- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) - Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany insisted he is all for empowering college athletes and improving conditions for them.

When it comes to forming a union, he’s just as adamant - that’s not the way to go. And he thinks the public agrees with him.

“When I read the polls, whether it’s the ‘Meet the Press’ poll or the ABC/Stephanopoulos poll, 70 percent of the people don’t want to see unions on college campuses for college athletes,” he said. “Seventy percent of the people don’t want to see pay for play. Seventy percent of the people don’t want to see these things operated as minor league franchises.”

Delany spoke Wednesday after wrapping up two days of meetings with Big Ten athletic and academic administrators.

The discussions focused on the conference’s expansion east with Maryland and Rutgers along with the reform and restructuring of the college landscape as a potential game-changing decision on unionizing looms in the background.

The Northwestern football team was given the go-ahead to unionize by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in March and voted last month on whether to form one. The ballots were sealed pending an appeal by the school and a possible court fight.

One thing athletes and administrators seem to agree on is that there’s room for improvement when it comes to issues that affect players, such as benefits and health care.

The NCAA’s board of directors endorsed a proposal to give schools in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC more power to address such issues, including adding the full cost-of-attendance in scholarships, expanded health insurance, more academic and career counseling and providing money for athletes’ families to attend NCAA tournament events.

“We want to see 65 institutions represented, we want to see a significant number of student-athletes with voice in vote,” Delany said.

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said the athletes’ involvement “has to be more than a token engagement.”

Other issues that Delany touched on included the possibility of moving the football championship game out of Indianapolis, the switch to a nine-game schedule for football and whether there were any second thoughts about admitting Rutgers.

While the Big Ten is looking to solidify its footprint in the east by holding the 2017 men’s basketball tournament in Washington, it looks like the conference will stick to its Midwest roots when it comes to football.

Delany indicated the championship game will remain in a central location but did not commit to Indianapolis beyond 2015. The game has been held at Lucas Oil Stadium since its inception in 2011 and will be played there the next two years. Delany said an announcement about future football championship games and basketball tournaments will be made after the league presidents meet in June.

“A central location would be the presumption,” he said.

As for the switch from eight league games to nine for football in 2016, Delany said there were several reasons. The biggest is that as a larger conference, schools wanted to play more games against each other - whether there was a playoff system or not. He also said fans and players were in favor and that strength of schedule also played into it. The new format could also pose some scheduling headaches.

“The issue with nine is inventory,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. “If you’re trying to schedule all Division I schools, the inventory is questionable. People don’t want to go home-and-home. When you try to stay at seven games at home, it’s very difficult to do that the year that you have four Big Ten games at home. There are some issues.”

When it comes to Rutgers, Delany insisted there’s no buyer’s remorse despite the negative headlines the past year or so.

The most recent has quarterback Philip Nelson charged with two counts of assault in a weekend fight in Minnesota that left Isaac Kolstad, 24, critically injured. Nelson was dismissed from the program on Tuesday.

That’s just the latest incident on a list that includes former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice getting caught on camera physically and verbally attacking his players. The school’s president along with athletic director Julie Hermann, who declined to speak to reporters, also have come under criticism.

“When I go to Jersey, I go to New York, I go to support, not to judge,” Delany said. “Boards of trustees, they’re fully capable of handling personnel matters. The Big Ten really does not get involved in personnel matters at the athletic director, coach, presidential level.”

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