Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Delany, Slive key to playoff compromise
By Adam Rittenberg
As the BCS commissioners prepare to meet Wednesday in Chicago, colleague Mark Schlabach examines the two most powerful figures in the negotiation room: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive. It's a good, comprehensive look at two influential men. Give it a read.
Delany and Slive represent the two richest and most popular conferences in college sports, and not surprisingly, they have a bit of a rivalry. As Schlabach details in the ESPN The Magazine piece, Delany and Slive likely will sit opposite one another in Wednesday's meeting.
The two men have similar backgrounds -- East Coast roots, law degrees -- but they operate in different ways. They've also taken different approaches during the playoff discussion -- Delany has put multiple ideas on the table; Slive has taken a firm position in recent weeks to select the "best four teams," period.
Some tidbits from the story:
"Jim Delany is one of the most competitive people I've ever met," says one industry insider familiar with the negotiations. "He sees the world in simple terms: You're either helping the Big Ten or hurting it."
The 64-year-old Delany has earned his reputation as an aggressive and abrasive commissioner in 23 years at the helm of the Big Ten. Slive, 71, has taken a more soft-spoken and diplomatic approach in his 10 years with the SEC. "Don't be fooled by Slive's grandfatherly demeanor," says the source. "These guys have been at it for a while. They remind me of Bowden and Paterno. I don't see one retiring until the other does." ....
Other commissioners, like the Pac-12's Larry Scott and the Big 12's Bob Bowlsby, have quietly lined up behind Delany and Slive, respectively. The Pac-12 wants to preserve its matchup with the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl; the Big 12 recently negotiated a similar postseason marriage with the SEC. These aligned interests have served only to consolidate Delany's and Slive's positions of power. "The quickest way to solve the debate would be to stick Jim and Mike in a room and tell them, 'Let us know when you've got it figured out,' " says a source. "At this point, it's about which one is willing to come to the middle."
Less than three years after Delany spoke before Congress, Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford presented a plus-one model, matching the top two teams in the country in a national championship game following the BCS bowls. Delany shook his head in disagreement -- and heads around the table nodded along with him.
In 2012, those same heads were mostly shaking no when Delany trumpeted "home-field advantage" and "hybrid model." While the SEC has gained leverage during what Slive describes as its golden age, the Big Ten has lost footing as it endures one of its most regrettable stretches. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign in May 2011 for lying to the NCAA and hiding rules violations by his players. (Delany asked the NCAA to keep the accused Buckeyes eligible for the 2011 Sugar Bowl, only to have OSU's victory later vacated.) Then Penn State fired Joe Paterno after former assistant Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually assaulting young boys. That pall has followed Delany into these playoff negotiations. Once entrenched, he must now react rather than set the tone.
I have to respectfully disagree with my pal Schlabach on the last point. Delany still has plenty of influence in the room, and his strategy to not wed himself to one plan or another during an ongoing negotiation could work out well in the end. But it's fair to say the Big Ten's voice isn't as strong as it once was. But it has much less to do with the recent scandals and much more to do with the fact the league has only one football national championship in the BCS era (Ohio State, 2002).
Whether you love or hate Delany, he has put the Big Ten in the best possible position to succeed. Quite frankly, his teams have let him down, while Slive's have come through for him.
For more BCS meetings/playoff content, check out Schlabach's BCS meetings primer, Ivan Maisel on the historical debate over a college football playoff and some additional views on the playoff possibilities from our friends on the ESPN television side.