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Jim Phillips: "I don't want to be the minor leagues"

Northwestern's athletic director spoke on some key issues facing college athletics.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips called for serious reform Tuesday on various controversial topics facing the NCAA, including freshmen eligibility and college basketball's one-and-done culture, according to a report by ESPN's Mitch Sherman.

Phillips, who was named the new chair of the NCAA Division I Council in February, has seen his influence over college athletics grow over the past 18 months since the Northwestern football players filed for unionization in January 2014.

Unionization is just one of the many controversies in college athletics that fall under the umbrella of student-athlete well-being.

The Big Ten and its commissioner, Jim Delany, have made efforts to change how the NCAA operates, but their suggestions -- most notably the concept of a "year of readiness" for student-athletes -- have drawn harsh criticism. Delany's policy, which Phillips and other Big Ten administrators support, would make freshmen ineligible to play their sport.

"If you're not for a year of readiness and you don't think we should just blanket -- make freshmen ineligible -- then let's have a national discussion about what would be right," Phillips said.

While it is extremely unlikely that anything resembling the "year of readiness" policy gets enacted in the near future, Phillips was adamant, according to Sherman, that the idea has done a great job of stimulating debates about how college athletics should change.

Part of the argument for this policy, though, is the one-and-done culture in college hoops. Obviously that trend doesn't really effect Northwestern, but Phillips, along with many others, are openly against it.

"Shame on us," Phillips said. "We've allowed the National Basketball Association to dictate what our rules are, or influence what our rules are at the collegiate level."

The "rules" Phillips speaks of are important for the NCAA's version of what constitutes productive reform. Administrators largely feel that major college sports have become too closely tied to professional leagues. The one-and-done culture is just one example. Although it may sound silly, Phillips and others continue to harp on the idea of "amateurism" as the most important aspect in college athletics.

Because of the influence from professional leagues, Phillips sees the direction the NCAA has been heading as a dangerous one.

"What do we want the experience to be?" Phillips said. "Personally speaking, I don't want to be the minor leagues. I cringe that we're considered and that people look at us that way.

"We've allowed it to get to this position. So now, we are at a very important point for us to make some hard but decisive decisions about what the future of college athletics is going to be."

Calling college athletics the "minor leagues" has been a common refrain for officials, as it elicits the absence of an education, something on which the NCAA prides itself.

So Phillips wants change. That much is clear.

"Why have we accepted that?" Phillips asked. "Why have we just allowed that to happen without any pushback?"

But, like so many others, he seems to ask the same questions that all hold the same answers. The question of why major athletic programs haven't fought back against what has turned them, essentially, into "minor leagues" isn't a difficult one to answer. Just look at the revenues these schools bring in, the salaries administrators like Phillips and coaches receive, the admissions boosts schools enjoy when their sports teams rise to national prominence.

It's a simple process: colleges are seen as the best way to become a professional athlete > the best athletes play sports in college > the product quality increases > people watch the games, buy merchandise, etc. > $$$.

It's all about the money. And that's never changing.