the money-printing Big Ten Network) and his outdated views towards the future of college athletics.
Three of the four questions Delany was asked at the dais were related to the growing momentum of state-specific legislation that is being proposed nationally in light of California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing California Senate Bill 206, commonly known as the Fair Pay to Play Act.
“We’re not the minor leagues,” said Delany, who received $5.5 million in total compensation in 2018 and oversaw a conference that saw roughly $759 million in revenue last fiscal year, according to USA Today.
“We’re involved in an enterprise that touches 100,000 players, and maybe there’s one percent or two percent that may have commercial value, but I would prefer that they have the choice to move that into the professional ranks, because I really don’t see much difference myself between name, image and likeness payments by a corporate sponsor or pay for play.”
First off, there’s a sharp contrast between name, image and likeness compensation and pay for play.
Third-party payments wouldn’t come from the Big Ten’s precious nine-figure annual revenue, roughly $54 million of which was given to each of the conference’s 14 member institutions last fiscal year.
Maybe if Delany actually read the Fair Pay to Play Act he’d understand the difference.
“I’ve read about the bill,” Delany said. “I haven’t read the bill itself.”
Secondly, Delany’s one-to-two percent estimation of collegiate athletes with commercial value feels off-base, at least anecdotally.
Just ask former Indiana men’s basketball player Tim Priller, who was on scholarship in Bloomington from 2014 until 2018, scoring just 26 career points in 71 combined minutes across 35 games.
Priller occasionally trended on Twitter when the “Human Victory Cigar,” as some called him, checked into a game in which the Hoosiers were putting the finishing touches on a lopsided victory.
During his college career, a local bar once made t-shirts that read “It’s Priller time,” a play on Miller’s “It’s Miller time” slogan, and the shirt featured his No. 35 jersey number, but the marketing ploy was unsurprisingly shut down.
In the not-too-distant future, a student-athlete will likely be able to be paid for such a promotion.
“There’s no 13th man that ever has had such marketability in the entire timeframe of college athletics than Tim Priller,” Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller, said, laughing. “I mean, seriously, [IU radio voice] Don Fischer is here; there’s never been a player that I have ever run into that could capitalize more than he could. That’s a credit to him. He’s an unbelievable guy.”
“Ten years from now, Tim Priller will be telling his kids, ‘I was way ahead of my time,'” Fischer said. “‘I could’ve made a lot of money.'”
“You know what, without question,” Miller said, “if you ever looked at the name, image and likeness of a person to be able to market themself, that guy right there, he just wasn’t at the right time.
“He’s going to look back in 2027 and say, ‘I could’ve been a millionaire.'”
It was face-to-face conversations like the one with Miller in the back of the room at Big Ten Media Day — not at the front of the room where multi-million-dollar men spoke into a microphone on a podium — where you could peel back the layers and learn the real story of who stands to benefit from student-athletes gaining control of their name, image and likeness rights.
It would benefit players like Ohio State’s C.J. Walker, who has a daughter for whom he needs to provide, and Iowa’s Luka Garza, who said he’s had his credit card get declined in the final days of the month before his next stipend check arrives.
“I can definitely say that once I get towards the end of the month before that next stipend check, my card’s getting declined,” Garza revealed. “You definitely go through your fair share of struggles. You got to pay rent, you got to pay a lot of different things. I bought a car, so I’ve been paying that off as well, so when you look at all these things, it would be nice to have a little bit more just to be a little bit more comfortable and not worried about all the type of stuff.
“Any amount would probably help me out.”
Surely, a 30-game starter like Garza who averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for an NCAA Tournament team could qualify for a local, if not regional, endorsement deal.
When asked, hypothetically, for a local establishment he could envision himself being a corporate sponsor for, Nebraska guard Cam Mack named the restaurant Buzzard Billy’s, “one of the greatest spots in Lincoln.”
Minnesota’s Michael Hurt suggested “one of the local restaurants that’s not a chain. Maybe like Tony’s Diner, he does a lot of catering for us.”
These are realistic possibilities in a near future that features a version of the Fair Pay to Play Act in each state (or a similar federal law) and most student-athletes are smart enough to know they wouldn’t be worth a six-figure deal from a major shoe company.
Listen to Maryland guard Darryl Morsell’s daily schedule and you’ll probably agree with Garza’s assessment of his monthly financial situation that a little extra cash could go a long way.
Morsell usually wakes up by 7 a.m., maybe 7:30 at the latest. He has a workout then class from 8:30 a.m. to noon. From noon until 3 p.m., it’s back to practice. After practice, he and his teammates stay in the gym to get extra shots up.
After practice, he’s focused on recovery — things like cold tubs. Then it’s back to class, then back to the gym, spending more time shooting late at night to hone his craft.
“It’s definitely a long day,” Morsell said. “You gotta find your spots to take care of your body, manage your time. It’s a full-time job.”
Now what’s so bad about Morsell or any other college athlete going to the free market and getting paid however much the market says they’re worth?
And remember what Garza said — “Any amount would probably help me out” — before you laugh off a one-time, couple-hundred-dollar payday for an autograph signing or a small endorsement deal with a local establishment.
Hurt says a couple grand could make a student-athlete’s day-to-day life significantly better. “That would definitely just make the overall year a lot easier,” Hurt remarked.
The Hurt family is an interesting hypothetical test case for name, image and likeness compensation because his younger brother, Matthew, was a 2019 five-star recruit who’s enrolled as a freshman at Duke.
“There are a lot of places like Duke or Michigan State or a lot of different places where it definitely would be very viable for players to have a source of income,” the older Hurt said.
His coach, Minnesota’s Richard Pitino, expressed arguably the most realistic, pro-student-athlete, forward-thinking opinion of any coach in the room on Wednesday.
“You know what, not everybody is going to get paid the same,” Pitino told Stadium. “Tom Izzo makes more than me. He should make more than me. That’s the way the world works.”
“I think it’s a great lesson in reality. It’s not all equal. Life isn’t fair. So go find a way to earn yours.”