Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated recently updated his list of the 10 most influential people in college sports. NCAA president Mark Emmert is, of course, not No. 1. It's the NCAA we're talking about here, after all. No, he's topped by two commissioners, the SEC's Mike Slive and the Big Ten's Jim Delany.
Staples places Slive in the top spot, but just barely, and justifies it like so:
So why, when they seem relatively equal, does Slive get the nod over Delany? Seven consecutive national championships in football, and Slive got everything he wanted in the negotiations for the format of the four-team playoff. Remember, Slive proposed this very idea in 2008. Delany opposed it until he saw no other option. Had we made this list two years ago, Slive would not have finished so high.
Staples also gives a nod to Slive re-working a TV deal that was quickly becoming substandard compared to the rest of college football (relative to the SEC's dominance, anyway), and that happened mainly because Slive was able to poach Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. That is not an insignificant thing and Slive deserves major credit for that.
But Delany's still the big dog here.
Slive's SEC dominates the world of college football, but that's in no small part due to the overwhelming regional talent advantage the SEC enjoys. True, Alabama can go wherever it wants for recruits, but often it doesn't have to go far, with talented prospects overflowing not just from Florida, but Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and the Carolinas.
The ACC has access to these markets to some extent too (and it's evident in the top echelon of the ACC's football programs), but by and large the ACC lacks the historical cultural connections to football that the SECs programs have. And while Slive has managed that culture very well, he has no more influence on that than a subway conductor has on a train.
Delany's Big Ten has that historical cultural connection to football, but the talent just ain't there. Sure, Michigan and Ohio State have decent numbers, and Pennsylvania pumps out plenty of prospects itself. But that regional talent base is almost never enough to get more than two or three Big Ten teams in the Top 25 of recruiting rankings in any given year.
Yet without that base of talent that has kept the crystal football in SEC country for seven years counting, thanks to Delany, the Big Ten is still practically printing money.
Yes, Slive expanded to 14 teams and reworked his TV deal in the process. The reason why he did that was because the Big Ten was so far ahead in dollars coming in per school for the foreseeable future. That's Delany influencing Slive—and not the other way around.
The Big Ten's influence has its limits—remember that silly, futile playoff posturing on behalf of the Rose Bowl—but the Big Ten is also the conference that has shaped the conference realignment picture.
The SEC swiped two schools from the Big 12, but it was Delany coaxing Nebraska from the clutches of (now former) Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe that rocked the Big 12 into near-collapse to begin with. The ACC looked safe and was taking what it wanted from the Big East. Then the Big Ten decided it wanted Maryland, and now the ACC's praying its exit fees hold up in court; otherwise, it's probably next to be gutted.
Think about that: The Big Ten is horribly top-heavy in football. Its underbelly is soft and squishy, existing for little more purpose than to fill out the conference's allotment of eight bowls a year and hoping it wins more than two. And yet the Big Ten is still a taker in today's college sports environment. It makes unholy amounts of money, it expands where it wants with zero concern of losing membership and it pushes small conferences around for fun.
You can think Delany, the biggest dog in the yard, for that.