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Monday, January 12, 2009
Big Ten bowl wrap-up with Jim Delany, Part I

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany remains optimistic about next season.

His league has taken a beating on and off the field in recent weeks, and many are questioning the Big Ten's relevancy in college football. But league commissioner Jim Delany remains resilient, albeit realistic, about the recent struggles. The Big Ten went 1-6 in bowls this year, arguably the league's worst postseason performance ever. It extended the Big Ten's losing streak in BCS games to six.

Nine years have passed since the Big Ten won a Rose Bowl, and the league hasn't posted a winning postseason since 2002. I caught up with Delany on Friday to discuss the league's bowl performance and the future.

Obviously the Big Ten's record wasn't good, but how did you feel coming out of this postseason?

Jim Delany: I would rather have gone 6-1, but that's not what the predictors said we would be. I was optimistic going in. I thought we'd win more than we'd lost, but we did not, so it was disappointing. The margins in some cases were not good. In other cases, the games were more competitive. I've given it a lot of thought. I'm not sure I've arrived at any particular conclusions, other than we're playing elite teams. Certainly Southern Cal was playing at another level. That was clear to me. While Penn State got their way back into the game, [USC] really had their way by the half. I'd seen them play earlier against Ohio State and I saw them play last year [in the Rose Bowl] against Illinois. They're very good. They've got great athletes, they're well coached and they play at a level. We don't have a team that's playing at that level at this juncture. We just don't.

How do you think Big Ten teams competed in all the games?

JD: I saw the Michigan State-Georgia game and I saw the Missouri game, I saw the Ohio State game and I saw the Iowa game. Those games were more competitive. One we won and the other ones, we were definitely in the games. Obviously, our goal is to compete at the highest level. When you don't, you have to look internally. That's a football coach's role, to see exactly what needs to be done. We've got great coaches. I would say we have, probably more than people realize, five or six programs that are in the building stages. I don't think you can say anything other than that about Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois and now probably Purdue and Indiana. So to be fair, a program that has got a coach in Year 1, 2 or 3, is different than a program that is in Year 5, 6, 7 or 8. So that has an effect, but that doesn't speak really to the issue. The last four or five years, we've played USC four or five times. We've gotten blown out a couple of times, we were competitive a couple of times, but we haven't been able to beat them. So clearly a better program. And while LSU and Florida got us on championship day, we've gotten them in other bowl games. Michigan got Florida last year and Iowa got LSU. So I'm not despondent about our ability to compete. But I think at the very highest level the last three or four years, we have not had a team. When Florida, LSU and Southern Cal have had championship teams, to me they have been the crème de la crème in terms of coaches, athletes, et cetera.

So when you're going through this and trying to figure out why it's been like this, do you pinpoint quality of athletes, recruiting, anything like that?

JD: Well, I'm not an NFL scout. It's great for people to speculate. I look at the NFL rosters, and they're filled with guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady, lots of great players from all of these conferences. So I don't know. If you were looking at any factor, I would think that overall, I'm not sure anybody plays up as much as we do. And we're not playing in our backyard, that's for sure.

I get that from fans all the time, and I'm sure you do, too. But the bowl locations aren't going to change. We're not going to have bowls in Chicago and Minneapolis.

JD: That's why it's not worth mentioning. That's the way it's been historically and I presume, as long as the bowl system survives, that's the way it'll be. And so if you're going to be at the top, you're going to have to beat the best in their region, not in your region.

Does having to play USC in the Rose Bowl every year, in your signature game, hurt the Big Ten's perception more than other games?

JD: I don't know. We lost five in a row, but we won six of seven before that. The way I was always raised is that you compete against the best. If you're a player, you go to the best school you can go to. You don't transfer after one year for sitting on the bench. You compete and become as good as you can become. Then you go out and play the best teams you can play. Then you find out where you are. Then you go out and you try to make changes and adjustments to your game to try and get better. But where we are is, if you win, that's a wonderful thing, and if you don't, then somehow, something is wrong. Well, I would say you do have cycles. I've seen them happen to us. I've seen them happen to others. And I just think we're in a window where success and failure is judged quickly. It's taken apart and dissected. And I think our coaches do the same thing. They feel the pressure to perform. They don't have tenure.

The cyclical thing, history has certainly supported that argument. I just wonder if it's risky to put it on that. The game is changing, recruiting is changing.

JD: Well, you look at [offensive coordinator] Kevin Wilson at Oklahoma. Kevin was doing his thing at Northwestern before it ever got to Oklahoma. And Joe Tiller was doing his thing at Purdue before it was being done in other places. And Rich [Rodriguez] is doing his thing. And Galen Hall is spreading the field at Penn State. So it can be overdone. Kirk [Ferentz] rode his running back to a pretty convincing win. You play really high-quality teams. No disrespect to anybody who's not playing two or three SEC teams or two or three Big 12 teams or [USC]. But that's all we play.

Well, you talked about how five or six teams are in the building phase. Would the league be better off with an easier bowl lineup?

JD: You can't change, though. You can't change to say, 'Well, we're in the building stage, so we're not going to play the Pac-10 at the Rose Bowl. We're in the building stage so we're not going to send someone up to the BCS.' You don't have those choices. What you do is you have a philosophy of scheduling. Our philosophy of scheduling has been, 'The Rose Bowl is the most important relationship we have.' Maybe if USC had gone to more [BCS] championship games, we would have played Cal more often. Or maybe we would have played Arizona State. I don't know. But the fact of it is they've been there when we'
ve been there, and they've been a terrific opponent. We haven't been able to beat them. But that doesn't mean you stop playing them. I don't know what choices you have. The SEC's had a very good ride in the last four or five years. We're playing their teams. The Big 12 was good. Missouri was in and around [No. 1], Texas was in and around [No. 1], Kansas was highly regarded. That's who we're playing. If you're a competitor and you compete against the best and you do your best and you get whipped, you go home, you practice, you get stronger, you recruit harder and you go out and play them. I'm resilient as a fan, I'm resilient as the commissioner, I was resilient as a competitor. I respect the people that have won. I dropped a note to [SEC commissioner Mike Slive]. They've had a BCS hat trick. It's fabulous. His teams have done well and his coaches have coached well, his players have played well. That is what it is. We haven't won in the Rose Bowl in five years. That is what it is. So what do you do? You go back and you work harder and you play harder. That's the nature of competition.