What the Big Ten Teaches Us About Making Critical Decisions

By DJ Byrnes on October 29, 2013 at 1:29p

While reading this, imagine Jim Delany's maniacal cackling in the background. Per Forbes:

Over the past decade, perhaps no single organization has had a greater impact on its respective industry than the Big Ten Conference has on college sports. For the first hundred years of the conference’s existence, both the Big Ten and the college sports landscape as a whole had a largely uneventful history. While new schools entered the highest levels of collegiate athletics, for the most part competition remained regional and leaders of academia scoffed at the idea of breaking tradition to pursue a national spotlight and new streams of revenue. It was not until the Big Ten hired James E. Delany as their commissioner in 1989, that the college athletics paradigm started to shift from a university afterthought to the multi-billion dollar industry it has become today.

As with many new leaders, in becoming commissioner of the Big Ten, Delany immediately went to work overhauling an organization with tremendous potential but one that was ill positioned to take advantage of an operating environment that was ripe with opportunity. While Delany was unsure what lay ahead for college athletics in the coming years, he did know that his time as commissioner was not guaranteed for very long, and if he was to make a potentially controversial move, he should do it fairly early on in his tenure when his superiors would be more forgiving of a mistake. That is why just a year into his tenure, the Big Ten expanded for the first time in over 40 years by adding the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).

“There wasn’t a lot of strategic thought involved [in our decision to expand],” reflects Delany.  “We were approached by Penn State, and most of our presidents were receptive to adding a likeminded institution. I was pretty certain change was necessary, but admittedly it was a gut decision.  A lot of our constituents and conference alumni disparaged us for breaking from tradition with such a sudden move. In retrospect, although we got the right results, we did it with terrible execution.”

The B1G might not have the perception (or the reality) of the best football conference in America, but it definitely has the business acumen rivaled by none.


Comments Show All Comments

AndyVance's picture

I'd love to look into the mind of Delaney and see his thoughts on the current TV landscape, specifically if having Fox as the broadcast partner for the BTN is hurting the conference in terms of media perception and the perceived bias in favor of the SEC. With the SEC having ESPN as its major broadcast partner since 2008 and with the launch of the SEC network next year, there are certainly a lot of reasons to assume the four-letter network has a vested interest in (over)hyping the SEC, and downplaying the Big Ten. I wonder if he looks back and wishes he was in bed with Bristol instead of Murdoch.

Riggins's picture

ESPN dared Delany and the B1G to strike out on their own and roll the dice on forming their own network when Delany didn't think ESPN's TV offer was up to par.
Delany's response: "Consider them rolled."
Delany takes a ton of heat from casual fans, but I fear the day when the B1G has to replace him.  You could probably count his errors as commissioner on one hand.

AndyVance's picture

Totally agree about his replacement. That's going to be a very, very tall order for whomever has to follow him. 

Earle's picture

Never you mind, Kenny G's got it under control.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Notthatguy's picture

Now I just hope the schools hire some cot-damn coaches to match the business acumen. Hell, they're flushed with cash from the TV revenue...

I would've sent a check but I already sealed up the envelope...

Hovenaut's picture

From the office of:
Chief Martin Brody
James Edward Delany, Commissioner, B1G
Dear Jim,
"You're gonna need a bigger boat."

buckeyefanatic's picture

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

WildMan Leather and Lace's picture

And how does this help us the fans?  Great,  Our conference is rolling in the dough. Meanwhile the product on the field is crap.  In fact, it's such crap that an Ohio State team that manages to extract itself from this pile of feces unscathed won't even be given a chance to play for a title. At least Maryland and Rutgers are joining to make the editors at Forbes even more giddy. What a joke.  Thanks Jim!    

-1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

Seconded. He's figured out a way to make the conference and its members a shitload of money via the BTN. If it's not translating into on-field success, I couldn't give a shit. And his transparent and often tone-deaf pursuit of nothing but the bottom line ("leaders and legends," putting OSU and UM in different divisions, openly wanting to move The Game to earlier in the season until he got shouted down by the fans and schools, adding Rutgers because he thinks NYCers care enough about #ScarletKnightsFootball to leverage NYC cable providers into carrying the BTN - spoiler alert: they don't) fills the league's coffers, but at the cost of traditions that this regional conference has been enjoying for, you know, like a century. Plus no one does anything with the cash, other than OSU and to a lesser extent UM.
Yeah, "no single organization has had a greater impact on its respective industry than the Big Ten Conference has on college sports." I'm not sure the impact the conference has had has been a net positive for college sports and its fans.

-1 HS
AngryWoody's picture

In all fairness, making money is Jim Delany's job. Winning games falls on the individual athletic departments to put together winning teams. So I wouldn't blame Jim for the fact that the teams suck.

Our Honor Defend!

bucked up's picture

Totally agree. It's absolutely disgusting that our players could be screwed from an amazing opportunity because the schools in this conference are too busy wading in a sea of cash and not using it to give us adequate competition
I don't care about how much money this conference is making if the schools won't use any of it to fund their football programs.
Delaney needs to start getting in the faces of the AD's in this conference and threaten to cut their revenue if they don't want to spend it on their football programs.
The athletic facilities and coaching staffs throughout this conference are abysmal. These are problems that money and a halfway-decent intellect can quickly solve.
There's no reason that a school like Minnesota, situated in a major city with plenty of alumni and cash flow, should remain this un-competitive. There is enough high school football talent in the state of Illinois for them to challenge for a BCS bowl every so often.

AndyVance's picture

Well, Minnesota may be the one bottom-half team trying to heed your advice. They've built a new stadium and athletic facilities, and aside from having an expectedly small class this year, are trying to make some things happen this year on the recruiting trail. Add to that the fact that they just handed Nebraska a potentially crippling loss and are already bowl-eligible for a second season straight, and the Gophers may be trending up.
I'm far more concerned with Purdue, Illinois and Indiana (in that order) and to a lesser extent with TTUN and Nebraska. Those two traditional powerhouses need to get their acts together. Neither should have lost the games they've lost so far. Nebraska needs to remember to play defense, and M*ch*g*n needs to erase some plays from its offensive call sheets (see the running attack from the Penn State debacle, for example).