Is Fear Driving Jim Delany's Leadership of the Big Ten?
When Jim Delany’s head hits the pillow at night, the Big Ten Conference commissioner dreams of his own college football utopia. Delany’s Shangri-La is a dark realm devoid of what makes the sport truly great—but to the Big Ten boss, it is perfect.
In Delanyville, none of his precious “legends” or “leaders” are subject to humiliating losses and the football is as close to the NFL as possible—without the players being paid, of course.
However, every once in a while, Delany has nightmares, vivid flashbacks to September 1, 2007: the day that changed college football.
You remember it too, when FCS Appalachian State marched into the Big House and pulled the biggest upset in NCAA history—a shocking and embarrassing defeat of No. 5 Michigan on opening weekend.
In early 2013, Delany woke up in a cold sweat, to the image of the UM’s final field-goal attempt being blocked by the Mountaineers in the waning seconds of that monumental upset.
From that moment on, Delany wanted to make sure that nightmare would never haunt him again.
In February, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez announced on a radio show that the Big Ten would no longer include FCS opponents on its schedule (Via Jeff Potrykus, Journal Sentinel).
On the other side of the coin, there are a few legitimate reasons why the Big Ten seems justified in nixing FCS foes.
The 2012 season brought two well-publicized FCS-FBS matchups that ended in embarrassment for the little guy. In consecutive weeks to open the season, FBS powers Oklahoma State and Florida State pummeled FCS bottom-dweller Savannah State by a combined score of 139-0.
However, with all due respect to the Tigers, they had no business playing successful Big 12 and ACC programs. SSU notched just one win in 2012—a 42-35 victory over Edward Waters College, a little NAIA school with an enrollment of 847 (Via CollegeAtlas.org).
At the same time, the Savannah State example also brings up Exhibit B in the case against scheduling FCS foes—strength of schedule.
With the College Football Playoff starting in 2014, SOS will become increasingly important, as numerous schools will likely finish the season with similar records near the top of the rankings.
When that happens, Delany doesn’t want to be on the outside looking in at a Big Ten-free playoff because his teams scheduled FCS cupcakes in their nonconference slates.
However, Delany may not have quite the grasp on SOS as he thinks he does.
Because when his teams start to replace FCS powers like North Dakota State and Appalachian State with FBS also-rans like Akron and Idaho, they’ll actually be taking a step back in SOS.
In the final Jeff Sagarin ratings of 2012 (via USA Today), FCS champion North Dakota State was ranked No. 35 in the nation, right next to one of the Big Ten’s best teams, Michigan State at No. 34. The Bison actually came in ahead of five current Big Ten teams and seven including future members Rutgers and Maryland.
NDSU won its only step-up game in 2012—a sound 22-7 beating of Colorado State on the road. And the Bison aren’t the only team worthy of making the occasional jump up in competition.
Just last season, FCS Northern Iowa nearly knocked off eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin in Madison, as the Badgers had to hold off a late rally to eke out a 26-21 win.
So how do we decide which squads are capable of making the jump? Well, luckily, the FCS has a handy system for determining its best teams called a tournament, in which the best 16—and starting next year, best 24—teams in the country playoff to determine a champion.
Why can’t the best FCS programs play up, earn a handsome paycheck and have their shot at pulling off a monumental upset?
Oh, right—Jim Delany’s nightmares.
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