Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is in his last year on the job, and today was the last time he kicked off B1G Media Days.
The commish spoke about his 31-year tenure on the job, the college football playoff, and about the future of the conference.
Jim Delany Big Ten Media Day Transcript
JIM DELANY: Good morning, and welcome to the 48th media session of the Kickoff Luncheon. As you know, Wayne Duke, my predecessor, who passed away March 29, 2017, originated this concept in 1971, so this is the 48th, and this is my 31st, so I’d like to recognize him this morning.
Recently, on June 4, 2019, our Council of Presidents identified our sixth Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren. Kevin is a smart, experienced executive, lots of NFL and legal experience. He’s also a former student-athlete. He’s a parent of a couple student-athletes. But importantly, just based on my short interaction with Kevin and talking to the other people who know him well, your sixth commissioner of the Big Ten is going to be a great leader for this conference.
He’ll come to work with us on September 16. We’ll work side by side through September, October, November and December, and then my last day will be January 1. And later in the afternoon of January 1, Kevin will become the sixth commissioner of the Big Ten. Everybody is really excited about the identification of Kevin and really excited from our partners to our internal group. Our athletic directors and faculty look forward to working with him.
We also have another leader in our midst, Francois McGillicuddy, the new president of the Big Ten Network, joined us in January to replace Mark Silverman, and Francois and I have been working closely together. I think you’ll find him to be, again, smart, a good leader, accessible, candid, and expect great things from Francois going forward.
I want to mention you. Many of you have been here for many years, some many decades. I appreciate your coverage of the Big Ten. It’s been thorough and fair. I’ve been treated fairly. You’ve got an important role to play in the coverage of intercollegiate athletics, much of which is good, some of which is not so good. But I do appreciate each one of you. You’ve been working in an evolving and changing environment. You’ve had to adjust and adapt. And I just want to recognize you for what you’ve done for intercollegiate athletics, for the Conference, and for the institutions that provide the opportunities for 10,000 young people every year.
It’s been a great run for me, an opportunity to serve one of the great conferences in the country, 14 great undergraduate research institutions, providing educational opportunities for men and women. I’m particularly proud of the fact that in 1989 we had a lot of progress to make, and we’ve made that progress. We were 75 percent male, 25 percent female. We set upon a course and an action, purposeful, and today we’re roughly 50/50, depending upon the year that you’re measuring. But these are best-in-class educational opportunities in the classroom and on the fields and courts. I’m excited that I was part of that change, and I worked with many others to make it happen.
Partnerships are powerful. I don’t think I realized how important partnerships were before coming to work here. But whether it’s the internal partnerships among athletic directors and faculty, presidents and coaches in the Conference office, or whether it’s the external partnerships, starting with the Rose Bowl, going through all of our bowls, our television partners and other third parties who are part and parcel of intercollegiate athletic media partners and others.
So I know it would be a lonely place without great partners, and our first one was with the Rose Bowl in 1902, and then solidified in 1947. And they’ve worked with us over the last 30 years to make sure that the relationship between the Big Ten and the Pac-12, through the Rose Bowl, continues to be one of the great American traditions.
I’d like to say just a few words about the internal culture in the Big Ten. It’s competitive every Saturday on the courts and fields throughout the course of the year, and there’s a real rhythm to it, preseason, in season, postseason, conference championships. But I think it’s really important to note the extent to which these competitors collaborate. They collaborate around a lot of important issues, from equity to opportunity, also to providing outreach for groups that maybe traditionally haven’t had it in American society, the creation of a CD Henry internship position that’s been recognized by the Anti-Defamation League through the Torch of Liberty Award granted to the conference for its work in this area, the gender equity action plan, which I mentioned earlier, is really important.
And when I look about the import and export of talent, we’ve brought some great people to work in the Big Ten, just two people leading in our office, Diane Dietz, who was a great basketball player and athlete at Michigan. She’s our Deputy Commissioner for External Affairs. Brad Traviolia, an All-American wrestler at Northwestern, working as Chief Operating Officer. We have many, many others.
I’d like to mention Mark Rudner. Many of you probably worked with Mark earlier in his career. He’s the only person in the office that’s been there longer than me. There may be one or two others in the history of the Big Ten who have served us as well. But he’s worked with media, he’s worked with television, and he’s done a fantastic job. And I really couldn’t stand up here without recognizing the superb staff that we have, some former student-athletes. I think we’ve had some 22 former student-athletes working at the Big Ten during my term. We’ve exported people, a Commissioner of the Big 12, two Commissioners of the SWAC, Commissioner of the Patriot League and Commissioner of the Big Sky Conference.
So we’ve retained great talent, we’ve imported great, and we’ve exported great talent. Without that talent in our office, we couldn’t have accomplished many of the things that we have.
Where do we go from here? There’s certainly great challenges in front of us. I’m going to leave most of the time today for you all to look forward with us. But one of the areas that I think will be with us for years to come is the health and safety of our students. We were the first conference to adopt a concussion management plan. And about nine years ago, I was having a conversation with one of our faculty members out at the Rose Bowl, Chris Saley, she was a scientist at Purdue. And we started brainstorming and talking about the possibility of creating a summit in and around researchers and clinicians to help study the brain. And there’s not a whole lot of longitudinal information about this issue, and yesterday we celebrated our seventh summit. We’ve collaborated with the Ivy League and its eight institutions, 14 of our own institutions. We had 150 clinicians and researchers come together. And it’s just truly remarkable to see what a college athletic conference can do when it’s made up of such amazing research institutions and collaborating with others to move that needle forward.
Let me stop here. I want to really talk today as much as I can about others because the others around me -- and probably the most important other around me was my wife, Kitty Delany. She’s not going to be here for the whole question-and-answer period, but -- she’s out with athletic directors’ wives and coaches’ wives at her annual luncheon with them. But I’d like to recognize Kitty and our two sons Newman and Chance because they grew up with the Big Ten, Big Ten is family for them, and without their support and those in our conference and those outside of our conference, I wouldn’t be here for 31 years. So I want to thank all of them in a most sincere way, and thank you for what you’ve done in covering Big Ten intercollegiate athletics.
Q. You talked about the things you’re most proud of. As you get ready to leave office, what’s your biggest regret that you didn’t get accomplished?
JIM DELANY: That’s a good question. We’ve had a lot of projects that have succeeded. We’ve had some projects that really fell on deaf ears. To be honest with you, one thought that I’ve had for really my whole adult life after leaving North Carolina was that I think -- and this might sound less than true, but it’s a true statement. I think we made some real serious mistakes in the ‘70s that have come to create problems for us. I think one was the loss of the four-year scholarship. One was the loss of the $15 a month for laundry, and the other was the loss of freshman ineligibility.
I think that’s really expedited everything and hasn’t allowed for the full socialization, cultural and academic, for students. I raised that issue about five years ago, and to be honest with you, there was not much of a reaction. It was more of a thud. So I would say some of those areas are issues that have concerned me and I think have concerned a few others but really not enough to kind of move that forward.
Q. What’s it going to be like in mid-September when you and Kevin are both there? Are you going to be going to games together? How are you going to make sure that it’s not awkward?
JIM DELANY: Yeah, we’ve got a plan. I’ve been talking to Kevin. We’ve probably spent a full day together shortly after he was hired. I think it was on June 6th, went down to BTN, had breakfast together. We’ve talked together several times. I’ve forwarded to him a lot of written information. We’ve talked on the phone for an hour on three or four occasions.
When he comes in, what we’re trying to do is to use that time in a way that gives him a sense of the rhythm of the conference. So we’ll have conference Commissioners’ meetings at the Big Ten, we’ll have joined group meetings. He’ll be around for those. We’ve also invited external partners in from all over the country, from television to bowls to other groups. And they’ll come in, spend a half a day with him, do a Q and A so that when January 2 comes, he can put faces together with organizations. And then also I think there will be an opportunity for him to interface with BTN and that business.
So I don’t think it will be awkward at all. At least I don’t expect that it would be. We’ve got a really nice way with each other. I’m incredibly impressed by what he’s done in his life, and kind of the skill set, the person that he is. I think it’s going to be a great fit, and really proud of the decision the presidents made here. One of the commitments I made was to try to be the best Commissioner in transition that I can be, and I’m confident we can do that.
Q. Last year at this time you talked about creating an injury or more availability report, and I know -- I think a lot of us thought that was a great idea. Can you get that done in your final few months?
JIM DELANY: It doesn’t look like that’s going to get done. The NCAA picked up on it, studied it, and at the end of the day, for a variety of reasons -- and you can ask them what those reasons are -- I pushed it pretty hard. Publicly I pushed it pretty hard. Internally I worked with the groups that were studying it, but for their own reasons they have decided not to do that.
Q. Commissioner, where is the Big Ten football-wise now in relation to when you started, and also what are the challenges going forward for Big Ten football?
JIM DELANY: Yeah, you know, things have changed a lot in 30 years. It would be hard for me to characterize where it was. The world was so different. There was no playoff. We had 10 members. We had one bowl relationship. We had 16 of our 66 games on television. We were averaging about 57,000 people at the gate, I think, in ‘88, ‘89. We’d just come off a couple of Rose Bowl championships. So there was probably some good things going on.
But I think 2019, 2020, it’s a totally different world. We have a College Football Playoff. We still have our great relationship with the Rose Bowl. We have 90 games on TV. We have nine or 10 bowl relationships. I think we’re built to win championships, and I think many of the teams in our conference are built to win National Championships as well as conference championships.
When I look back at the last five years in particular, while the focus would be that our last three champions were ranked 5, 5, and 6 -- I still don’t know how Ohio State was ranked sixth last year, by the way -- but regardless, they were ranked sixth behind a divisional runner-up. I think we’re really built to win championships. When you look at what it takes, we recruit nationally, we have national television second to none, we have resources, we’ve reinvented our stadiums, we have world class, national class coaches who have demonstrated success before they ever came here. I think I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see more of a dominating presence for Big Ten football over the next half decade to decade. And when I look at the television followership that we have, I think we had 10 of the top 20 regular season and postseason ratings last year, we won nine of the 12 biggest ratings on FOX, I think seven of the top 10 on FS1, on and on. We are a special brand in America with regard to college football, and I expect us to be very competitive.
I mean, we had no postseason, and then we had the coalition, and then we had the BCS, and then we had the four-team playoff. And so there was no one-two game when I first arrived, and then there was kind of a one-two game for a while. Now we have a four-team playoff. And sometimes we made the one-two game, sometimes we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were really excited to go to the Rose Bowl.
Now if we don’t go to a BCS game for 17 years, it was, okay, we go to the Rose Bowl. Today I would say with the 14 playoffs, it’s ironic we’ve doubled the access but I think more than doubled the feeling of exclusion when you’re not in. But we try not to let that define us. If there’s an 18 playoff, we probably would have had eight or nine teams in it over the last five years. So we’re built to compete for championships, and I think there will continue to be discussions around the expansion.
It’s got to be sensitively done. We have student-athlete issues, we have bowl issues, we have financial issues, but I know that those conversations have begun and they’ll be on going, I think, over the next couple of years.
Q. How would you envision that the amateurism model is going to evolve in the coming years after your time ends as commissioner, and do you wish that you could be part of that discussion, or are you going to be glad to be removed from that and it’s not your concern anymore?
JIM DELANY: Well, it’ll always be my concern because my dad was a teacher and a coach. I was the beneficiary of it, my brother was the beneficiary of it; my sisters were not. Today, young women are. It’s bigger, more robust. But I agree with Arnie Duncan when he said that other than the U.S. military, probably higher education and intercollegiate athletics do more to provide opportunities and teach leadership than any other institution in America.
It’s evolving. As I noted, in the ‘70s I think we took some steps away from education and support for students. I think we’ve taken some steps more in that direction, say, in the last five years. Cost of attendance, we’re trying to get our arms around the amount of time students are spending, graduation rates are going up, litigation is ongoing. Quite honestly, we’ve lost some, we’ve won some. I think there is a path ultimately probably to the Supreme Court. I think benefits must be tethered to eduction, as Judge Wilken noted at the time. But there is continuing beginning litigation around the concussion issue which concerns me. There’s not litigation, but there’s a study on name, image, and likeness which interests me. We’re not the Olympics, we’re not the NBA. I wish students had more choice, and I think they’re getting more choice, but in particularly with regard to pro sports, whether it’s tennis or golf, I like the idea that they can make choices earlier on.
Will I miss participating and jousting on these legal issues? Probably I won’t miss it. I’ll follow it closely. I have personal views. The conference has its views. I have mine. Mine are typically subordinated to theirs, so I won’t be in any way constrained by what they think versus what I think. But the reality is these things are going to take some time to work out. My guess is the next five to seven years between legislative action, litigation action, things will eventually settle down, and I think college sports will survive and be healthy, but there’s no doubt that there’s a great deal of uncertainty now.
Q. You have the package with FOX Big Noon Saturday. How is that going to affect the quality of scheduling when it comes to prime time games once conference play starts?
JIM DELANY: Well, you know, what we tried to do is sculpt our offering when we went to market four years ago to put our teams in the best set of circumstances. Historically, we haven’t played as much prime as others. We knew there were great ratings in prime, but it’s sort of interesting how the world turns. Everyone moves to prime, and so there’s more competition in prime. Everybody vacates noon, so there’s less competition at noon. So FOX sort of ends up counter-programming a little bit, putting some of its best games at noon.
We have permission, support from our schools to do a certain amount in prime. That’s there. If the networks choose not to take advantage of that, then the games would be more clustered in the early and late afternoon time. But I think you’ll see that prime used over time. This is just the third year of a six-year deal, and kudos to FOX for thinking creatively about how to get their best game in a window that they think has less competition and gives a better chance for higher ratings.
Q. Earlier this week Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said while he doesn’t want to put schedule models on any other league, he would love to see everybody find a way to play 10 Power Five opponents if you wanted to get into the CFP. Curious where you come down on there and whether we’ll see any kind of shifting for all the Power Five conferences.
JIM DELANY: I second Bob. Usually when Bob says things like that, he precedes it by saying, “If I were a football czar”. Bob is not a football czar, neither am I. The best I can hope for is that the College Football Playoff committee, as their members turn over and change -- and there’s a lot of change in that group, they’re good people with good intentions and good football awareness -- pays more attention to the founders’ effort to value strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships. The actual language in the founding document says, “when comparing teams with similar records and similar resumes, should look at strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships.”
I’ll leave it to each individual to see whether or not you believe they have. Clearly Alabama and Clemson have separated themselves, and they have deserved everything that they’ve earned in the last couple years. But I’m not sure that the strength of schedule or the conference championship has been adequately rewarded, in my personal view.
Q. A couple of years ago, you did introduce eliminating FCS games, which you’ve kind of backtracked a little bit on, but going to nine league games, and the criteria has not rewarded the Big Ten Conference in either selection of New Year’s Six games or in the four-team playoff. Does the nine-game league schedule run counter to trying to get a team into the playoff, and should the league look into possibly cutting back to eight?
JIM DELANY: Yeah, a couple points. In fact, I think that as I noted earlier, the number of teams we’ve had in the top eight, I think has recognized our teams. I think we’ve probably have had more teams in the top eight, not in the top four, and being in the top eight normally has resulted in us going to more New Year’s Day Six games and winning more New Year’s Day Six games than any other conference. So I don’t want to get apples and oranges confused here because not to be in the championship doesn’t mean you’re not winning Fiesta Bowls, Orange Bowls, Cotton Bowls, Peach Bowls, because we have had some opportunities and we have taken advantage of those opportunities.
In fact, when we went to nine games, it really wasn’t because of the CFP at all. It was done prior to the creation of the CFP. If you remember, we were at eight, and we were hoping to do a collaboration with the Pac-12. And that would have taken us to nine games every year. It fell apart. We decided we wanted to have better games for our stadiums and for our fan base and for our players, so we went from eight to nine. It happened to dovetail with some of the criteria that was developed by the founders of the CFP, but it wasn’t done because of the CFP. It was done much more to create in-stadium attractiveness, television attractiveness, and as conferences expanded, we felt we wanted to play each other more, not less, so that allows us to have three games across as well as six games inside a division.
I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule. I said it earlier. I said it last year. We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners, and I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders. And if you look around the country, there’s more and more discussion, not necessarily about nine games but about playing better games.
And clearly winning games against FCS is easier. I think two conferences, the ACC and the SEC, since the beginning of the playoffs, they’re something like 84-2. We’ve played like maybe 20 in the five years. So you’re going to win 95 percent of those games. It amplifies your record. There’s more chances to lose a conference game. That’s a 50/50 game. But I don’t think we went there for the CFP alone, and I’m not sure if we were at eight that we would be in. Maybe we would. But I think that Big Ten football is right up there with the very best, and I think they’re positioned to continue to compete for championships in conference and national.
Q. Jim, we’re having some very interesting playoff discussions here, so I’ll ask you a very specific playoff question. Do you believe that in the previous two years the fact that Ohio State was the Big Ten representative being discussed to make the playoff and that Gene Smith was the AD from the Big Ten and was recused from those discussions, did that hurt the Big Ten, and if so, what thoughts or advice would you have about the best committee makeup for that group going forward?
JIM DELANY: You know, that’s a great question that I’m going to be reluctant to project because I wasn’t there. Gene was out of the room, but so was Joe Castiglione. I was on the basketball committee when we’ve had seven teams in and I was out of the room in many of those situations. So it would be speculative. It wouldn’t even be fair and it wouldn’t be based on any fact at all.
Having said that, I think that the fact that the constant churn of the committee is an issue for me, and I’m not -- but the amount of time that Barry and Tom and Gene and others put into that is not really, I don’t know, constructive when you’re trying to run your program at home. And I totally understood when Gene was making his coaching change how the amount of time that he had contributed, which I’m thankful for, affected.
If you think that -- if you were in the room, you would be better off, then the question is why would you be better off. That’s the whole issue of recusal and conflict of interest. I just wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state a stronger commitment to strength of schedule. I love Bob’s idea. If he were the czar, I’d vote for him, but you don’t vote for czars. Czars are just czars. But I totally support the idea that we should be playing comparable schedules, and if we’re not playing comparable schedules, there should be some way to differentiate that, but we haven’t had our way on that one.
Q. On one hand we have Big Ten institutions like Michigan and Penn State, which have a huge fan base in Mexico. On the other hand we have the NFL, which has signed an agreement for three games in the next three games at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. Do you think at one point in the future, a big thing will be to take that first step and be the first conference to schedule a regular season game or a bowl game in Mexico City?
JIM DELANY: If I could get your card, I could give it to Kevin when I see Kevin a little bit later this fall. I think it would be great. I think it would be a great thing. I love international competition. For 10 years we took our men’s and women’s team to Europe and to Asia.
This particular conference is regional. It’s national to some extent, as international as any probably, and I think it would be a great idea to take a look at and either having a preseason game -- not a preseason game but an early-season game and a bowl game. It would be a terrific idea.
Q. Commissioner, it’s another playoff question. Based on the comments that you’re making now, do you think greater transparency among the college football committee members would be valuable? In other words, that we would know what all of them voted and how they ranked the teams so that they had to answer for the way that they voted as opposed to a single spokesperson summarizing the committee’s work?
JIM DELANY: No.
Q. Why not?
JIM DELANY: I don’t think that that would be a better way to approach it. In some ways, we sort of walked away from that in some of the BCS formula. We took a poll here and a poll there and a strength of schedule here, combined them, cranked it out, was very transparent, but it wasn’t very good. So I think having worked on a variety of committees, negotiating committees and selection committees of various kinds, you’re going to get well-intentioned experts who have different points of view. And if you’re going to go with the human element, and I happen to be favorable towards the human element -- my problem is I don’t like what computers tell me sometimes, and I don’t like what people tell me sometimes. So I’m sort of stuck between not -- I love them when they give they what I want, and I’m a little bit critical when they don’t. So I try not to be too critical, especially at the time when you don’t get what you want.
But I think people have to have a certain amount of confidentiality to disagree with each other and yet still come out on the other side without attacking each other, whether it’s a basketball committee or whether it’s a football selection committee.
If you want to have a different model, I think you can have a different model. But I think as long as you’re dealing with human beings, they deserve the ability to work with each other, come up with the best possible decision, even though in certain cases they’ll disagree among themselves. That doesn’t need to be trotted out and turned into content.