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Jim Delany Has a History of Saying Outlandish Things - Rose Bowl, Big Ten Realignment & Expansion - and the Division III Model Threats Are the Latest

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, in a statement given for the Ed O’Bannon case, expressed his belief the Big Ten would move to the Division III model, ending its participation in major college athletics, before it would consider a “pay for play” model.

“Several alternatives to a ‘pay for play’ model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten’s philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes.

Delany claiming the Big Ten would do that is ludicrous. This would be a staggering amount of money to decline, even if it is a reduced share of it. Factoring in the new 1st tier rights deal, expansion of the Big Ten Network and the new postseason contract kicking in, Big Ten athletic departments could be reeling in north of $40 million per year, just in football television revenue.

Big Ten schools need that staggering amount of money to pay off the staggering amount of debt they have accumulated renovating stadiums and constructing lavish facilities for both revenue and non-revenue sports.

Those who would be involved with the decision are also the largest personal beneficiaries of football’s largesse. Delany himself makes around $1.8 million per year. Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Wisconsin AD each Barry Alvarez earn more than $1 million per year. Dave Brandon at Michigan brings in more than $700,000. It’s tough to see those fellows cutting down to five-figure Division III salaries out of principle. We’d also guess the coaches, with millions guaranteed in contracts, might raise a stink about it.

Delany believes the Big Ten university presidents might shut major college athletics down. Really? Their primary job is fundraising. Those are the people who are going to put their feet down and drive every one of their wealthy donors to apoplexy? It worked for the Ivy League, but that was before football became a multi-billion dollar industry.

The Big Ten is so far down the major athletic rabbit hole Jim Delany has frog footmen. It’s not feasible to move to a Division III model. Moreover, Delany gives little reason to take what he says publicly at face value. Looking at past statements, he has either been disingenuous or one terrible prognosticator. We’d point you to comments he made during one interview with the AP on December 13, 2010, an interview that came just days after Delany made a similar, seemingly nonsensical threat, to pack up the Rose Bowl and go home rather than reform the BCS.

Delany claimed the Big Ten division alignment was not something you looked at “on a five or 10-year basis.” He thought “some future administration” might reevaluate it “20 years from now.” (The B1G floated division realignment two years later.)

“We certainly didn’t set it up to change it. I doubt whether or not a five-year competitive record would be sufficient justification to go back to the drawing board. I think if you look at it 20 years from now and it was out of kilter and it had been out of kilter for a decade, some future administration might look at it. … Twenty years from now, maybe the world will be different. And maybe it’ll be time to take a look. But we certainly didn’t set out thinking we were going to be tweaking this on a five- or 10-year basis.”

Delany suggested the Big Ten would stick “at 12 for many years” because Big Ten teams “really want to play each other more and not less.” (The B1G added Maryland and Rutgers 23 months later.)

“To be honest with you, I know we’ll monitor the landscape as any good group ought to, every five years or so. We all read the papers and we all watch TV and we all watch our competition. But I will tell you this, the amount of respect or affection we have for each other is high and we really want to play each other more and not less. And so I think it’s more likely than not that we’ll be at 12 for many years.”

Delany was asked if he foresaw “any possibility at any time in the future that the Big Ten might favor a playoff system rather than the BCS.” His response was curt.

“No. You wanted a simple answer to a simple question.”

Fourteen months later. Delany asserted the Big Ten could not be “tone deaf” and was “open and curious” about a college football playoff.

Delany’s stodgy, pantomime villain image is good fun, but it does not mesh with the results he gets, which are outstanding. He has left the Big Ten best placed in the bloated TV revenue era. He conceded a playoff, when it was assured to be one that left the Big Ten in a stronger position relative to lesser conferences than under the BCS. He knows what he’s doing.

He will bitch about amateurism. He will moan. He will throw every single one of his toys from his pram. He will disparage the other side. That’s a given. The question is what his end game is.

Let’s say, hypothetically, Delany saw a settlement over amateurism as inevitable. Does he spell out exactly what he thinks now? Or, does he take a hard line? The latter would let him frame the debate as far toward his side as possible and reassure the most recalcitrant Big Ten presidents, before subtly nudging them in the direction they needed to go. Sound familiar? That’s precisely what happened with the playoff.

Delany is a complex actor to understand, but he’s also a simple one. He has one basic principle: the Big Ten’s self-interest. He acts for it at all times. He may huff, puff and threaten to blow the winds of change down. He may speak of retreating the wilderness. But he has never actively thwarted progress, when the Big Ten stood to gain from it.

It’s worth noting Delany explicitly criticized the “plaintiff’s hypothetical,” a straw man that blows up Title IX and guarantees players 50 percent of the revenue. He did not rule out other forms of compromise, such as the Olympic model, which would still be substantial but cost schools far less.

We anticipate there will be a grand bargaining table before the O’Bannon suit destroys college athletics. We would expect Jim Delany to be there as always, eyebrows akimbo and deftly manipulating the puppet strings.

[Photo via USA Today Sports]

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