Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is arguably the most powerful man in collegiate athletics. Since landing his current gig in 1989, he has overseen the expansion of the Big Ten Conference from ten to 14 teams, the creation of the first internationally distributed conference-only television network, and orchestrated the most lucrative television deals in college sports history. Surely, Delany’s voice wields more power than even the most influential college football talking head.
That’s what makes Delany’s refusal to lobby for his own conference champion to receive strong consideration for a College Football Playoff berth baffling. Here is a man responsible for leading the nation’s most powerful and successful athletic conference but several times within the last week failed to defend his own constituents’ reputation.
Delany’s task was simple. He did not need to barnstorm for Penn State, Wisconsin, or even Michigan to receive entry into the Playoff. He just needed to outline what made the Big Ten a superior conference in 2016.
First, Saturday, on ESPN’s College Game Day, Delany was asked by host Rece Davis about the importance of conference championship games in the selection of participants for college football’s new postseason. Delany had an easy opportunity to promote the evening’s matchup between Penn State and Wisconsin and outline the reasons for the eventual winner’s selection into the Playoff. Instead, he chose to downplay the importance of championship games across the country and emphasize Ohio State’s terrific season. Davis lobbed a follow-up question to Delany, who once again remained vague on the merits of his potential conference champion.
Then, earlier this week, Delany was asked if the College Football Committee got the four teams (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington) right? To which he answered “I think it did.”
Delany was admittedly confused about a vocal chorus of boos from Penn State fans when presenting head coach James Franklin with the conference championship trophy during Saturday’s postgame celebration. For such a visionary, Delany apparently lacks a strong sense of self-awareness.
Again, Delany did not need to lobby committee and media members for Penn State’s inclusion in the College Football Playoff. His measured, diplomatic approach has long benefited the conference. However, he had ample opportunities to promote his own conference’s brand over the past week and failed to even mention the merits of postseason contenders and league-wide strengths. Members of the conference anticipate support from their commissioner, particularly when such support is far from outlandish.
When asked about the Big Ten Championship Game, Delany should have emphasized the importance of the game, noting that both teams won a division in the toughest conference in college football. In fact, the Big Ten had four teams finish in the top eight of the committee’s rankings. When questioned about the College Football Playoff selections, Delany should have discussed the overall strength of the conference, the challenging non-conference and nine-game conference schedules played by each team, the impressive late-season surge by the eventual conference champion and the conference’s win-loss record in noteworthy non-conference games.
At no point, did Delany need to tarnish another conference’s reputation or teams. However, he had an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to the Big Ten and, as commissioner, holds a responsibility to represent the conference and its teams. Instead, he whiffed, which sends a poor message to athletic directors, coaches, players and fans of conference teams. It’s rare to provide a poor assessment of Delany’s exemplary work, but this time, he was wrong.