A Future Q&A with Jim Delany

The "all is well" routine of Jim Delany and the Big Ten will likely continue long into the future. (USA TODAY Sports)

The "all is well" routine of Jim Delany and the Big Ten will likely continue long into the future. (USA TODAY Sports)

“Some years we’ll be up, and some years we’ll be down … if you go back six years, we’re playing a 1-2 game (Ohio State vs. Michigan in 2006), and the buzz is around football.”– Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, October 2012


THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

COMMISSIONER DELANY: Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be here as we prepare for the 124th season of Big Ten football, or as some in the media have recently referred to it, (gesturing with air quotes) “Big Ten football.” In this conference, we pride ourselves on our longstanding tradition, as well as our ability to respond deftly to contemporary changes by refusing to acknowledge them. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that we will be adding North Dakota State and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as members this upcoming season. We think these alterations will lead to increased exposure of the Big Ten Network in the vital media markets of Fargo-Moorhead and Terre Haute, and we believe both schools are strong competitive fits in a football conference that several pundits have recently referred to as “The Mid-American Conference of the Midwest.”


Q. Jim, Ohio State is threatening to depart for the expanded 24-team Southeastern Conference. Does this have anything to do with the fact that they won 51 consecutive games from 2012-2015 and were never even considered for a spot in the four-team college football playoff due to the perceived weakness of the league as a whole? For that matter, what does it mean that no Big Ten team has ever qualified for the playoff?

COMMISSIONER DELANY: I can’t say what they’re thinking at Ohio State. Honestly, I don’t care. As I told them, results mean nothing. As you know, we are also bringing in two other high-caliber football powers, Northern Iowa and Mount Union, in 2020. We have Northwestern, which is a remarkable story, having qualified for three consecutive Rose Bowls with a quarterback who also instigated a widespread journalistic investigation into the excesses of his own program, and I believe Illinois is planning on fielding a football program this fall, even after the state’s governor advised against it. Rutgers is still in New Jersey, last I checked. Also, we have a television network, and that television network makes money.

Q. But will it continue to make money –

COMMISSIONER DELANY: It is a television network. People watch television. They enjoy television. They pay the cable companies to watch television, and the cable companies in turn pay us for the right to broadcast the television we give them. The content is entirely unimportant. Just last night, our broadcast of the classic 2004 Iowa-Purdue women’s tennis match drew 17,000 viewers and 43 orders for our lead sponsor, Callous Clear. Each of our schools made upward of $35 million from programming like this last year. You may argue with the results, but you cannot argue with those results. It’s pretty awesome, actually. I just built a second sauna in my kitchen. You guys should come over and watch Game of Thrones.

Q: Some might say that the Big Ten, by advocating against a playoff and other progressive changes in the college football landscape, and by seemingly playing a less progressive brand of football, may have put itself behind the competitive curve, at a time when recruiting bases have largely shifted south and west. Some would say that Big Ten football, in particular, grew mostly stale and uninteresting under your watch. Do you have any response to this?

COMMISSIONER DELANY: As I’ve said in the past, some years we’ll be up, and some years, we’ll be down. Some years, all of our best schools will be on probation; some years, Iowa will not score an offensive touchdown through the entire conference season and still go 5-3. Some years, Purdue will lose consecutive games to Ivy League colleges, and then beat Michigan by 28; some years, Minnesota will actually draw negative attendance for a November home game. Some years you win, and some years you lose your five most innovative coaches to both the NFL and rival conferences. If you go back 80 years, Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy at Iowa. There was a buzz around Big Ten football. Then Nile Kinnick died in a plane crash. It is what it is. 

Q. Several years ago, you mentioned that the Big Ten conference might consider dropping to Division III if college athletes were compensated out of league television revenue. Now that college football players will be compensated out of league television revenue, do you still believe the Big Ten will drop to Division III?

COMMISSIONER DELANY: Our plan, as I’ve mentioned before, is not to drop anywhere. Our plan to bring Division III to us. And in this, we think we’ve succeeded.