The Big Ten may respond to a centralized authority failure, with even greater centralized authority. A proposal under consideration, in response to the Penn State scandal, would give Jim Delany and a council of conference presidents the power to impose sanctions on coaches and other officials, including fines, suspensions and outright firing. This will be pooh-poohed by many, but it makes sense.
Delany would not assume dictatorial power. The Big Ten presidents would give Delany more power to execute their interests. His role would resemble the commissioner of a professional sports league, with the presidents serving as powerful owners. That structure fits the present incarnation of the Big Ten. This is no longer a friendly association of schools. It is an assembly of partners invested in an enterprise worth billions. Having a strong, centralized authority to ensure all parties act for the collective self-interest is incredibly sensible.
Penn State did not just hurt Penn State. They hurt every school in the Big Ten. There are abstract branding and reputation issues, but most importantly the decline/potential demise of the football program costs everyone money. Penn State is one of the top revenue earners in the country. The Big Ten sells television packages and advertisements on the basis Penn State will be a national power and draw national interest. A Penn State decline reduces the value of collective conference deals. A Penn State death penalty places a conference rooted in insular stability in a precarious position. From a business perspective (in addition to the obvious moral one), that is unacceptable.
The past two Big Ten scandals, Penn State and Ohio State, were not about the crimes but the coverups. Limited NCAA power engenders cultures of secrecy. Officials acted out of pure self-interest to coverup incidents, under the reasonable assumption they would not be found out. Those scandals ended up being much worse than they otherwise would have.
By granting Delany and the presidents legitimate power over schools, the Big Ten would add that functional level of oversight the NCAA can’t provide (motivated not by legalism but by financial interest). School issues would become league issues. If Jim Delany has the authority to directly punish Jim Tressel, it is far more likely Tressel reports his players’ violations and consults with his athletic director and league officials about the best course of action.
Enacting this proposal would surrender schools’ autonomy, in exchange for enhanced stability and security. If instituted correctly, it would help fill the authority vacuum left by an overstretched, outmoded and often ineffectual NCAA. Business-wise the Big Ten has always been in the vanguard (see: the SEC still trying to get a network off the ground). Again, the conference may be showing the way forward.
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