John Feinstein on Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany: Smart and ruthless

John Feinstein
John Feinstein

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany wields the power in college sports. He is smart. And he is ruthless. So says John Feinstein on his blog.

Now that seems harsh. It may also be 100 percent accurate. I'll know soon enough. By sharing this, I run the risk of Delany calling the University of Iowa and ordering it to have my kneecaps broken.

But I kid the commish.

Anyway, Feinstein, renowned sports author and columnist, wrote about Delany and possible Big Ten expansion in this blog post on Monday:

The other story of last week was the growing drumbeat on the issue of conference expansion in the NCAA. There have been almost as many meaningless words spoken and written on this subject as on the NFL draft. Here’s the deal: The Big Ten—unfortunately—holds all the cards here because of the success of The Big Ten TV network.

That means Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, is wielding most of the power and

influence right now. I can tell you two things about Delany: he’s smart and he’s ruthless. He could care less about anything other than what’s best for him—and, thus, his conference—which makes him a very good commissioner if not someone you would want to trust to tell you where the sun will rise tomorrow.

A lot of people sneered when he started The Big Ten network but it has, for all intents and purposes, made him the unofficial commissioner of college athletics. Why? Because the success of the network means that every Big Ten team takes home a check for $22 million at the end of every football season. No one else is making half of that, except for the SEC—which is the one conference Delany hasn’t talked (privately, he never says anything that has any meaning in public) about raiding.

Now, if the college presidents cared anything about doing the right thing, conference expansion wouldn’t even be an issue right now. There are already too many conferences that are too big because of the constant money grab going on. Sixteen Big East basketball teams? Twelve ACC football teams? That’s good for competition, for rivalries, for fans? There are Big East teams that don’t visit another Big East home court for two or three years at a time. Round-robin play, the fairest way to decide a championship in basketball? Gone from all the major conferences except the Pac-10. Every team playing every league team in football? Gone—except in The Big East, which is fighting for survival.

Now, Delany may want to make The Big Ten into The Big Sixteen. He may try to entice schools like Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia (all Big East) and Missouri into his league. He’d love to add Notre Dame—which will NEVER give up its exclusive TV money from NBC—or Texas. If Delany goes on a raiding mission, the leagues raided have to try to raid themselves in order to survive. Why would someone like Syracuse leave The Big East? Again, do the math: $22 million vs. $7 million. Those numbers will trump tradition is any college president’s office any day. The same is true of the other candidates for expansion.

All of this, frankly, sucks. It is also bound to happen. Because he who has the checkbook has the power. And right now, unfortunately for college athletics, no one has a bigger checkbook than Jim Delany.

The biggest surprise in all this? Feinstein's use of the word "sucks." It seems that word is showing up more and more among people who should easily have a more eloquent term on the tip of their tongues.

As for the rest of it? The man is right.