LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Rosemont, Ill. — When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany brought up the idea of freshman ineligibility a few months ago, it was widely criticized around college sports.

The "year of readiness," as Delany laid out in a 12-page paper he released in April, didn't exactly have a lot of support outside the Big Ten, or that much inside it, for that matter.

But what became clear over the past three days as the conference wrapped up its spring meetings was that Delany didn't intend for a sweeping change to college athletics. Instead, he simply wanted to get the focus back on academics and how athletics can enhance that experience.

"It is not a proposal. It may never be a proposal," Delany said Wednesday at the Big Ten offices. "But it is a pivot point to have this discussion. There will be those who are supportive of it and there are those who would oppose it. That's not the issue. The issue is whether or not we can have a broad set of national discussions.

"My desired end result is to stimulate a conversation about the primacy of academics. I'm not naive about any proposal. I have no other motive other than to raise the issue of education. If we wanted to make a proposal, we would've made a proposal. We're trying to bring about a focused discussion on education and these two sports."

The conference's athletic directors are firmly behind their commissioner concerning the direction in which he'd like the national discussion to lead.

"I think the greatest thing is, we're talking about academic issues," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "I'm not a proponent of the year of readiness, but I love the fact that our commissioner and our league put it out there, because it's become a lightning rod to discuss academic issues."

For Northwestern's Jim Phillips, who was recently appointed chairman of the NCAA Division I Council, which conducts the daily business of big-school athletics, it's even more important.

"We've gotten to the point where it's time for a timeout," Phillips said. "Everything should be on the table. Nothing is sacred. Let's do the right thing for our student-athletes. To me, as chair of the council, I want to get together with 352 schools across 32 conferences and see what the thoughts are across the broader landscape in Division I."

One of the biggest offshoots from the Big Ten's discussion over the past few days has been what to do about the current 20-hour rule that says players can't put more than 20 hours in at their sport in a particular week.

Even Delany acknowledged that is unrealistic, stating studies show Division I athletes put in upwards of 50 hours a week during their seasons.

"The 20-hour rule is a misnomer," Delany said. "It's such a misnomer it needs a new label. It is obviously at odds with what's actually occurring. It works for some students and teams but not for others."

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez was much more abrupt in his feelings about the rule.

"We should do away with the 20-hour rule," he said. "How do you keep track of it? Come on. Don't have rules you can't enforce. Just like when we took the ban off all food regulation. Hallelujah. Come on. You want to feed them, feed 'em, you know. Let's not make ridiculous rules that you can't follow but be reasonable with your players."

With the push toward focusing on the academic side of the equation, there was plenty of discussion about how to handle the time commitments for athletes, including during the season and in the summer.

Some suggested simply shutting the doors to student-athletes during their off-season.

As Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said, universities could "literally and figuratively lock the gym door."

That way, student-athletes would come closer to having opportunities as other students do, like completing summer internships or studying abroad.

"Hopefully over the next six to nine months we can have this conversation and explore what are the ingredients to allow student-athletes an academic experience that gives them a competitive advantage in the global marketplace," Delany said. " ... If we can't deliver and athletic/academic experience that provides a competitive advantage, then we haven't done everything we can do."

Finding that balance won't be easy, and Delany said it would take a "deep dive" into the issue that would need input from coaches and players.

"(Coaches) have to be in on it and we have to ask them, 'Where can you help us and where can we help you?' " Delany said. "I don't think a solution doesn't include coaches' input and student-athletes' input."

Delany said it won't be easy because plenty of student-athletes will spend their off time working out and opening up more avenues for third-party coaches, something universities have been leery of.

However, he still thinks the potential problems are worth it.

"It's hard to think about a global educational experience that doesn't include an internship and at least the opportunity to study abroad," he said.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE