Big Ten makes big mistake with D.C. tourney

Written By BY HERB GOULD Twitter: @HerbGould Posted: 05/06/2014, 11:30am

I’m not a big fan of unbridled college sports expansion because of exactly what happened on Tuesday.

You lay down with Maryland and Rutgers. And you wake up with the Big Ten basketball tournament in Washington, D.C.

I know a lot of people will be fascinated with the ever-expanding television/demographic ya-da ya-da. The thing is, I’m not thinking about building the fan base on the East Coast at the expense of people who have called the Big Ten home for generations.

I’m thinking about students from Champaign or Madison—heck, alumni from Minneapolis or Chicago—who aren’t going to D.C. for the tournament.

People leave conference tournaments when their team loses. And they find a way to get there when their team advances. Unless they’re 800 or 1,000 miles away.

There’s no question, though, that in a vote for greatest college commissioner of all-time, Jim Delany would be an easy choice.

Like his fellow North Carolina alum, Michael Jordan, Delany is the best at what he does. Must be something in the water in Chapel Hill.

If I owned stock in the Big Ten, I couldn’t be happier to have had Delany, who will mark his 25th anniversary as Big Ten CEO—um, commissioner—on July 1.

There might be a couple of votes for former SEC chief Roy Kramer, who forged the early foundation for selecting a football champion via the bowls. But even there, it was Delany who brought the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl into the fold—and made the process whole.

And while the Big Ten basketball tournament is a given now, Delany single-mindedly overcame resistance from old-line coaches such as Bob Knight and Gene Keady. The staging of the tournament, which has alternated between the United Center and Indianapolis, also has been first-rate in every way.

Never content, Delany has been especially ambitious on the expansion front. Penn State joined the league in 1990, a year after Delany came to the Big Ten from the Ohio Valley, where he had shown his visionary side by scheduling 11 p.m. Friday Night basketball games and landing an ESPN contract.

Another Delany hightlight was the creation of the Big Ten Network. Eliminating the middle man? It’s textbook M.B.A. stuff. Sheer genius, as long you don’t fret about the independence of a network covering the people that own it.

The only deal he’s ever really struck out on was bringing Notre Dame in as the Big Ten’s 12th school. And that was mainly because ND’s business plan was never going to mesh with the Big Ten’s even though a get-together made perfect sense for a bunch of non-money reasons.

That said, Delany’s Big Ten moved on well from the Irish setback. Nebraska. Yawn, but a good move for BTN. Maryland and Rutgers. Really? Why? Television.

This is where the college athetics world is going. To head off a players’ union, the schools are insisting athlete-students they are not employees. But concessions are already being made, and college sports will move on just as sure as baseball moved on when it lost the reserve clause.

Stay tuned. Delany’s next move will be adding the 15th and 16th schools to the Big Ten. This will be needed to pay for increased labor costs that will stem from players organizing in one form or another.

Four 16-team leagues. And good luck if you’re not among those 64.

Nobody is better suited to deal with all of this upheaval than Jim Delany.

The problem is, I don’t own stock in the Big Ten. I just have two degrees (B.A., Wisconsin; M.S., Northwestern) from there. And even though I can argue that Delany is the greatest on one hand, I’m already missing the old Big Ten on the other hand.

All these machinations might not be the best thing for old-school Big Ten people. But this is the way of the modern college world.

So if you do pony up for D.C. and you don’t want to watch basketball after your team loses, visit the Smithsonian. Maybe they’ll have a tribute to the Big Ten’s quarter-century of progress.

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