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Big Ten talks union, expansion

– 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.

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.

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

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.