Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten, does his job well. His job is to represent the interests of the corporation known as the Big Ten, something he's done admirably. He integrated Penn State into the conference, made sure the fine Midwestern hog that is the Big Ten got a wide berth when he was helping build the BCS, and has helped usher in new revenue streams via "the Big Ten Network," a football content provider coming to DirectTV only this fall. Jim Delany's being proactive and visionary. Jim Delany's turning in his TPS reports on time. He's harmonizing synergies and being a charismatic problem-solver and self-starter.
Hi. I work for a failing mid-size paper company.
He's also, to the average college football fan, a faceless powermonger with a rank list of heinous policy decisions to his credit, a few of which would be hanging offenses in a court of tailgaters. His big quote in a Yahoo! Sports article a while back was "I don't work for college football at large." His work in stitching together the mixed gristle and organs of college football into the BCS stands as a perfect example of his best and worst work: a skillfully negotiated pact between large partners with diverse interests generating huge piles of cash that almost everyone of any sense hates, a Frankenstein that almost resembles a living entity.
At least the old bowl system, corrupt and bucolic as it was, had some charm to it, and made few real claims to being a national title system. The BCS instead does it through a melange of computers and open politicking not dissimilar in tone to a four beer discussion at your local swillhole of choice. Its benefit relies more on enforcement of rules benefitting vested interests (especially the Big Ten) and less on creating the shiniest, most alluring carrot of all for the fan: truly open competition for a national title. Instead of a playoff bracket, you get the BCS: faceless, three letters as faceless and meaningless as a government bureaucracy, a simultaneous failure of imagination and vision lurching along like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, minus the invigorating dance number.
That's Delaney on the left, BCS on the right. They never do this, btw.
Delany adds to the list of hanging offenses with a hilariously frivolous broadside on the Big Ten's website this week.
Delany's got a history of overreaction to criticism, and writes a new chapter in it with his defense of the Big Ten's football record in response to Florida's eyeball-scorching trunking of Ohio State in the BCS game. Its title? "To Fans of College Football and the Big Ten." (Remember, to Delany, these aren't necessarily the same people. He doesn't give a rat's ass about college football.)
The EDSBS Cliffs Notes begin, with Delany's deathless prose excerpted below:
With the conclusion of another tremendous college football season and the recent national signing day, there has been a lot written and said about the Big Ten's recruiting efforts across the country, including a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times entitled "Big Ten needs to find new talent pool - fast" (see full article here). In response to these commentaries, it seems premature for us to lower our admission standards or give up on the tremendous talent pool in the Midwest.
Delany's attempting to channel Frank Luntz here and spin the debate his way. Call it the "Healthy Big Ten Act," with bumper harvests and screaming proletariats hailing the Chairman's every word. Big Ten has dismal year in the bowls, Big Ten goes 2-5 = need for public defense of long-term bowl record and overall conference health. Marginally necessary, we say, and understandable despite the fact most college football fans don't give a rat's ass about conference affiliation and only follow their team.
Bumper harvests for the Big Ten! Smash bourgeois SEC negativity relentlessly!
Fine with us, save for the swipe at the end about lowering admissions standards, clearly a public finger in the eye to the SEC. This means two things in Delany's siege-minded, "I represent the interests of the Big Ten only," 18th-century brain: the SEC is the single biggest rival for attention, profits, and prestige, and that they're recruiting Mongoloids who can't read to play football. Which is true almost everywhere football is played, the Big Ten included. It's unnecessary, provincial, and cheap of him, but then again, that's what an oversensitive barrister playing strictly from the Talleyrand playbook will do: react, overreact, and overreact some more in only the most narrowly defined interests of his client.
No doubt national programs must recruit nationally wherever the talented students and athletes live. Hats off to Florida and the SEC -- they had a great year.
Because their football players can't read, and have to be told not to eat their mouthpieces, which are not in fact tasty gelatin candies. Though they might want to consider making them out of firm gelatin, because you know they'll just keep choking on those things.
We believe that both the Big Ten and the SEC have been and remain two of the greatest college football conferences in the country. But you may want to keep in mind the following as you review the various recruiting services, listen to talking heads and reflect the blogosphere out there as they compare these two fine conferences. I think most people would agree that head-to-head competition is an effective method to compare relative strengths between competitive entities:
And thus follows a whole bunch of stats about how good the Big Ten is, was, and will be, a fact virtually no one is disputing outside of the most deranged of message board snipefests. Another great political trick: make an argument no one's really making, and then inveigh against it to deflect your real concern, which is that a region with stable or declining population is losing ground in a regionally recruited sport over the past forty years. The Big Ten is as competitive as its been since the glory days of the 50s and 60s, and has won two national titles in the past ten years. Why go bazooka here because of one popgun year?
Because Delany's attempting to sell the Big Ten name, a more important branding than ever given the creation of their extremely stupidly packaged "BigTen Network." He's thinks the value is in the league, not the sport as a national whole. And for his paycheck, that is the correct assumption.
I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics. Each school, as well as each conference, simply must do what fits their mission regardless of what a recruiting service recommends.
Umm, excuse us. Que? Reviving the swipe at the SEC, the guy who oversaw the Fab Five scandal at Michigan flings shit at the conference with a well-worn record of violations. Again, if it's easy, convenient, and in my interests, I'm Jim Delany and I'm doing it to the point of overkill. And what the hell does a recruiting service get into this? Ohio State and Florida, the two teams inspiring the comparison in the first place, make for a disastrous comparision since Florida, the place with all of that non-academics-compatible speed, has marginally higher admissions standards than Ohio State. This isn't saying OSU sux0rz in skoolz or anything, it's just pointing out that the comparison flops from the start, and is disingenous.
In fact, the two bowl defeats from the Big Ten to the SEC this year both run downhill academically. Wisconsin (better school) beat Arkansas (not better school), and Tennessee (where you have, unbeknownst to you, already earned an urban studies degree through your reading of Vibe Magazine,) lost to Penn State, which ranks somewhere around a push.
What are you gonna do with all those Vibe Magazine subscriptions? Get yourself a degree, son.
The academic debate's a canard, and Delaney knows it. He subverts the actual debate by tossing out the cheap inflammatory crapulence of "higher academic standards" when there's little from the bowls to suggest any connection between the two.
Our favorite slice coming up, with frosting and everything:
I wish we had six teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process.
Translation: "I wish I could have as many boyfriends as you do, but I've got this horrible thing called "Not Being a Total Whore" I can't get over." Who knows what Delaney hopes to achieve here, other than defending the Big Ten's somnolent ethos regarding PR and recruiting. The Big 12 and the SEC have consistently abandoned shame and "decorum" (whatever that means--see?) to advance their football programs in the public eye.
Championship games, public stumping from Mack Brown and Urban Meyer for bowl slots, outlandish recruiting tactics...it's all a matter of public record. Does it conflict with the academic mission of a university? Certainly debatable, unless you're like us and are willing to consider teams as semi-professional teams sewed to the hide of major universities who value them for their cash and the overall vibe they sell to potential students.
Yet for the major force behind the BCS, someone who approved the worthless 12th game, and the pope of the Big Ten Network to cry foul on a unversity's overcommitment to football in the name of Mammon stinks of eau d'hypocrite. For one year only, other college football cabals did it faster, better, and stronger than his conference. The Big 12, SEC, and whomever else may be whores, but their business models are nimbler than yours this season, stealing boyfriends and putting all your potential recruits on rock rock.
Therein lies the sting, and the barely concealed spite behind the letter. Delaney's only real recourse is to act like Angela from The Office and begin pointing sanctimonious fingers...while screwing Dwight Schrute on the side. And the rest is just more veiled screeching unworthy of fisking.
Hi. You might recognize me from my job as the chosen representative of the Big Ten.
The Big Ten's ultimate problem isn't a lack of speed, moxie, or prestige: it's a problem of demography. The Midwest's two most populous states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, aren't keeping pace with the explosive population growth in the top five boomers: Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Georgia. This leaves the Big Ten fighting over talent in their largest states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, a move recruitniks have been trendspotting and discussing for years. The edges other conferences will have in the long run result from population shifts.
This happens in other conferences, too. Look at the blighted Big 12 North for a perfect example of this. It's not like large swaths of Iowa look like something out of Logan's Run...yet. Schools like Iowa have already begun to adapt, though, recruiting diamonds in the rough and working their resources to the max. That trend to "adapt or die" must continue and spread if recruiting trends maintain their downward trajectory for the conference. But numbers don't lie--the only really viable national contenders in the national title picture for the Big Ten have to have pipelines to big population centers: Chicago, the whole state of Ohio, and Pennsylvania. And even then you'll have difficulty keeping up with the sheer range of goodies pumped out by public schools in blossoming Sun Belt communities.
It's a matter of margins and numbers. No amount of bitchcraft by Jim Delaney will change that, and neither will walling up the Big Ten on Direct TV, a move comparable to selling your kidney for beer money in the long run. He's boldly leading the charge back to 1982, legwarmers, skinny tie and all. Fine with us. After all, Delaney's not working for the interests of college football, but rather the Big Ten, which makes him nothing to the average fan like us but...well, nothing at all.