Jim Delany: Big Ten's push east about 'innovation'

Conference commissioner sees all positives in Big Ten's footprint expansion

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Change is harder for some than for others.

Traditionalists view the shift of the Big Ten from its regional roots to a more national footprint as something that exemplifies the soul of college sports feeding into big business. But those involved see it much differently.

Big Ten men’s basketball media day was held Thursday in Washington, D.C., for the first time, and the conference tournament will follow in March. Commissioner Jim Delany said the conference’s push east — the Big Ten opened an office in New York City in 2014 — is much more about enhancing what the conference could be than it ever has been about abandoning any traditions.

“What you want to have is tradition, but also innovation — and have innovation that makes sense,” Delany said Thursday. “I think I understand people’s memories are hard-wired. Change is difficult. We’ve tried to be sensitive to that, but they shouldn’t worry.

“We’ll be out here some. We’re not going to turn back from the idea of making sure we’re successful to a regional conference with great tradition, but also conscious of change and innovation to make us as good as we can be.”

Expansion into markets like D.C. and New York City bring with it money that cannot be ignored. There are a lot of TV sets that tune into sports on the east coast, and especially when those teams are good — as Maryland figures to be in college basketball — that revenue stream is the tide that rises all boats.

Delany said the reach this shift has had impacts more than just athletics. It’s a university-boosting initiative, he said, and is in line with what every other major conference has done.

“All the major conferences are in a second region,” Delany said. “That helps your students, students who play sports, faculty; federal grants. Our schools are more than regional, they’re more than national; they’re quite global.”

For the coaches, the eastern push has been very well-received.

Ohio State’s Thad Matta said, if anything, those who oppose changes on the basis of tradition are discounting the conference’s fortitude.

Matta has been a coach in multiple conferences, and in all his years, he said what he’s seen in the Big Ten is that what’s made the conference great isn’t going away.

“This league is so grounded. It’s stood the test of time,” Matta said. “Tradition is not something that will ever leave this league. Where media day is or stuff like that, I don’t think it will ever affect it because of the passion Big Ten fans have.”

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said he’s not heard a single negative reaction — alumni, booster or otherwise — from things changing. In fact, McCaffery pointed out those based on the east coast who couldn’t come back to the Midwest for things were an underserved market.

Maybe it’s not the same as it used to be, and maybe that’s OK. College hoops specifically is changing across the board, McCaffery said, and it’s not just the Big Ten.

“I think it’s the nature of college basketball’s evolution, is what it is,” McCaffery said. “The ACC was a southern conference for many years; not anymore. And that’s by design. It’s TV-driven, but it’s also fanbase driven, alumni-driven. The Big Ten has a ton of alums on the east coast. They’re thrilled it’s coming here; it’s coming to Madison Square Garden.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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