Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on the state and future of the Big Ten

Jul 31, 2018

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's state and future of the Big Ten remarks include his thoughts on gambling, Friday night football, TV revenue, paying players, and college hoops' one-and-done rule.


Russ White:    I'm Russ White for MSU Today. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany kicked off the 2018 college football season with his comments on July 23rd at Big Ten football media days in Chicago. Before looking ahead, the commissioner looked back on a successful 2017.

Jim Delany:    Each year is unique and unscripted. That's the beauty of college football and indeed competitive sports. Who could have possibly predicted the unprecedented success of our teams last year on the field, in the stadiums, on TV and in the classroom? I honestly think it was one of the finest seasons in modern football here or elsewhere, and let me explain my thinking, citing some data. At a time when college football stadium attendance is generally in decline, the Big Ten conference was the only A5 conference to increase its in-stadium attendance. In non-conference play while playing the fewest FCS teams and the most A5 opponents, the Big Ten won 77% of its games against FBS opponents, the highest success rate in A5 or the FBS. The conference also recorded a 7-1 bowl record against A5 opponents, including victories in the Orange, Cotton and Fiesta bowls all in the same season, a first in college football history.

In the first year of our new TV agreements, working with three media partners, Fox, ESPN and BTN, we recorded the following performances. Four of the top six most viewed regular season games on ABC involved Big Ten teams. Eight of the top 12 most viewed games on Fox involved a Big Ten team. Five of the top six most viewed games on FS1 involved a Big Ten team and five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20 most viewed games across all networks involved a Big Ten team. Our competitiveness, our rigorous scheduling approach, our collaborative network partners and their skillful production and announce teams, all contributed to these remarkable results. And in 2017, the final CFB rankings spoke to the success of Big Ten football. The Big Ten had five teams in the top 21.  Ohio state five, Wisconsin six, Penn state nine, Michigan State 16, Northwestern 21. After a 7-1 bowl season, these rankings were confirmed.

Finally, since this is college football, let's not forget that all of our athletes are full time students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. Big Ten teams have been ranked first or tied for first in the academic progress rate among FBS conferences in five of the last six years. And we also ranked first or second among FBS conferences in graduation success rate over the same six years. We are pleased with the performance of our students on the field and in the classroom as they experience college football in the Big Ten. I want to say how excited we are to be returning to the Rose Bowl in 2019.

Russ White:    The Big Ten East division is stronger than the West Division. Does that concern you?

Jim Delany:    We've had two experiences with divisions. The first one was based on competitive balance over the last 20 years, and to be honest with you, it wasn't received that well. I think the identification by fans, their desire to play geographic rivals and to really fully sort of reinforce the historical rivalries at the end of the day was more important than trying to achieve any particular competitive equality. I'm not sure that we have a long enough window to really arrive at that conclusion. All conferences except for the Big Ten have really stayed with their geographic groupings and I think there's probably a reason for that and I think it probably has to do with the fan base's natural inclination to see -  even though conferences are larger - more geographic rivalry. So I think the data is self evident for now, but I think that you're going to see greater and greater competitiveness. I know in the SEC, you saw a decade of eastern dominance and probably the last 15 years or so, the West has been more dominant. So I think you're going to see more and more competition between the two divisions, which are similar, but I think the facts are the facts for now and I don't expect that there'll be any change.

Russ White:    What are your thoughts on legalized gambling and it's inevitable spread across the country?

Jim Delany:    We've had a lot of discussion about the changes in gambling that will obviously occur in coming years. First thing I would say is I think we've got great students playing football. We trust them, and they're young. We need to continue to educate them about the challenges associated with gambling and the importance of the integrity of the game. But I don't think that they are more vulnerable today than they were before the Sullivan case. That's the first thing I'd say. Second thing is I think we've got to double down on the educational element. I think we've done that over the years and we continue to do that. I think that we would prefer a federal framework that he either omits college sports from gambling at the state level and if that's not possible, that there'll be some standardization of a framework so that college sports, high school sports, Olympic sports, that those categories of sports receive some additional protection.

On the issue of player availability, I don't call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability, whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression of one kind or another. I think we need to do that. I think we need to do that nationally and I think the reason we need to do that is probably with the exception of the home field, the availability of personnel is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally or illegally. And therefore, when players are unavailable, we should know if they're probable or likely, I don't have the model code. But I do think it's something that we should do and probably should have done it before, but certainly should do it now.

Russ White:    What feedback are you receiving on Friday night Big Ten football games?

Jim Delany:    The last year was the first year of our new football agreements and as you know, before that we had played on Thursdays and Fridays of Labor Day and we'd also played on Fridays of Thanksgiving weekend. So there are probably two additional Friday games. If institutions had not wanted to play at home, that was an opportunity for them to check the box, 'We don't want to have home games.', a number of them did. A number of the schools actually said, "We'd like to have a Friday game.", and so that's occurred in several instances. And so it is an opportunity, I think. There are some conflicts with the high schools, but we've been able to really announce those games in advance. We've been able to work with the high school associations and I think of the 93 games that were televised, I think there were two Friday games which wouldn't have been there in the past, and I think they went fairly well. I can't tell you that I know exactly what the date is on those two games, but we're going to continue to communicate. I don't expect many more than those two additional games, but they will be there going forward.

Russ White:    How do television revenues directly affect the student athletes?

Jim Delany:    You know I think that how they've affected our institutions is a little bit different. We probably have maybe relatively speaking, the most comparable funding from the highest funded to the least funded. But if you believe in college sports, the additional funding allows for the growth and sustaining of equitable opportunities for men and women. It allows for the development of venues, academic support, psychological support, travel. And so if you're a fan of a Big Ten institution, typically fans support not only football and basketball, but to a lesser extent Olympic and other sports. So I think it allows us to recruit nationally, it allows us to have financial aid packages to the maximum allowed by NCAA. It allows us to have the broadest base programs in the country. We have nearly 10,000 students participating. So it simply allows for a platform that provides high quality educational and athletic opportunities. They're really unequaled among the major conferences in the country. Without those resources, we'd be unable to have a presentation and opportunity set that I just described.

Russ White:    What are your thoughts on the one and done rule in college basketball, Commissioner Delany?

Jim Delany:    Very pleased to hear that the NBA and the Players Association are seriously thinking about eliminating the prohibition against young people turning professional. That prohibition deprives players of choice. These players should have choice and there's nothing that should deny them. We have no interest in denying them the opportunity to go to college or the opportunity to professionalize themselves. We have to figure that out, but we'd love to have them. If they want to go to college and want to play college basketball, terrific. If they're good enough and have a desire to professionalize himself, that ought to happen. And in particular, I think they ought to have the right kind of representation so they can make an informed decision. But if we all could get involved with them earlier to not only develop their athletic skills but also to help them understand the choices they'll have, the better off we'll all be.

Russ White:    Would you support players being compensated and profiting from their image and likeness?

Jim Delany:    We have been involved in litigation over pay for play, name, image and likeness for a decade. We're quite honestly, probably in the seventh inning of that. We have a big case in California that will go to trial in September. Win or lose, I think whichever party doesn't prevail, will appeal it. I think it'll probably go to the Supreme Court and that will bring some resolution to the issue of pay for play. Once that is resolved one way or the other, I think that how the student participates in amateur sports, whether they're Olympic sports, collegiate sports, little league sports, there'll be plenty of time to try to resolve that. But I think it's premature until the fundamental issue of can we make our own rules is resolved. And two, can we maintain intercollegiate athletics as we have known it over the last hundred years? Despite its weaknesses, it has plenty of strengths. There'll be plenty of time to discuss issues like name, image and likeness. But until the Jenkins case is resolved through the courts, I think we're better off just maintaining and holding our power on what might occur in the future in that area.

I think one of the real misunderstandings, narratives, if you will, is that nobody has any control over the relationship between playing professional - when that happens, how that happens - than the Players Association and the ownership. So from a personal perspective, it seems to me like the NFL model works for the NFL and its players. It works for us. There's no choice there, but I think everybody recognizes that most high school players aren't ready to play in college. They’re not even thinking seriously about putting a 17 or 18 year old on to an NFL team. So there's probably a health and safety issue there.

Baseball handles it differently. I think baseball's got 6,000 minor league players. That works for us, that works for them. The NBA has gone back and forth on this issue, but we don't have control over that. We don't really try to have control over that. But when they do things that are disruptive - and certainly I think the one and done has been to some extent disruptive - it's not good for us and I'm not sure how good it is for them. And I would like to have some stability in college, but we have no control over that. We have no leverage over that. We have no control over that and I'm not really sure that we should. Certain of the outcomes are compatible with what we do and some of them aren't, and I think that's just part of the reality of the world that we live in.

Russ White:    That's Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany and I'm Russ White for MSU Today.