TELANDER: Big Ten commish Jim Delany sees no reason to change
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2013 9:24PM
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, right, talks to Nebraska basketball coach Connie Yori as he attends a ceremony to inaugurate a new addition on the east side of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013.
Updated: September 27, 2013 3:15PM
Jim Delany is no dummy.
If you rule a multibillion-dollar sports conference that pays you well over $1 million a year, with loads more cash on the horizon, why would you ever want to change your format?
Indeed, if you can govern something called the Big Ten, which has 12 schools and soon will have 14, and you have no problem with the jabberwocky of calling 12 or 14 ‘‘10,’’ then why not relax, sit back on a giant mushroom and smoke from a hookah like the bloated Caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland?
Delany, the longtime Big Ten commissioner, has noticed the crazy revenue that can be produced through filling giant stadiums and lassoing in foreign schools to be part of a so-called “conference’’ that is actually an assemblage of TV markets to be sold for riches as an entertainment trough for advertisers and networks.
That is, Rutgers and Maryland have no more business being in the Big Ten (they join next year) than do, say, Hawaii and Weber State. (Whoa, how about those Pacific Island and Idaho markets? Down, Jim!) Except the Big Ten flag can now be planted in the populous Washington, D.C., and New York/New Jersey areas. According to a 2012 report, of the 53 million households then receiving the Big Ten Network from their cable provider, 19 million were in Maryland and New Jersey.
And Delany is also aware of the burgeoning criticism the NCAA and wealthy commissioners and coaches and athletic directors are getting. They are criticized because the football and basketball players whom people pay to see still get nothing.
As Richard Southall, director of the University of South Carolina’s College Sport Research Institute said not long ago in USA Today, “The college sports industry . . . adopts the same value system as other large corporations but doesn’t have to deal with shareholders or labor costs in the conventional way.’’
That is, free labor. And no unions. Oh, and no taxes. And it’s all done in a not-for-profit environment. With no outside competition.
Can you say cartel?
What Delany said to ESPN, about players who want a piece of the NCAA’s massive pie, was this: “If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness and establish it on your own. But don’t come here and say, ‘We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.’ Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don’t ask us what we’ve been doing.’’
Don’t ask a thing, young men.
Shut up, and take what’s given to you: a scholarship, renewable at our whim, a contract legal experts will tell you is unconscionable and devious and rigged.
“The National Letter of Intent protects millionaire coaches by locking in their hard-earned stars — but it doesn’t force schools to uphold their end of the deal,’’ Sports Illustrated wrote this summer. “And [if you sign] once you set foot on campus, your school and the NCAA own your likeness and eligibility.
So Delany’s answer to this inequity is to punt it out of the college stadium entirely, knowing minor leagues in basketball and baseball already exist, are basically unwatched and receive nothing from the NCAA or conferences.
Kudos right here to Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter for having the stones to wear wristbands in NU’s last game with the letters “APU’’ on them for “All Players United,’’ a fledgling group of current and former athletes concerned about perceived injustices at the hands of the money-makers themselves. The school should be prouder of the quarterback’s thoughtfulness and sense of social injustice than his elusiveness and versatility afield.
Colter wore the wristbands without permission from coach Pat Fitzgerald because he knew he wouldn’t get permission. (I could tell you a story about asking then-Northwestern coach Alex Agase if he would allow us NU players to wear black arm bands in our 1970 spring game, in support of the students just killed at Kent State and Jackson State, and what he said, to get an idea of how this kind of thing goes over.)
Delany knows the minor-league concept is a red herring if there ever was one. He can act as though he supports the purity of amateurism — a concept that is as fraudulent as they come — and go back to building his entertainment empire, his hands clean. After all, it’s what the cartel franchises — excuse me, schools — want.
The real charm of college sport, said Delany, oddly correct, is its history, its rah-rah.
“I argue it’s the color, I argue it’s the institution,’’ he said. “These brands have been built over 100 years.”
But, of course, only by rich men in suits.