- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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I'm currently driving around Michigan, getting a close-up look at the Wolverines and Spartans this spring. I still found a little time during my Mitten State adventure to answer a few of your emails in this shortened mailbag. Keep those questions coming, and I'll try to do a longer one on Wednesday.
Iowatvman from Cedar Rapids writes: With the vote to allow players to unionize, how does this affect Title IX at the universities? Now that they have to pay out for football, which pays for many other sports, will women's rowing, wrestling, men's and women's gynmastics, etc. go by the wayside?
Brian Bennett: It's important to note that the ruling by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board applies only to Northwestern football players, and it specifically dealt with issues at a private university. Also, Kain Colter and CAPA have stressed that they didn't push for unionization in order to receive salaries. They have said they're looking for the right to bargain for their practice and living conditions and receive medical care protections, not to get paid.
Still, you'd have to think that eventually any college players' union would get around to asking for a bit more of the financial pie, and even some of the medical benefits the Northwestern effort seeks would cost money. There seems to be little reason why a non-revenue sport at Northwestern or another private school also couldn't petition for a union and use this ruling as a precedent, especially because those athletes also spend so much time working on their sports. And then what happens? It's clear that there are a whole lot more questions than answers right now on this union story, but it is fascinating.
Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Regarding your mention about Dan Wetzel's article revealing that Gene Smith received an $18K bonus for his victory (uh, I mean a wrestler's victory) in the NCAA wrestling championships, maybe you should rephrase your comment to read, "that tells you everything you need to know about OSU sports." In mentioning other examples of gross exploitation, Wetzel didn't name any other B1G school. Did Dave Joyner receive an extra bonus for having two national champions, as well as the team championship in wrestling? Are there other B1G schools whose AD gets similar bonuses? I would venture to say that there are probably bonus clauses in all of their contracts, as are also in coaching contracts. But I wonder if they are comparable to Smith's freebies that he gets for not doing one damn thing to earn it. Not to mention his obscene salary.
Brian Bennett: Glenn, I can assure you that these types of bonuses -- not just for championships but things like NCAA tournament berths and academic benchmarks -- are commonplace in athletic directors' contracts all across Division I. Smith is by no means alone when it comes to those bonuses, and as the CEO of one of the largest athletic departments in the country at Ohio State, his salary is commensurate with the demands and marketplace. I have absolutely no problem with Smith negotiating the very best deal he could get, just as any of us would do. But at a time when athletes are suing the NCAA over the use of their images for a video game, or when the cost-of-attendance stipend can't get passed, or when players are going so far as to unionize to protect their own rights, that bonus simply doesn't look good.
Kenny from Cincy writes: Almost baseball season, and your Cards are going down this year. I have a simple question, yes or no, because this seams to be the Big Ten's main question ... Is this Ohio State's year?
Brian Bennett: How dare you besmirch the birds on the bat. Vengeance will be swift. Anyway, I'm not quite sure what you mean by whether it's "their year" for the Buckeyes. I'm going to assume you mean a national championship, or at least a a College Football Playoff berth, because a Big Ten title isn't unexpected in Columbus (though it would actually be Urban Meyer's first). Ohio State has a lot of questions, which include four new starters on the offensive line, unproven backs and receivers and a defense that needs to make a major improvement without its two best players from 2013 (Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby). For me, those are too many questions to consider the Buckeyes a legitimate national title contender at this point. But as usual, they will have at least as much overall talent, if not more than everybody in the Big Ten. I trust in Meyer and his coaching staff. And having a great quarterback like Braxton Miller goes a long way. So I'm sure as heck not counting them out.
Arik from Chicago writes: I always find the back and forth on whether Maryland coming to the B1G is good for this side or that side, for this reason or that. Often the answer seems to come to this: The B1G gets a good market, Maryland gets a pile of money. I thought I'd share my thoughts as a double Terp (undergrad and grad school). Here's what won me over: the Big Ten Committee on Institutional Cooperation. As important as sports are to me, other than the money, the competition will probably stay about the same -- in the last decade, we've shown we're capable of beating or losing to just about any team at any time, no matter how good or bad a season either side is having. Now in academics, the B1G (with the CIC) has something unique that the ACC just can't offer. But the B1G wins, too -- bringing in a public ivy with huge research agreements with dozens of national and federal institutions (DoD, NOAA, NASA, FDA, NIST...) can't hurt.
Brian Bennett: Arik, you make some good points about the academic side of things here. Adding Maryland and Rutgers to the mix only adds to the league's brain power, and administrators from those schools are excited about the new research opportunities. Of course, football and demographics drove the train with this expansion move, or else the Big Ten would have been looking to raid the actual Ivy League, not the Atlantic Coast and American Athletic conferences.
13hJosh Moyer and Dan Murphy