Bob Asmussen: Beckman caught in tough spot
Tim Beckman can talk for hours about defensive schemes, personnel groups and recruiting strategies.
But ask the Illinois coach about potential reforms in college athletics and the answers become muted.
Though a youthful 49, Beckman is an old-school coach with old-school beliefs.
A former walk-on, first at Kentucky and later at Findlay, Beckman had to pay his own way.
“We took out a couple loans,” Beckman said.
As players try to unionize and sue to control their image rights, coaches are put in a difficult situation. Somewhere between Grange Rock and a hard place.
They want their players to feel good about themselves and their schools. They want their players to be able to deal financially with an emergency. They want their players to have the same opportunities given to any member of the student body.
“These are your children,” Beckman said. “If you really talk about family, these are your sons. It was always taught to me as being about student-athlete welfare. Making sure your athletes have every opportunity they can possibly have to make themselves better.”
But, the coaches don’t want them to be paid. Neither do the college leaders.
“I love the way the game is now,” Beckman said. “That’s why I wouldn’t want to change the game or the atmosphere around it. Our players are blessed to get an education here from Illinois.”
On Tuesday, Big Ten chancellors and presidents addressed the idea of reform in college athletics. They vow to make it better without the complication of salaries. Reward only football and men’s basketball players and there will be great damage to the rest of the sports. Seems right.
Beckman’s biggest concerns moving forward are twofold. First, he wants to maintain the current access he has to his players.
“I think our kids do like the time together with us,” Beckman said. “Our opportunities to go out there with them, like we are this summer, that’s never been done before. I think our kids love that. As long as we’re not abusing it. If it’s two hours, it’s two hours. You, as a coach, have to realize they want to get away from you, too. My job is to make sure our players understand that they are wanted and they are cared for.”
And he wants the schools to be on a level playing field. If a particular league or team can provide more for an athlete than Illinois, it will create an unfair advantage. The rules need to be the same for all.
“It’s got to be,” Beckman said. “Just to make it balanced.”
The Big Ten leaders pledged to honor scholarships beyond the collegiate careers of athletes. Academic success has been an important piece of Beckman’s program.
“The standards we hold for our football players now, we know that it makes them better,” Beckman said.
Bob Asmussen writes three columns a week for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.