Big Ten tour: Q&A with Jim Delany, Part I

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- Some consider him the most powerful man in college athletics. Others label him the biggest obstacle to a college football playoff system. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might be both, but his influence in college football is undeniable.
Only the fifth commissioner in Big Ten history, Delany enters his 20th year in the job. He has seen the league add an 11th member, negotiated several new TV contracts and helped establish the Big Ten Network, a massive project that generated both excitement and criticism. A long-anticipated agreement between the Big Ten Network and Comcast was reached this summer, but some Big Ten fans still don't have access to the programming. After a nasty bout with an illness last week, Delany sat down with me Wednesday at the Big Ten offices. You can only get to so many topics in a 15-minute interview, but Delany discussed the Big Ten Network, the BCS/playoff debate, nonconference scheduling and his own future.

You mentioned last week [at Big Ten media days] that two of your peers, [Pac-10 commissioner] Tom Hansen and [Big East commissioner] Mike Tranghese are retiring. Have you thought about how much longer you'll do this job?

Jim Delany: Yeah. I'm still enjoying what I'm doing. I expect that I'll be here for an indefinite period of time. I don't think I'm going to work as long as [former SEC commissioner Roy] Kramer did or maybe [current SEC commissioner Michael] Slive or even Hansen, but I think I'll be here for the next five years or so. That's my horizon.

Have you thought at all about what your legacy might be?

JD: Not really. To be honest, I feel like I go from cycle to cycle, cycles of bowl games and cycles of television agreements. At different times you have different challenges. One might be incorporating Penn State, another might be trying to incorporate the Big Ten Network, another one might be, 'Hey, we've got an initiative on sportsmanship. We're trying to raise academic standards.' I sort of get involved in a lot of projects. But I'm obviously conscious of, did we start a men's [basketball] tournament? How's it going? Are we able to re-establish the Rose Bowl within the BCS? So I'm very much aware of trying to have an incline, a gradual improvement in bowls, bowl access, making the championship game a better game, continuing to grow our postseason tournament.

I've always been pleased to see the level of commitment our schools have to [gender] equity. At one time we were 71 percent male, and today we're near 50-50. And also the exposure. For many decades, we were considered the big two and the little eight. Now with bowl opportunities and television opportunities and the resources that we have, there's just a lot more parity. We've had seven different teams go to the Final Four in the last 15 or 20 years. We've had eight or nine different teams win or share Big Ten [football] championships. So the notion of having great traditional programs, whether it's Michigan or Ohio State or whoever, but also having the ability of everybody to have a chance and keep hope in the programs, that's what makes it special.

The Big Ten Network was obviously a major project. What's the next big thing on your schedule?

JD: I don't consider the Big Ten Network to be completed until we have full distribution. Until we've got distribution in Iowa and Wisconsin and Ohio, to the same level we have in the other five states, it's a work in progress. We didn't expect it to be easy. Obviously, you're judged on the progress you make. We've made some, but obviously you're not all the way there. Once you get there with distribution, the pictures were great, the HD pictures were great and the games were good, the talent was good.

Then you start really trying to build the brand of the schools, the brand of the teams and the brand of the conference by working on programming that supports the schools and the teams and the athletes. One of the things we were surprised by is we had so much promotional time because it wasn't fully distributed. As a result, we didn't have all the advertisers. So we had a lot of time to promote, to blow our own horn, but we didn't really have the inventory and the creative behind it. So we're much better positioned going into Year 2 to do that. In Year 3, we'll be in an even better position.

In terms of the negotiations with Mediacom and other companies, where are those right now? What's holding it up?

JD: They're just discussions. I'm not at the table. I'm going to let them play out. I think we have to be patient, to some extent. At the same time, we've got to be able to communicate with fans and right now, everybody's just working hard to see whether or not there's a resolution.

So for the Iowa fans who want to see that Iowa State game [Sept. 13], is it still up in the air?

JD: Yeah, there's not much I can say to them other than we're in discussions and I'm not at the table. There's not much to add to that.

I asked you last week about the BCS and the playoff argument. As commissioners, you obviously have to do your jobs but also pay attention to what the fans want. You mentioned they're voting by going to the games.

JD: What I meant by that was not that they're voting for the BCS with their feet. They're voting for the meaningfulness of the games that are occurring during the regular season, which, in my view, is related to the power and the contribution of the BCS and the system. You could agree or disagree about the BCS, but anybody who says the regular season isn't more alive in its Technicolors, 3-D, compared to what it was a decade ago -- and I attribute a lot of that to the BCS. I don't mean they're voting for the BCS. I mean they're voting for a healthy regular season.

If the movement for a playoff increases, will we see a playoff in the next 10, 15 years?

JD: When I was 30, I saw the next 10 years pretty clearly, and at 60, I don't see the next five years as clearly. Maybe that's why there's a visionary out there who can tell you what's going to be there in 15 years. Fundamentally, college football is different than a lot of other sports. It's been a one-semester sport. The regular season [games are] not a commodity, there aren't 30 of them, there are 12 or 13 of them. We've done a pretty good job historically, because the Auburn-Alabama game has meaning and the Army-Navy game, UCLA-USC, all those games, through television, have become national games. At one time, they were regional. And now, as a result of the BCS and the rivalries, other games that have been sort of lower down the food chain -- important, but not as important -- have got new meaning. I'd even go so far as to say we've created new value at Boise and Hawaii, and it does drive some people crazy when they don't get to go to the BCS, but it also makes their fans even more interested the following y