July 23, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Commissioner Delany.
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: It's exciting to be here for the 47th annual Kickoff Luncheon Media Day session.
Thank you for being here to cover Big Ten football. Let me first note the passing of a few individuals since our last meeting. Mike Slive, SEC commissioner; C.M. Newton, coach and administrator; and Vic Bubas, former Duke coach and commissioner.
Mike was a longtime colleague and friend; C.M. and Vic were friends and mentors to me for over 40 years.
I'd like to welcome Scott Frost to the Big Ten coaching ranks. Heading into 2018, we couldn't be more positive about the current group of coaches leading our teams.
These men are talented, experienced and successful. These leaders inspire while promoting intense collegiate competition, grounded in the values of fair play.
Each year's unique and unscripted. That's the beauty of college football, and, indeed, competitive sports. Who could have possibly predicted the unprecedented success of our teams last year, with its coaches, on the field, in the stadiums, on TV, and in the classroom.
I honestly think it was one of the finest seasons in modern football, here or elsewhere. And let me explain my thinking, citing some data.
At a time when college football stadium attendance is generally in decline, the Big Ten Conference was the only A-5 conference to increase its in-stadium attendance.
In nonconference play, while playing the fewest FCS teams, the most A-5 opponents, the Big Ten won 77 percent of its games against FBS opponents, the highest success rate in A-5 or FBS.
The conference also recorded a 7-1 bowl record against A-5 opponents, including victories in the Orange, Cotton and Fiesta Bowls, all in the same season, a first in college football history.
In the first year of our new TV agreements working with three media partners -- Fox, ESPN and BTN -- we recorded the following performances: Four of the top six most-viewed regular season games on ABC involved Big Ten teams. Eight of the top twelve most-viewed games on Fox involved a Big Ten team. Five of the top six most-viewed games on FS1 involved a Big Ten team; and five of the top ten, nine of the top twenty most-viewed games across all networks involved a Big Ten team.
Our competitiveness, our rigorous scheduling approach, our collaborative network partners and their skillful production and announce teams all contributed to these remarkable results.
In 2017, the final CFP rankings vote to the success of Big Ten football. Big Ten had five teams in the top 21 -- Ohio State, five; Wisconsin, six; Penn State, nine; Michigan State, 16; Northwestern, 21. After a 7-1 bowl season, these rankings were confirmed.
Finally, since this is college football, let's not forget that all of our athletes are full-time students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. Big Ten teams have been ranked first or tied for first in the academic progress rate among FBS conferences in five of the last six years.
And also ranked first or second among FBS conferences in graduation success rate over the same six years. We are pleased with the performance of our students on the field and in the classroom as they experience college football in the Big Ten.
I want to say how excited we are to be returning to the Rose Bowl in 2019. Thank you for being here. We appreciate your coverage of Big Ten teams and this conference. I'm now available for your questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. What can Scott Frost do for Nebraska to revive their program?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: Well, you know, I think the fact that Scott played at Nebraska and has had an amazing series of successes as a young coach really breathes a lot of enthusiasm into the fan base, proven young coach, familiar with their history, and I think that probably has inspired their fan base now.
Their fan base is not hard to inspire. I think they've had 240 sell-outs going back over many years. I think Scott's success as a player, as an assistant coach and as a head coach has captured the imagination, passion and enthusiasm of the fan base.
Q. This is the fifth year of geographic divisions and eighth year of divisional play overall. The teams in the current East Division have 14 top 10 finishes, where in the West they have four. Is there a concern the league could be uneven competitively? And if so, is there anything that could be done to rectify that?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: You know, Scott, we've had two experiences with divisions. The first one was based on competitive balance over the last 20 years. And to be honest with you, it wasn't received that well. I think the identification by fans, their desire to play geographic rivals and to really fully sort of reinforce the historical rivalries at the end of the day was more important than trying to achieve in any particular timeframe competitive equality.
I'm not sure that we have a long enough window to really arrive at that conclusion. I think most of us -- all conferences except for the Big Ten have really stayed with their geographic groupings, and I think there's probably a reason for that. I think it probably has to do with the fan base's natural inclination to see, even though conferences are larger, more geographic rivalries.
So I think the data is self-evident now, but I think you'll see greater and greater competitiveness. I know in the SEC you saw a decade of Eastern dominance, and probably in the last 15 or years the West has probably been more dominant.
So I think you're going to see more and more competition between the two divisions which are similar. But I think your facts are the facts for now, and I don't expect there will be any change.
Q. You mentioned the conference's success in the bowl season. How much concern is there that the Big Ten champion hasn't reached the College Football Playoffs since the nine-game schedule went into effect?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: You know, the committee's job is a difficult one. We do have four years of data, and it is true that there have been champions have been excluded. We knew there would be champions excluded. It's a four-team playoff with ten champions out there. Five in the A-5. I think that there's a lot of reasons why you decide to do what you do in scheduling.
I think it's related to your fan base. I think it's related to building strength of schedule. I think it's related to getting your teams in the best possible shape for postseason. And I think what I cited earlier is that we're pretty successful in a lot of those categories.
I don't think there's any doubt that playing nine games in the kind of rigorous schedule that we play makes achieving an undefeated season more difficult. And it is true that the committee has not selected a team with two losses from any conference.
So we'll continue to watch it. We have tremendous respect for the committee. Their job is to select the four best teams. And we think that they operate in good faith. We continue to build a conference and be as good as we can be and we think that includes playing each other as much as we can, playing the best teams in the country in the nonconference as well as postseason and continuing to make the case that our teams are among the four best in the country.
But last year is a pretty good example. You can have a very, very successful year even in a year where you're not selected to play in the four-team playoff.
Q. Could you address the landscape now of legalized sports gambling coming? Gene Smith talked about the possibility of a league-wide injury report. Could you address that and any other actions you may take?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: We've had a lot of discussion about the changes in gambling that will obviously occur in the coming years. Couple things. First thing I would say is I think we've got great students playing football. Trust them. They're young. We need to continue to educate them about the challenges associated with gambling and the importance of the integrity of the game.
But I don't think that they are more vulnerable today than they were before the Sullivan case. That's the first thing I'd say. The second thing is I think we've got to double down on the educational element. I think we've done that over the years and we continue to do that.
I think that we would prefer a federal framework that either omits college sports from gambling at the state level. And if that's not possible, that there be some standardization of a framework so that college sports, high school sports, Olympic sports, those categories of sports receive some additional protection.
On the issue of player availability, I don't call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability. Whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression of one kind or another, I think we need to do that.
I think we need to do that nationally. And I think the reason we need to do that is probably with the exception of the home field, the availability of personnel is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally or illegally. And therefore, when players are unavailable, we should know that, if they're probably or likely, I don't have the model code, but I do think it's something that we should do and probably should have done it before, but certainly should do it now.
Q. Following up on that last one, with the recommendation of the panel, the committee, Condoleezza Rice and others, rules changes that might be coming from the NCAA and how it might affect the Big Ten, positively or negatively, impacting going forward, what are some of the bullet points you're looking forward to?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: On the Rice Commission?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: Obviously we had a very serious scandal in college basketball. Took Secretary Rice to head up a commission. She's given her recommendation. She had a good group of individuals to work with from different parts of the collegiate environment.
In general, we support those recommendations. They have to be taken from the conceptual to the actual. And I think there were eight working groups. We had people on four of them. But I expect that in whole or part her recommendations will become part of NCAA bylaws.
And I think most of them are very constructive. But I think the proof will be in the pudding. We didn't get ourselves here because of a failure of a regulatory system. We have a culture that I think we've been unable to wrap our arms around and ensure integrity in the recruitment process, call it player procurement, recruitment, call it what you will; there's a lot of suspicion there.
I'm not suggesting that every player, every coach who engages in the recruiting process are doing something wrong. But these are not isolated incidents. I think it's fair to say that a lot of people have had their suspicions over a long period of time.
We didn't get here overnight. We're not going to get out of here overnight. And I think Secretary Rice's recommendation are a first step, and most of them are what I would describe as midterm to longer term. There's nothing in the short term that's going to flip the switch here.
From a personal perspective, I really think, I really believe quite a bit that the NCAA should be doing spot checking, should be interfacing with great prospects earlier.
Very pleased to hear that the NBA and the Players Association are seriously thinking about eliminating the prohibition against young people turning professional. That prohibition deprives players of choice. These players should have choice. And there's nothing that would deny them or we have no interest in denying them the opportunity to go to college or the opportunity to professionalize themselves.
We have to figure that out. But we'd love to have them. If they want to go to college, want to play college basketball, terrific. If they're good enough and have an opportunity to professionalize themselves that ought to happen and in particular they ought to have the right kind of representation to make an informed decision.
But if we could all get involved with them earlier to not only develop their athletic skills but also to help them understand the choices they'll have, the better off we'll all be.
Q. Thirty years you've been commissioner of this league. Does this give you a chance to look back and personally maybe see where things have been and where things are headed?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: Let's just put it this way: In 30 years you see a lot. It's been a great opportunity for me to work with coaches, presidents, athletic directors, media friends, media partners.
And in some ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. We have more challenges today in America, partially because of the changes in the communication system. And we try to use those changes to benefit the universities, students, and I know that those changes had a tremendous effect on how you cover sports. It has a tremendous effect on young people and responsibilities and accountabilities that plays out with them.
It's an amazing place, the Big Ten. We've always been, you know, interested and concerned about competing on the national level. We've always been interested and concerned about providing an educational opportunity that was real, that was qualitative.
We can't guarantee the outcome. But we try to create the circumstances where that can occur. We've had our ups and our downs competitively, over a long period of time. We've tried to accept when we haven't been competitive, tried to accept that in a graceful way, not to be too much whining or complaining.
Committees have their jobs to do. We try to support them. I personally think we're at a place and should be at a place where you try to avoid being the critic all the time. A lot of times in America when you don't get what you want you become the critic of the institution that you created in order to help you achieve success.
When it doesn't give you what you want, it's pretty easy sometimes to start firing, but more often that ends up being firing in a circular firing squad: You end up shooting yourself and destroying what it is you've tried to create.
But I think there's an awful lot good about the intercollegiate enterprise. There's a lot that needed to change. Some of which are changing.
But I think you need the energy to keep your eye on the future, which would be providing better opportunities, higher quality opportunities and to maintain what is uniquely American about college sports.
I think the Big Ten exemplifies that with equity for men and women. 10,000 playing opportunities and graduation rates that meet or exceed the student body.
So we're human. Sometimes we fall short. But we're always aspiring. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on 30 years.
Q. One of those long-term ideas that has gained some traction is the Olympic model by which players are allowed to profit off of things like advertisements and still maintain their amateurism. Is that something long term you think could be realistically implemented?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: I think Condi Rice probably characterized that in the right way. We have been involved in litigation over pay for play, name image and likeness for a decade.
We're, quite honestly, probably in the seventh inning of that. We have a big case in California that will go to trial in September. Win or lose, I think whichever party doesn't prevail will appeal it. I think it will probably go to the Supreme Court.
And that will bring some resolution to the issue of pay for play. Once that is resolved, one way or the other, I think that how the student participates in amateur sports, whether they're Olympic sports, collegiate sports, little league sports, there will be plenty of time to try to resolve that.
But I think it's premature until the fundamental issue of can we make our rules, one, and, two, can we maintain intercollegiate athletics as we've known it over the last 100 years despite its weaknesses it has plenty of strengths, there will be plenty of time to discuss issues like name, image or likeness. Until the Jenkins case is resolved through the courts, I think we're better off just maintaining, holding our fodder on what might occur in the future in that area.
Q. Last season was the first season where you guys did Friday night football. What was the feedback, if any, you got from schools like Illinois and others, and how can that help this year for schools like Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State that will be participating in those games?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: Okay. Last year was the first year of our new football agreement. And as you know, before that, we had played on Thursdays and Fridays of Labor Day and we also played on Fridays of Thanksgiving weekend.
So there are probably two additional Friday games. If institutions had not wanted to play at home, that was an opportunity for them to check the box: We don't want to have home games. A number of them did.
A number of the schools said: We'd actually like a Friday game. That's occurred in several instances. And so it is an opportunity, I think. There are some conflicts with the high schools. But we've been able to really announce those games in advance. We've been able to work with the high school associations, and I think of the 93 games that were televised, I think there were two Friday games which wouldn't have been there in the past. And I think they went off fairly well.
I can't tell you that I know exactly what the date is on those two games, but we're going to continue to communicate. I don't expect many more than those two additional games. But they will be there going forward.
Q. Seems like the past couple of years have been financially successful for the conference, especially as the league has entered into new broadcast agreements. I'm wondering how you would describe how maybe increased financial windfall has benefited fans of Big Ten programs.
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: I think that how they've affected our institutions is a little bit different. We probably have maybe, relatively speaking, the most comparable funding from the highest funded to the least funded. But if you believe in college sports, the additional funding allows for the growth and sustaining of equitable opportunities for men and women.
It allows for the development of venues, academic support, psychological support, travel. So if you're a fan of a Big Ten institution, typically fans support not only football and basketball but to a lesser extent Olympic and other sports.
So I think it allows us to recruit nationally. It allows us to have financial aid packages to the maximum allowed by NCAA. It allows us to have the broadest base programs in the country. We have nearly 10,000 students participating and $250 billion of financial aid.
So it simply allows for a platform that provides high-quality educational and athletic opportunities. They're really unequalled among the major conferences in the country. Without those resources, we'd be unable to have a presentation and an opportunity set that I just described.
Q. You mentioned not wanting to do anything that would restrict the choice to compete professionally rather than attend college. A number of coaches have said: Once that decision is made to be a college athlete, there should be at least a two-year commitment. Jay Wright recently said that should be three years. Do you support that concept, or is that also a violation of freedom of choice?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: Well, the reality is you're asking a person, when you ask Jay or Jim or Tom, it really has no influence over that decision. I think one of the real misunderstandings, narratives, if you will, is that anybody -- there's nobody who has -- a lot of people have interests, but there's no one who has any control over the relationship between playing professional, when that happens, how that happens, than the Players Association and the ownership.
So from a personal perspective, it seems to me like the NFL model works for the NFL and its players. It works for us. There's no choice there. But I think everybody recognizes that most high school players aren't ready to play in college. Not even thinking seriously about putting a 17- or 18-year-old onto an NFL team.
So there's probably a health and safety issue there. Baseball handles it differently. I think baseball has 6,000 Minor League players. That works for us. That works for them. The NBA has gone back and forth on this issue.
But we don't have control over that. We don't really try to have control over that. But when they do things that are disruptive -- and certainly, I think, the one-and-done has been to some extent disruptive -- it's not good for us and I'm not sure how good it is for them.
So I appreciate Jay's point. I would like to have some stability in college. But we have no control over that. We have no leverage over that. We have no control over that. And I'm not really sure that we should.
Certain of the outcomes are compatible with what we do. Some of them aren't. And I think that's just part of the reality of the world that we live in.
Q. With something that you can't control like transfer rules, do you see that kid being able to have a choice in transferring without sitting out a year?
COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY: I think that there's been some evolution in the transfer areas. I know that the transfer working groups at the NCAA have been hard at work for a couple of years. I know they've made a recent change where the schools have given up or moved beyond having to provide permission in certain cases, graduate students and otherwise, there's more flexibility there.
I think there needs to be some balance there between the individual and their flexibility to make a change and the institution to have some stability inside the system.
So if we're making a four-year grant in aid commitment, if we're making return to college available, if we're doing a lot of things that we're doing, it seems to me that there needs to be some balance between the individual and the institution.
And it's not easy to arrive at, but I think that the direction that we've gone and the changes that were recently made are good ones.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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