Big Ten bowl wrap-up with Jim Delany, Part II

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the second half of my bowl wrap-up interview with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. For Part I, click here.

Given that these things tend to be cyclical, do you see a four- or five-year stretch of winning records on the horizon for the Big Ten?

Jim Delany: That's what we came out of. We had four or five years where we had done pretty well. If you look at the history of it, you can break it down by 20 years, 10 years, five years. People don't get to where they've got without having some success along the line. To whom much is given, much is expected, and we have amazing universities, amazing fan bases, amazing resources. We have very good coaches. It's more the surprise if you go on a four-year, five-year period where you're not competing at the very top. And having said that, I don't think it's as far down as many think. If you want to pick out LSU, Florida and USC and say, 'Did we get beat good?' I'd say, 'Yeah.' I'd also say, 'Did anybody else play them at that level?' They're beating everybody pretty good.

You've had four consecutive seasons of getting multiple teams in BCS bowls. Given the recent struggles, are you still confident that it will continue next season?

JD: You have to look at each year on its own merits. If you have a team in the Top 10 and they're going to travel well, they could go. We don't have a situation where the top eight teams go. We have a situation that is different. A lot of people were complaining that Utah wasn't [No. 1]. Well, if it wasn't for the BCS, Utah wouldn't have been in a major bowl. Nor would have Boise [State in 2007]. Nor would have Hawaii [in 2008]. The BCS made those venues available in ways that were never available before. So rather than criticize it, I look at it as, 'Hey, we've opened up the system.' People might say, 'The Rose Bowl should be opened up and anybody should be able to go.' And I would say, 'That's something that was built over 60 years, and I don't think that's going to happen.' I look at it as hey, we've played some great football teams. We've been competitive in some cases, we've won some games and we've gotten beat pretty soundly in some others. Those are the facts. If you can't be honest enough about the facts, you're not being realistic. And you have to be realistic. They have been really, really good, and we haven't had a team at the level that Florida played at, at the level that LSU played at and the level that USC played at. At all other levels, we've got teams that can play, and at a particular time and place, we can climb back up. I'm optimistic and resilient about it.

You mentioned USC, LSU and Florida and not having a team quite at that level right now. Do you think a team isn't far from that in the Big Ten?

JD: It's hard to know because wherever Florida was this year, they weren't there last year because we beat them. And LSU, the year before they won it, we beat them. So I don't think that there is a big gap between playing at what I would describe as super elite level and at a very good level. Penn State had four or five losing seasons and coach [Joe] Paterno said, 'We're just a few players away.' Well, he was correct. I look at Ohio State with Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor and they were certainly all Texas could handle, but without them, they really weren't capable against USC. So I really don't think it's far, but who's to say? We've got a half dozen of our 11 teams, they have young staffs, new staffs, that are building programs. I think Michigan will be back quickly, Illinois is on the upswing, Michigan State's on the upswing, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota. Having played on three teams that went to Final Fours and never won a national championship, I can identify with how good Ohio State is. They're a very, very good college football team. It's more a sign of the times when somebody can be that good, accomplish that much, win at Texas, play Texas tough this year, do a lot of really good things, and people can only find out, if you're not [No.] 1, you must be no one.

Oklahoma will go through the same thing now, no doubt.

JD: I think there's something fundamentally wrong with tagging somebody who accomplishes something as much as the Oklahoma team has accomplished. That means there could only be one great program, and everybody else is a loser. And you know what? That doesn't conform to reality. That doesn't conform to my sense of quality. I'm not saying we can't get better, we won't get better, we haven't been better. All I'm saying is there are a lot of good football teams. Congratulations to Florida for winning two of the last three and the SEC. They have clearly demonstrated they're at the top of the heap in this cycle, and they should be recognized for such. But I've always felt the Pac-10 didn't get their due. Everybody was down on the Pac-10. Well, USC was pretty good, they went 5-0 [in bowls]. But again, it's five games. I look around at people that were 4-2, they could have been 2-4. But it is what it is, and I take a little bit of a longer-term view. You have to look at your programs and say, 'OK, what's really going on? Do you like the leadership of your programs?' And in all of my cases, I say, 'Yeah, I do.' They have enough resources to be successful. They have great fan bases and media agreements. So everything's in place, and there's not a lot of difference between winning and losing. You have to tip your hat to those that are at the elite level, but you can't crawl in a hole and start making excuses and self-flagellating. The infrastructure's there to be very good.

We talked about urgency before the bowl season. Is there a new sense of that or an even heightened sense going into the 2009 season?

JD: Our coaches and our players are not immune. They realized that we haven't performed on the big stage as well as we would have liked to. So I think they played very hard. I saw how hard Penn State played. I thought Ohio State played really hard. The [Northwestern] Wildcats, I was really proud of how hard they played. So I don't think it's a matter of urgency because if your players are playing their hearts out and your coaches have them prepared and they lose the game, there's no shame in that. If you're doing it the right way in college sports, while you're disappointed, you get up, you clean your pants off, you go back to spring practice, you continue to recruit, you hope the kids graduate and have a good experience, and you congratulate the people that won the game. That's how I've tried to view it, even though I'd much rather win the games.

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