CHICAGO — If you’re looking for a villain, Jim Delany is the guy.
Just give him credit for being a visionary, as well.
It’s easy to blame Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, for nudging us down a path of conference realignment, athlete unrest and possible Supreme Court rulings.
The truth is, we were probably heading in that direction anyway.
“They had some hearings last week,” Delany said Wednesday of a Congressional committee’s look into the possible unionization of college sports.
“And I don’t think it’s really a Democratic or Republican issue,” Delany added. “I think it’s really an issue that people want college athletics to succeed, and they want the imbalances to be brought into balance.”
Things are at a tipping point, but life under the NCAA umbrella was never as clean or homespun as we pretended.
And Delany doesn’t mind making a splash.
When he invited Nebraska to join the Big Ten in 2010, Delany’s contemporaries were either jealous or nervous.
Now, the era of super-conferences is upon us, and Delany was among the first to call for “autonomy.”
Delany isn’t trying to dump on the mid-major conferences by seeking more institutional control, but he doesn’t want to be weighed down by them, either.
When he launched the Big Ten Network, television revenues soared. Iowa is among the schools expected to receive $44.5 million annually by 2017-18.
So we probably shouldn’t be surprised a former Big Ten football player, Northwestern’s Kain Colter, is at the center of a debate over whether athletes should be granted worker’s rights.
“I really view this as sort of an opportunity to … bring into balance and bring into focus the collegiate model,” Delany said.
To his credit, Delany was touting athlete trust funds and expanded educational opportunities years before the NCAA was legally cornered.
He may have been profit-minded, but Delany was also a proponent of covering an athlete’s cost of attendance.
Several athletic directors said during this week’s Big Ten meetings they expected a boost in financial assistance to result in an annual budget hit of $1 million.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta figured it would cost his school around $600,000.
That doesn’t seem like much, considering the Hawkeyes generate $3.5 to $4 million on a typical football weekend in Iowa City.
But if the system is so flawed, why are so many folks having fun?
Delany mentioned polls showing 70 percent of the population approves of college athletics.
“That’s not to say there aren’t differences of opinion,” Delany said, “but when I read the polls… seventy percent of the people don’t want to see unions on college campuses for college athletes. Seventy percent of the people don’t want to see pay-for-play. Seventy percent of the people don’t want to see these things operated as minor league franchises.
“They believe there is a redeeming quality.”
Delany is no saint. He gives ground grudgingly and is willing to uphold his beliefs all the way to the nation’s highest court.
“There is restructuring that we have some control over, to bring about some change, make some things balanced that are imbalanced,” Delany said. “There is also the litigation. We’ve got a number of cases that are out there, that we will aggressively defend.
“You have to be able to do reform, at the same time you defend the cases.”
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Category: Big Ten