- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany often points out that he works for the league's presidents and chancellors, but at times it seems like the other way around.
Delany carries tremendous clout with his superiors, perhaps more than any other major conference commissioner. Although the presidents and chancellors have the final say on key decisions, they follow Delany's lead in areas like expansion, media rights and bowls/championships.
How well does Delany know the Big Ten presidents and chancellors? I'd say very, very well.
With that in mind, read this from SI.com's Andy Staples about Delany and the antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon. O'Bannon and the other plaintiffs are seeking a portion of television revenues from the NCAA over the use of their names and likenesses.
Delany was among several college sports power brokers to file declarations in federal court in support of the NCAA.
In a declaration filed last week in federal court in support of the NCAA's motion against class certification, Delany threatened that any outcome that results in athletes getting a piece of the schools' television revenue could force the schools of the Big Ten to de-emphasize athletics as the Ivy League's schools did decades ago.
"... it has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten's schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs," Delany wrote. "Several alternatives to a 'pay for play' model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten's philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes."
So Delany is saying the Big Ten presidents -- who have cash-cow athletic programs, mammoth football and basketball stadiums and deep-pocketed donors who want NCAA championships -- would go the way of the Ivy League versus accepting a pay-for-play model. Wow.
Imagine Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee or Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman telling their fan bases that big-time sports are no longer the way to go.
Delany told Staples that his declaration reiterates what he wrote in a 1996 article for NCAA News. The Big Ten, in his view, wouldn't accept a pay-for-play situation because of its foundational values and instead would go in a different direction.
Delany insists that this is only his belief and that he has not polled his presidents, but he seems confident that if conferences began negotiating with players and schools began paying one type of player more than another, the Big Ten's schools would not participate. "If that were to happen I think our presidents, our faculties and our boards of trustees would just opt out," Delany said. "I don't know what the opt-out means, whether that's Division III or another model."
He later added:
"It's not a bluff," Delany said. "It's a statement of belief. I think that's what would happen. I do not believe that the hypothetical case being put forth -- if it actually became the case -- that Big Ten institutions would engage in that."
The Big Ten likely would earn respect from the academic and non-sports community if it de-emphasized sports on principle rather than paying players. But the Big Ten isn't the Ivy League. Big-time sports are such an integral part of schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska.
Delany has a good pulse on the Big Ten presidents, but he also has made them so much money in recent years. The league distributed a record $284 million last year. The Big Ten's upcoming TV deal will bring in even more profits. Would the presidents be willing to walk away and adopt a D-III model? I can't see it happening. As Staples points out, Delany also said the Big Ten likely wouldn't agree to a playoff in college football (it eventually did).
But Delany knows his bosses a lot better than we do. It would be interesting to see how the league reacts if the O'Bannon plaintiffs win.