Big Ten looking at having freshmen sit out

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Prior to 1972, freshmen in college football and basketball were not eligible to compete.

Nearly 43 years later, some conferences — the Big Ten included — are wondering if they should go back to those days, forcing freshmen in the two biggest college sports to sit out a year before being able to play.

The Pac-12 has already discussed the idea and now the Big Ten is getting feedback from its 14-member institutions on the idea.

For Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, it's an issue worth talking about but he's not in the position to fully endorse the idea of keeping freshmen from playing their first year.

"Anytime you have dialogue on an issue I think it is a good thing," Hollis said. "That does not necessarily mean that I would support a blanket freshmen ineligibility process. But I think a conversation needs to take place with current and recently former student-athletes about their opportunity to pursue a degree."

While some would point at a move toward freshmen ineligibility as a way to simply keep athletes from heading to the professional level earlier, Hollis was quick to point out that universities must stick to their core values.

"I think what has to come out loud and clear is that the core value of what we're to deliver to student-athletes is an opportunity to get a degree and a chance at a great life," he said. "That's true of any student-athlete that we bring on campus.

"I do think we need to continue to look at how can we use college sports as an educational model and make it even stronger. I understand the public and some positioning will argue back college championship game, will argue back Final Four, which are critical of the athletic side but happens for very few teams and very few student-athletes. We have to make sure what we're doing in this business is in the best interest of all student-athletes on all teams, on all campuses and I think it's good that we're having these conversations. That does not necessarily lead me to say I think it's a good idea to have freshmen ineligibility."

While the discussion the Big Ten is having revolved around football and men's basketball, Hollis emphasized that he is focused on all student-athletes. He even likened it to his days as a student at Michigan State. Hollis didn't take a job as a freshman but by the time he was a junior he had three full-time jobs, including being a manager for Jud Heathcote's basketball team.

"It's a difficult transition no matter where you come from, to go from high school and your family home to the independence and rigors of a college campus. It's a tough transition," he said. "We've got 50,000 kids on campus and I'm directly concerned with 800, but I'm really concerned with all 50,000 and how you make that transition best for them.

"I think we need to look at these things on a case by case basis in some ways, maybe a little more structured than what is done today with the redshirt process, but not as structured as a blanket freshmen ineligibility position. Maybe something in the middle that is sort of hybrid of both that makes a little more sense."

There are certainly issues that would arise with freshmen being ineligible, and the NFL and NBA players unions objecting is just one.

"Yeah I think with anything you have unintended consequences," he said. "You can look at many of the actions that could occur from the NBA and NFL standpoint, and you can look at the impact it will have with institutions in having to carry those scholarship commitments out potentially over multiple years. That would be an increase in expenses.

"You can take a look at the phenomenon of the one-and-done and what is it going to do with one side as far as the decision to go to college, but if a student-athlete is truly a one-and-done and is using college basketball in a non-educational manner it becomes a two-year commitment versus a one-year commitment both from resources financially and resources from an academic support area."

However it plays out, Hollis continues to see himself as an educator, something that comes from being the son of a former teach and school administrator.

And he wants to be sure the well-being of all student-athletes is the focus.

"We have to answer the question, is this an educational pursuit or is this a semi-professional farm system for professional sports?" he said. "We have to stick to the core of what we believe we are. … I got in this business for the educational side, but I also celebrate those that have the physical skills to get a role as professional athlete."

Michigan officials could not be reached for comment.