Big Ten Football: Delany's Thirst for Centralized Power Is Getting out of Hand

Adam Jacobi@Adam_JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterJuly 20, 2012

Dec 3, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Big Ten commissioner James Delany presents the championship trophy to the Wisconsin Badgers after the game against the Michigan State Spartans at the Lucas Oil Stadium. The Badgers defeated the Spartans 42-39. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

The Big Ten is already walking back reports from yesterday about Jim Delany's plan to have firing power over individual coaches. According to ESPN, the Big Ten denied that report, saying emergency firing power is "not under consideration by the presidents and chancellors."

Now, it's worth noting that the report from the Chronicle of Higher Learning technically mentioned giving Delany and a committee of presidents the power to sanction individual coaches with fines, suspensions and termination, and the word "emergency" wasn't mentioned by the Chronicle at that time. So if all the Big Ten is denying is unilateral firing power by Delany, well, fine. There would be a process to that power.

But let's not take the conference's denial as proof that its heart is and has always been set on limited central authority. It's quite the opposite. In fact, according to a new report by the Chronicle from Thursday night, Delany also wanted to play a critical role in hiring coaches as well:

Expressing frustration at bad hires that certain Big Ten institutions had made, which had led to NCAA violations and other problems, Delany said he thought he could do a better job of vetting candidates. He also believed he could pull the trigger sooner on coaches whose poor behavior could damage the Big Ten’s reputation.

For those reasons, he thought it would be “useful” if he had the authority to make hiring, firing and evaluation decisions involving football and men’s basketball coaches.

“He wanted to offer that he would play a very central role in hiring and managing the power coaches in the conference—that the commissioner would be insulated from boosters and campus politics,” this person said. “And knowing the situation going on in intercollegiate athletics, he could play a really critical role in hiring decisions.”

Two things here. First: Delany's trying to have it both ways. Money doesn't come without influence. Money buys influence. And for as much money as Delany brings in via media deals (and it's a lot of money), it's still chump change compared to the overall revenue that most Big Ten athletic departments receive. The rest of that money wants its say, too, and Delany can't just muscle its influence out of the way—and if he does, the money dries up. That's how it is.

Second, let's go back to what prompted this: "bad hires that certain Big Ten institutions had made, which had led to NCAA violations and other problems." This, obviously, is not a Penn State issue. Jim Delany was 18 when Joe Paterno was hired.

So unlike Delany's firing proposal, which was ostensibly a result of the Penn State scandal but had never really been necessary in the history of the Big Ten, there is actual precedent here. And just because the specifics aren't mentioned doesn't mean we can't try to figure out who they're talking about here.

The obvious answer is Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. (Quick basketball stuff here, skip to the next paragraph if it makes your eyes glaze over.) Sampson had already been recently sanctioned by the NCAA for improper recruiting practices while he was coaching at Oklahoma, and he was on probation when Indiana hired him. Shockingly, Sampson ran afoul again at Indiana, and the program took years to recover.

But that's just one instance, and the article says "hires" and "institutions." But the Big Ten isn't a cesspool of NCAA misconduct, especially right out of the gate. Sure, there was Jim Tressel, but that regime took over a decade to unravel, and the preceding decade was awesome for Ohio State and the Big Ten. That can't be what they mean.

No, if only there was a flagship institution in the Big Ten, one with a pristine history with the NCAA and great on-field success, plunged to depth unseen both on and off the field after an immediately criticized hire, a hire that many thought went against the culture of that storied institution. That's the type of scenario that Delany must have in mind and oh my God

Did...did Jim Delany hate Rich Rodriguez? Did Delany oppose that hiring from day one? Is that what this is about?

He would deny it, of course. Any competent commissioner would refuse to name names. But this move would make so much sense, especially with so few other "bad" hires in the Big Ten (say what you will about Tim Brewster, but his NCAA compliance seemed to be in order).

But let's get back to the philosophical issue at stake. Insulation from the political pressure of dingbat boosters can be a very good thing. Having the right coach and keeping him is crucial, and that "right coach" is often not the "OMG" hire. In fact, usually it's the opposite.

Jim Tressel wasn't Ohio State's first choice by a long shot. Brady Hoke didn't blow anybody's skirt up in Ann Arbor (remember people asking if some mid-major guy can recruit in the Big Ten?). Kirk Ferentz was on nobody's radar when Hayden Fry stepped down. Bret Bielema? Mark Dantonio? Yawner hires.

That's not to say input from a commissioner can't possibly be important. If Delany wants to put together some sort of advisory committee with non-binding recommendations that schools are free to ignore, fine. Couldn't hurt. If he wants real muscle in these situations, though, that's a power grab, and there's no way the Big Ten member institutions should allow that to happen.

Think of it this way: Jim Delany as Microsoft Office Paper Clip—"It looks like you're about to hire Ron Zook. Are you sure you want to do that?"—totally fine. Jim Delany as HAL 900—"I'm afraid I can't let you hire Urban Meyer, Gene" (shoots the Ohio State AD into space)—problem. Yes, my references are timely. 

But at the end of the day, if you don't want your schools to hire a Rich Rodriguez, you have to let one of them hire a Rich Rodriguez and learn that fact for themselves. People learn from their mistakes, not from decrees (unless you have a church to run, anyway). Giving more power to Jim Delany may or may not improve the conference in any material way, but the Big Ten has certainly succeeded without an overlord.

So really, it's another attempt to fix that which ain't broke.