NCF Nation: Jim Delany
When the Big Ten suffers through a Saturday like this past one, it's only natural to extrapolate about the state of the league. Because this isn't just an isolated incident.
Mama clearly was talking about the Big Ten when she said there'd be days like this.
Remember Week 2 in 2012, when the league went 6-6 and 1-6 against Power 5 teams and Notre Dame? Saturday felt like a flashback. While the league's Week 2 record this season was better (8-5), it ended on a stinkier note with three double-digit losses in national showcase prime-time games. No one can forget New Year's Day in 2011, when the Big Ten played a record five bowl games and lost them all.
When is the last time the Big Ten actually had a great day? Midway through the Michigan State-Oregon game, a colleague in Eugene, thinking about possible story angles, asked about the Big Ten's biggest wins since 2007. The two Rose Bowl wins (Ohio State in 2010, Michigan State in 2014) jumped out along with Iowa's Orange Bowl win, Michigan's Sugar Bowl win and Ohio State's since-vacated Sugar Bowl win. But I had a hard time identifying a truly significant regular-season nonconference victory, one that resonated nationally. The colleague ended up writing about Oregon.
There's a pattern here. Anyone who thinks it's just ESPN spin or a cyclical low point is in denial. Saturday was a bad day, but it's part of a bad decade. There's no other way to present it.
"I look at the big picture, in part," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told me Sunday. "I recognize we haven't won a championship since '02. I look at it in that way. I see the narrative, and if we had two or three [big games], we'd be feeling better.
"We're not feeling very good, but the facts are the facts."
Some Big Ten fans attach the league's shortcomings to Delany, which I don't understand. They say he chases the money more than trying to improve the football product. How do record revenues and unprecedented TV exposure hurt football? It doesn't unless schools fail to use those resources correctly. You might not like Maryland and Rutgers, but Big Ten teams should like the recruiting areas surrounding their campuses.
Then again, perhaps that's not Delany's role.
"I do what I can do, which is do my job," Delany said. "Each athletic director does his or hers, and each coach does his. We talk a little bit about what's a good TV approach, what’s a good bowl approach. People develop stadiums. They recruit based on academic standards and where they believe they’re strong.
"I'm comfortable with how we're doing it. I would just like to have more success. I don't have a magic wand or a special idea."
Mike Slive is a very good commissioner, but he's not the driving force behind the SEC's football success. The schools are. He doesn't tell SEC programs how to coach, recruit or invest. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is a dynamic, innovative thinker, but he's a former pro tennis player. He's not telling Mark Helfrich and David Shaw how to run their programs.
"You talk about bowls and you talk about schedules and playing good opponents, but it’s really not about building a football team," Delany said. "That's done locally. The conference provides certain structure for discussion, not whether you're in the spread [offense] or you're recruiting Florida or California. We don't do that in any of our sports.
"I doubt very much whether Alabama and Florida talk about it, or UCLA and Stanford. These institutions are naturally competitive, and how they build their programs is naturally competitive."
I get that, but it might be time that Big Ten schools acknowledge their collective problem -- always the first step -- and try to find collective solutions, especially in recruiting. Coaches have diverse backgrounds and observe the national landscape. Some Big Ten programs will be developmental in nature, but it doesn't mean recruiting strategies can't change a little. Would a group discussion about where you recruit, whom you recruit, certain positions and, gasp, academic standards be so bad?
I've always admired the Big Ten's approach to revenue sharing. The idea is to get all ships to rise. Perhaps it's time to extend that philosophy to football. Because days like Saturday drag down the entire league and devalue the league race, which could hurt come playoff selection time.
Delany might lack a magic wand, but if the Big Ten comes together and brainstorms how to fix football, its tired act on the field could start to change.
Jim Delany feels your pain.
"I'm the No. 1 fan of the Big Ten so I look at it more like a fan looks at it," the league commissioner told ESPN.com on Sunday. "I don't get over it immediately. I give myself a day to think about it.
"But I have to go to work Monday morning."
Big Ten teams also are back at work after an extremely rough Saturday on the field. The league suffered double-digit losses in all three of its national prime-time showcase games: Michigan State-Oregon, Michigan-Notre Dame and Virginia Tech-Ohio State. Michigan was shut out for the first time since 1984, an NCAA-record stretch of 365 games. The rough night ended a day that began with Nebraska needing a last-minute touchdown to top FCS McNeese State, and both Northwestern and Purdue losing to Mid-American Conference opponents (Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, respectively). Iowa also needed a furious rally to outlast another MAC team, Ball State, at Kinnick Stadium.
Saturday marked the first time since Sept. 17, 1988, that Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan all lost on the same day.
"I said at the time I thought they would be disproportionally impactful," Delany said of the three games. "I'm not changing that. Big games matter on big stages with big ratings and a lot of attention. In the three primetime games, we didn't win any. That's disappointing.
"I would say this: I said they would be disproportionally impactful but I didn't say they would be dispositive."
Dispositive, for those who don't know (I didn't), is defined as: relating to or bringing about the settlement of an issue. Delany's point: it looks bad now, but the season is far from over, and the door to the College Football Playoff hasn't been closed.
"We’re not feeling very good but the facts are the facts," said Delany, who attended the Michigan-Notre Dame game in South Bend while monitoring the Michigan State and Ohio State contests. "I would just say with 50 percent of the nonconference games and 100 percent of conference games remaining, it's premature to make any judgments.
"It's September 7, not December 7. I would hate to think after two weeks we'd pick any teams for anything."
The day reminded many of Week 2 in 2012 or New Year's Day in 2011, where the Big Ten went 0-5 in bowls, including the Rose Bowl. Delany understands "the big picture" -- no national titles since 2002, repeated flops on the national stage in recent years -- but he's not going to make and predictions or conclusions about this season.
He thinks the playoff selection committee will do the same and evaluate a team's entire body of work. He pointed to Auburn, last year's national runner-up, and Michigan State, last year's Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion, as teams that weren't being discussed at all so early in the season.
"There's probably 40 teams on people's radar screens now and we'll end up with four," he said. "Why would they wait six weeks to put a poll out? Why would they meet every week? Why would they say, 'Let's disregard the [outside] polls?' They don't have many data points to begin with, so they're going to look at all the data points. I have full confidence. I believe in the system.
"You don't play your way into contention after two weeks. You play your way into contention after 13 weeks."
Some will say the Big Ten already has played itself out of contention. There are few showcase nonleague opportunities left and, because of the Week 2 results, conference victories might lose national significance.
But Delany is right: A lot of the season remains and, with it, plenty of playoff plot twists.
"You want to make sure the narrative and the facts are aligned at the end," he said. "It's too early for any narrative for the narrative to be fully developed. We had some opportunities we didn't cash in on. I realize that they're disproportionally impactful but they're not dispositive. If they were, we’d cut the line here.
"We'll get back to work and get better and see what the full narrative looks like on December 7."
Right now, that's all the Big Ten can do.
"It's what I would describe as a fresh start," Delany told ESPN.com on Monday morning. "It's going to be what happens on the field, what happens as the [playoff selection] committee evaluates teams.
"It's much more of a new day than an old day in a sense that the old polls, the old computers are things people can look at, but the tendency is going to be for the committee to look at things in a new way, in a novel way."
If the committee members let recent performance or conference perception enter their minds, the Big Ten will be in trouble. Big Ten fans hate hearing this, but when a league hasn't won a national championship since 2002 and just two Rose Bowls since 2000, its reputation takes a beating.
The playoff decision, if done right, will be about what happens from Thursday night until Selection Sunday on Dec. 7. According to college football playoff executive director Bill Hancock, committee members have been told to "discredit" potential influences like the preseason polls. Hallelujah.
"There's somewhat of a clean slate," Delany said.
It gives the Big Ten the perfect opportunity to change the narrative, beginning with this week's games. No conference needs a stronger start than the Big Ten, which not only has chances to compete with the elite (Michigan State-Oregon, Wisconsin-LSU) but several other games (Virginia Tech-Ohio State, Miami-Nebraska, Iowa-Pitt, Utah-Michigan) where it must hold serve.
The goal for the Big Ten is to perform well enough that conference games become résumé-boosters for the playoff rather than overlooked contests in an also-ran league. How many SEC teams have played weak or so-so nonleague schedules but received enough credit for their league wins to make the national title game? That's a luxury the Big Ten wants, and one that must be earned in the coming weeks.
Take the Ohio State-Michigan State game, for example. A Buckeyes win that night means a lot more if it comes against an MSU team that stunned Oregon in Eugene. A Spartans win carries more weight if it comes against an undefeated Ohio State squad that is handling Braxton Miller's absence well. If both teams struggle in nonleague play, the game likely falls off the national radar.
Unfortunately, the Big Ten lacks many premier division crossover games this season. Top West Division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa don't play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. Nebraska, another threat in the West, only plays Michigan State. It's why the Big Ten needs surprise teams to rise up early in the season. Then there will be more league games the committee must monitor.
Michigan beating Notre Dame and Utah could help, especially if those teams go on to good seasons. The same holds true for Penn State beating UCF, Minnesota beating TCU, Maryland handling West Virginia and Syracuse, and Rutgers and Illinois winning in Seattle (against Washington State and Washington, respectively). It's all connected.
"You only have four nonconference games, and a lot of them are against opponents you're not going to get any credit [for beating]," Delany said. "You have a number of big games. If you do well, you're going to have people recognize you. If you don't, they're going to look at those who do do well. It's important."
One early game that will get much more attention than it would have weeks ago is Saturday's meeting between Ohio State and Navy. Buckeyes redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett will make his collegiate debut, filling Miller's massive shoes.
The Miller injury sparked the standard gloom-and-doom about Ohio State's season outlook, but it also spilled over to the Big Ten. If Ohio State couldn't make the playoff, many concurred, the Big Ten was toast, too.
To that, Delany passes out SPF 15 and Ray-Bans.
"Braxton's a great player, a Heisman Trophy hopeful," he said. "Big loss for Ohio State, but to equate it to a conference is probably 'the sky is falling' -- not a lot of perspective. I can't spin it that it doesn't have an effect on Ohio State and some effect on the Big Ten, but college sports is replete with young players doing really well, whether it's [Johnny] Manziel or Jameis Winston. It's also replete with people stepping up, teams adjusting. That's the essence of sports.
"There's no assurance that if you have your team intact, you're going to win all your games. There's no assurance if you lose a player, you can't win all your games."
The possibilities are out there for the Big Ten, but to keep the dark clouds away, the league needs a strong opening statement.
If the College Football Playoff had been in place for the 2006 season, there’s very little doubt that two Big Ten teams -- Ohio State and Michigan -- would have reached the four-team field. The conference, which finished the year with three Top 10 teams, could have called itself the nation’s best league without anyone snickering.
Fast forward eight years, and everything has changed. The SEC reigns supreme. The Big Ten is the butt of many jokes and, in the eyes of many, ranks fifth among the Power 5 conferences.
"People think the Big Ten is kind of weak," Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I think we have the whole stigma of, 'The Big Ten can’t win bowl games.'"
Yet the perception of the Big Ten’s downturn appears to paint a worse picture than the reality. Even when league teams ascend, they often get dragged down by the court of public opinion. Take last season's Big Ten champs, for instance. Michigan State won all of its league games by double digits and went on to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. But the Spartans did not crack the Top 12 in either major poll or the BCS standings until Nov. 24, when they were 10-1.
Last season's Wisconsin Badgers were 9-2 at one point, with their only losses coming on an all-time officiating hose job at eventual Pac-12 division winner Arizona State and at Ohio State. Still, the Badgers had trouble gaining much affection from pollsters. Or how about this season's Iowa club? Despite winning eight games in 2013 and taking LSU to the wire in the Outback Bowl, and despite having what everyone considers a highly advantageous schedule in 2014, the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 33 in the first preseason USA Today coaches’ poll.
"The lack of insight on the Big Ten is an interesting thing," Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell said, "because there are stout players and solid teams in the Big Ten. We beat Georgia [in the Gator Bowl], Iowa had LSU on their skates ... and Sparty went and beat Stanford. We’re steadily coming back into the frame of major college football."
The Big Ten needs to improve both its track record and its perception problem this season, with the first year of the Playoff looming. The nightmare scenario for the league is to see its champion left out of the field because the conference isn’t considered strong enough. There is really only one way to change that.
"You’ve got to win games," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "One of the positive byproducts of the Playoff is that the preseason doesn’t matter. If you want to get yourself in the Playoff and talk about being the best, it’s going to come down to winning football games and playing a competitive schedule. If you want to change perception, you’ve got to win those games. That’s the bottom line."
The Big Ten has plenty of opportunities to help itself this season, beginning in Week 1 when Wisconsin plays LSU in Houston.
"It’s a new year, and the Big Ten as a whole is trying to make a prominent statement," Badgers running back Melvin Gordon said. "It’ll set a big statement for the Big Ten if we come out and win that game."
Michigan State goes to Oregon in Week 2 in another major showcase opportunity. Others include Nebraska hosting Miami, Ohio State taking on Virginia Tech and Michigan and Northwestern playing at Notre Dame. Schedules will continue to get more difficult in the near future, as league commissioner Jim Delany instructed his teams to play top nonconference competition to impress the selection committee.
"What we've tried to do is structure ... our scheduling to deliver an opportunity for our teams if they're successful," Delany said. "We make no predictions. We make no excuses."
There is hope for the future. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin are former SEC coaches who have brought an aggressive, nationwide approach to recruiting. The Buckeyes are 24-2 the past two seasons yet are just now building the type of roster Meyer envisions. Michigan State joined the elite last season and will try to stay there.
"I see a league that’s improving," Meyer said. "I just see a lot of positive recruiting going on in our conference, a lot of great coaches, and more importantly, a lot of great players. I think people are watching the Big Ten expecting a bunch of improvement going forward."
The conference still must convince others that improvement is for real. The surest sign of that would be to get a team into the inaugural Playoff.
"This is as good a year as any to show the Big Ten is strong and that we’re going to stay strong from here on out," Bennett said. "[But] for us to say that, we have to make it to the Playoff."
CHICAGO -- Unlike some of his counterparts from other leagues -- and unlike some of his own previous years here -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't seem interested in making major headlines during his address to close out media day.
Then again, Delany's views on NCAA reform and other pressing topics are well-known and well-documented. He spoke at length on the subject last year at this time in Chicago, and all 14 Big Ten presidents and chancellors signed a letter endorsing student-athlete welfare upgrades just last month.
So Delany didn't need to bang the gavel this year. Instead, his comments were more subdued. But the commish's words always carry weight, so here's a recap of his 25-minute address at the Chicago Hilton:
- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby ripped NCAA enforcement at his league's media days last week, calling the system "broken" and saying "cheating pays" these days. Delany said he wouldn't echo Bowlsby's "more colorful" language, instead simply terming the enforcement branch as "overmatched." Delany did say the power conferences need to come together to bring about a new way of policing themselves. "We need a system that works," Delany said. "I think there's no doubt that NCAA enforcement has struggled. ... My hope is over the next year to 18 months that major conferences can come together and can find ways and processes and procedures that fit with what we’re trying to achieve, which is a level of deterrence, a level of compliance and a level of punishment.”
- Along those lines, the NCAA Division I board is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on new autonomy measures that will give the Power Five conferences the right to craft many of their own rules. Delany said he's confident that autonomy will pass and would be "very surprised" if it doesn't. But he didn't issue any threats about power leagues forming their own division, as SEC commissioner Mike Slive did earlier this month. “If it doesn’t [pass], I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we're at.”[+] EnlargeJerry Lai.USA TODAY SportsBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany characterized the NCAA's enforcement branch as "overmatched."
- Delany reiterated that the Big Ten scheduling model going forward will include nine conference games, one nonconference game against a power league opponent, and no games against FCS teams. Delany acknowledged that some high-level FCS teams are more competitive than low-level FBS squads and that it often costs less to schedule games against the FCS. But Delany said he's worried less about the budget and more about making sure his conference has the strength-of-schedule ratings needed to catch the eye of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
- Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon trial and saw one of his own league teams -- Northwestern -- vote on forming a union. So he's well-versed on all the various fronts challenging to tear down the NCAA model. The commissioner said he's not sure where this is headed, but he and the Big Ten remain committed to making sure education plays a pivotal role in college sports. “I certainly hope when the dust settles there will be a wide array of education and athletics opportunities for many men and women,” he said. “I hope at the end of the day the courts will support us in achieving them. College sports is a great American tradition. It’s not a perfect enterprise. No perfect enterprise exists. We can improve it, and we should.”
Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
- Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
- Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
- The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. And for good measure, Central Florida won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
- Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
- Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
- James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league -- not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall -- Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
- The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
- Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hot-shot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
- Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
- The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal-callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Northwestern's Trevor Siemian. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Iowa's Jake Rudock. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
For the most part, Midwesterners are excessively nice and hospitable. Coastal arrogance or aloofness has no place in the heartland, and the only frostiness in these parts is the weather. Big Ten fans might not have done backflips when they found out Rutgers and Maryland were joining the league, but now that the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are part of the league, they will embrace their new, well-located friends.
But there are certain individuals that rankle even the most sensible Midwesterners. They are the folks you love to boo. Sadly, some of our favorite Big Ten villains -- Bret Bielema, Terrelle Pryor, Taylor Lewan -- are no longer here to kick around, but others remain.
Some of these folks have done absolutely nothing wrong. They have been too good on the field or on the sideline or as high school recruits. Others have said or done things to stir the pot.
To those on this list, an important point: the only true villains in college football are good enough to be villains. No one cares what the last-place coach or quarterback thinks. So you have earned this distinction. Put it right next to your playing or coaching awards.
Another reminder: this is all in good fun.
Without further ado, the list in alphabetical (not villainous) order:
Jim Delany, commissioner, Big Ten: He is one of the most powerful figures in college sports and has built the Big Ten into a revenue superpower through initiatives like the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten will never have a commissioner who makes a greater impact for such a long period of time. But Delany is still known more for his pro-BCS stance, Legends and Leaders, and the eyebrow-raising additions of Rutgers and Maryland. He lacks Larry Scott's polish or Mike Slive's willingness to stump for his constituents no matter what. Delany is a true independent voice and, at times, it has hurt his image among Big Ten fans. He might not be truly appreciated until he's gone.
James Franklin, head coach, Penn State: Remember when Penn State's offseasons used to be quiet? Franklin has generated noise -- joyful noise for Nittany Nation, not so much for other fan bases -- since his opening news conference in January. He has made bold statements about dominating regional recruiting and backed it up so far, compiling a top-5 class for 2015. Franklin soaked up the spotlight during his May tour around the state and appears to be in front of every microphone and camera. Recruits and many fans love the guy, but some question his authenticity and get tired of the incessant hype.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: He is about as subdued a superstar as we have seen in the Big Ten and a welcome departure from his predecessor, Pryor. But the introverted Miller has inflicted quite a bit of damage on Big Ten fan bases, leading Ohio State to a 16-0 mark in regular-season league games the past two seasons as the starter. Miller has been the king of comebacks during his Buckeyes career, leading six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most among any FBS player. Knock him if you'd like for lack of a Big Ten title, but his best could be still to come.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: He is the overlord of the Big Ten's best defense and one of the nation's most dominant units. Michigan State and Alabama are the only FBS teams to rank among the top 11 nationally in the four major defensive categories in each of the past three seasons. Narduzzi's incessant blitzes punish quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Just ask Michigan. The Spartans have a good thing going and Narduzzi knows it, telling ESPN.com, "I don't think there's a team in the country that does what we do. ... We've been ahead of the curve for years."
Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan: How can Peppers be a Big Ten villain when he hasn't even played a Big Ten game? I'll answer that question with a question: How many recent Big Ten players have generated more headlines before they step on the field than Michigan's prized incoming recruit? It's not Peppers' fault, but 13 of the 14 Big Ten fan bases likely are tired of hearing about the next Charles Woodson, his connection to "Naughty by Nature" and Peppers being the potential savior for an underachieving Wolverines program. Peppers might be the most anticipated Big Ten recruit since Pryor in 2008. He has a lot to prove this fall, and quite a few folks hope he busts.
Villains on deck: Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Connor Cook, Julie Hermann, Christian Hackenberg
Maryland and Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten on Tuesday. That prompted celebrations in Piscataway, New Jersey, and College Park, Maryland, but more of a collective shoulder shrug elsewhere. One school's fan base seems particularly unhappy about the latest additions: Nebraska. So today's Take Two topic is this: Does Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
You can sum up the displeasure of Huskers fans by simply pointing to Big Red's conference home schedule in 2014: Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. This is not the Big Ten that Nebraska backers thought they were joining back in 2011. They thought that leaving the Big 12 for Jim Delany's league meant plenty of games against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Instead, they're in a division without any of those teams, and none of those three come to Lincoln before 2017 (when the Buckeyes visit Memorial Stadium). Was it really worth leaving the Big 12 for this?
The Maryland and Rutgers move was aimed at opening up new territory for the Big Ten, to serve recruiting, future population growth and alumni along the East Coast. But as the westernmost school in the league, Nebraska stands to benefit far less from this expansion than other conference members. The Huskers haven't traditionally recruited a lot of players from the East Coast, and the school's alumni base isn't as large there as it is for other Big Ten teams.
Still, don't forget that the Big 12 was basically crumbling when Nebraska left. The Huskers will become far more financially secure in the Big Ten than they would have in the Big 12, especially when the league's huge new TV deal comes rolling in. Nebraska has been a good fit culturally in the Big Ten.
Yet I don't blame Cornhuskers supporters for being at least a little upset, especially given the scheduling distribution. The Big Ten's future parity scheduling should help a little, and hopefully a robust rivalry with Wisconsin will develop in the West Division, along with a growing interest in the Iowa series. Nebraska should enjoy what looks like a slightly easier path to the Big Ten title game every year (assuming the West Division remains less top heavy than the East), and the occasional Eastern exposure could help expand the school's brand and recruiting reach.
The Huskers actually need to win a Big Ten title in football before deciding the rest of the league is beneath them, after all. And if all else fails, Nebraska fans, remember this: at least you no longer have to mess with Texas.
Take 2: Mitch Sherman
Interesting, Brian, that you mention Texas, which still draws the ire of Nebraskans more than a lackluster slate of Big Ten home games ever could.
And the only thing as frustrating to Husker fans than Texas' hold on Nebraska from 2002 to 2010 -- six wins in six games for burnt orange -- is the Longhorns' 16-11 league record since the Huskers left for the Big Ten. Yes, Nebraska fans salivated over the sight of Texas as it hovered near .500 in Big 12 play in 2011 and 2012; they wanted nothing more than to kick UT while it was down.
In some convoluted way, perhaps, they blame the Big Ten for robbing the Huskers of that chance. Now, the entry of Maryland and Rutgers has taken from Nebraska the chance to kick Michigan while it's down -- something the Huskers, their fan base and their Ohio State-bred coach enjoyed in 2012 and 2013.
It's not that simple, though. If Ohio State or Iowa want to get nostalgic and hold a grudge against the Big Ten newbies for disrupting their fall festival, go for it. But Nebraska has no room to groan.
The Huskers landed in this league, way back in 2011, as an agent of change. The Big Ten secured Nebraska's financial future. Three years later, you might say the Huskers sold their soul to Delany. Sure, they're making lots of money and poised to make even more.
The football team continues to win nine games annually, but when is an October meeting with Rutgers or Maryland going to feel natural?
Look at a map. It's Nebraska, not the newcomers, that is most geographically isolated in the Big Ten. Delany planned all along that the addition of Nebraska marked only the start to his new era of change.
Did he sell the Huskers and their fans false hope, with the promise of every-other-season trips to the Big House and the renewal of a once-bitter rivalry with Penn State? Not anymore than Rutgers or Maryland wrecked it all.
This is an age of change in college athletics. More is coming, even if conference expansion has halted. Programs and their fan bases can't cling to the past. They can't cling to the present, either.
The opportunity exists to play Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State more often than the schedule dictates. Just win the West. One of them is likely to often await in the Big Ten championship game.
Maryland and Rutgers don't figure to soon disrupt any of those plans.
"Our real focus was, frankly, more internal," he told ESPN.com. "But if the ancillary benefit is sort of like Macy's and Gimbels in 'Miracle on 34th Street' and other people embrace what we do because of the marketplace, that would be awesome. And if there are more conversations about how we can do even more, that would be great."
Glass acknowledged that the current climate in college sports certainly played a role as he penned his first draft of the bill of rights while sitting poolside in Florida with his wife over spring break. Yet the overriding impetus, he said, was simply making sure his school made it clear and transparent to players and recruits what it would offer to them.
Those benefits include a guaranteed four-year scholarship for every athlete on campus; a "Hoosiers for Life" program that lets former players come back and finish their degree free of charge; a voice for players in the athletic department through a student-athlete advisory committee; comprehensive medical coverage during a player's career; and free iPads and tailored blazers.
Many of the points in the bill of rights echo the Big Ten's stance on reform, which the league's presidents and chancellors outlined in a formal statement earlier last week.
"I think the conference has been a huge leader on this," Glass said. "I was sort of amused that people would say the Big Ten presidents' statement was a reaction to the O'Bannon trial. [Commissioner] Jim Delany has been talking about these things for three years."
Glass, who was a successful attorney and civic leader before becoming the Hoosiers' AD in 2009, said he did not work with the conference while establishing his bill of rights. He did call Delany and a senior NCAA administrator the day before releasing the document to the public and said both were "very enthusiastic."
The cost of these initiatives, which went into effect immediately, are not insignificant. The lifetime degree guarantee, for example, was grandfathered in to include all former players. So it's possible that someone who played baseball in the 1960s or ran track in the 1970s could walk through Glass' door tomorrow and ask to resume his coursework. Indiana not only will cover tuition for all former players who left in good standing after two years without transferring, but those former Hoosiers also will receive access to all the tutoring and academic advising programs that current players receive.
"I think this really cuts against the sort of unfair caricature of universities where people say we take these kids, take what we can get out of them, and as soon as we're done with them we kind of wad them up and throw them away," he said.
The bill of rights echoes many of the demands of CAPA, the organization behind the Northwestern labor union push. One thing missing is the call for medical coverage for players after their careers have ended for injuries related to their playing days. Glass said Indiana officials believe that's a sensible benefit to explore but that the costs could be so high that "it would be beyond the ability of any one school. It's going to take a collective solution, probably involving NCAA reserve funds and maybe a broad-based insurance policy."
It's highly unlikely that this bill of rights will provide any sort of panacea to the many issues revolving around college sports. The document does not, for example, address the image and likeness rights that are being weighed in the O'Bannon trial.
“But Indiana, which reaps many financial rewards from belonging to the Big Ten but does not make nearly as much money as other league schools that have successful football programs and large stadiums, could serve as a model for the rest of the conference to follow. Many Big Ten schools already are doling out several of the benefits Indiana spells out, and schools like Michigan and Ohio State not only can afford to do more, they want to do so. (And if not or until then, Glass admits, the bill of rights might provide the Hoosiers a small recruiting advantage).
The reason I think we care about intercollegiate athletics is that, to one extent or another, these kids are real students. Certainly in the Big Ten they're real students.” -- Indiana AD Fred Glass
Glass is not a revolutionary. He wants to see tweaks made to the college sports model and believes players should receive a bigger slice of the pie. But he does not want the entire system overhauled.
"I think we throw the baby out with the bath water in totally changing the intercollegiate athletic model and go to pay-for-play or become a developmental league," he said. "Then the special sauce is going to go out of the deal. The reason I think we care about intercollegiate athletics is that, to one extent or another, these kids are real students. Certainly in the Big Ten they're real students. And that's why we love it, because we were students at these schools. And if suddenly they become hired guns, that will start a fairly rapid decline, and suddenly people will not care that much about it."
Indiana's student-athlete bill of rights is not going to save college sports from itself. But it does at least represent a step in the right direction.
A statement signed by all 14 presidents or chancellors comes four days after league commissioner Jim Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA trial in California. In agreeing with Delany's testimony, the presidents stated that the "best solutions rest not with the courts, but with us," and outlined the following reforms:
- Four-year scholarships should be guaranteed, even if athletes can't complete their playing careers
- If athletes leave school to play pro sports, the scholarship guarantee remains and they can return to complete their degrees
- Consistent medical insurance must be provided for athletes and the rules governing what schools can provide must be reviewed. "We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them," the presidents' statement reads.
- Scholarships should be increased up to federal full cost-of-attendance figures. The presidents "must do whatever it takes" to ensure the increase takes place.
None of these ideas are really new, but there's symbolism in the league's presidents unanimously supporting them, especially as the debate about athlete welfare reaches its peak.
The most significant part of the statement pointed to what would happen if schools are required to pay their football and basketball players.
Across the Big Ten, and in every major athletic conference, football and men’s basketball are the principal revenue sports. That money supports the men and women competing in all other sports. No one is demanding paychecks for our gymnasts or wrestlers. And yet it is those athletes – in swimming, track, lacrosse, and other so-called Olympic sports – who will suffer the most under a pay-to-play system.
The revenue creates more opportunities for more students to attend college and all that provides, and to improve the athletic experiences through improved facilities, coaching, training and support.
If universities are mandated to instead use those dollars to pay football and basketball players, it will be at the expense of all other teams. We would be forced to eliminate or reduce those programs. Paying only some athletes will create inequities that are intolerable and potentially illegal in the face of Title IX.
Eliminating sports has been mentioned as a consequence of paying players, but now it's in writing from the Big Ten chiefs.
Again, not much new here, but the presidents have made clear their position that while things must change, paying players isn't the solution. It will be interesting to see how the College Athletes Players Association and other athlete welfare advocates react.
What do you think? Send me your thoughts.
Yet there's a long way between the conception of that policy and its actual execution, especially as the league faces some tough realities with scheduling and views the rest of the college football landscape. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was asked about the FCS policy on Tuesday at the College Sports Information Directors of America convention in Orlando.
"That was really a hard decision," he said. "I don’t know if we’re sure that’s the right decision to make.”
Is there some waffling on the Big Ten's part? If so, there are understandable reasons why.
Nonconference scheduling is becoming more and more of a headache, and a wildly expensive one at that. As this recent Fox Sports Wisconsin report illustrates, the cost of a guaranteed home game is skyrocketing. The average price to schedule a lower-level FBS team to come to a Big Ten stadium without a return date is $827,838 this year, with several of those games costing more than $1 million, according to the report.
Complicating matters is the arrival of the nine-game Big Ten schedule in 2016. The divisions will rotate the home-road ratio, meaning league teams will have four home conference games every other year. That leaves three nonconference slots that must be filled by guarantee games in order to get to seven home dates.
"When you put a pencil to it, can everybody get FBS schools?" Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez told Fox Sports. "Can you find enough of them? Do we have to make some exceptions and have some FCS schools? That's what you have to take a look at. In some cases, they're a tougher opponent than some of the FBS opponents. If your choice is to not play a game because you can't find anybody or play an FCS team, you don't have much choice."
And like the move to a nine-game conference schedule, the Big Ten is going to a place where other leagues won't. While a few prominent SEC coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Will Muschamp recently came out in favor of avoiding FCS foes (Muschamp might have ulterior motives), SEC commissioner Mike Slive said last month that his league does not plan any sort of anti-FCS scheduling policy. Yea, more exciting October and November clashes like this one and that one.
Similarly, the ACC has no interest in quitting its FCS relationships. All 14 ACC schools will play an FCS opponent this year. So you have two leagues whom the Big Ten might be competing against for spots in the four-team playoff who will soon be A) playing one less conference game per season; and B) scheduling easy wins over FCS teams. Sure, that sounds fair.
So you can understand why the Big Ten might not want to be alone on this island. Still, there are many good reasons why the league should not be scheduling FCS teams, as Phillips explains.
"With the new structure of the playoff system, you will be rewarded [for playing tougher schedules], like in basketball," he said. "Also ... our fans really want you to challenge yourself in the nonconference schedule. And candidly television [is a reason]; look at ratings, that had an effect.”
Athletic directors and administrators are already worried about declining attendance, especially among students, and what that means for the future. Schools are paying millions of dollars to upgrade their video boards and enhance Wi-Fi capabilities in their stadiums, all in an effort to keep people from staying home and watching the game on their high-definition TVs.
The argument that FBS schools should play FCS teams to help them with their budgets makes no sense. Since when did big-time football become a charitable organization? The power-five conferences are already trying to write their own rules and threatening to start their own division. How does that jibe with suddenly wanting to give FCS schools a handout? And if FCS teams can't make their budget without those one-time paydays, maybe they need to scale back their football programs.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com that the conference is "continuing to work with people" on scheduling and the FCS policy. Minnesota and Purdue have FCS games on their 2016 schedule, and Delany said it could be until 2017 or 2018 until the policy, which he said should not be described as an outright ban, really goes into effect.
Let's hope the Big Ten sticks to its guns here. Playing FCS opponents might save some money, but the league is rolling in cash, so it's hard to cry poverty. Neutral-site games are a potential option, too. The Big Ten's future TV partners won't want to see Citadels and Eastern Kentuckys on the schedule when they fork over billions for the broadcast rights.
The strength-of-schedule angle is also a big one for a conference that probably will need every possible talking point in its favor in the annual playoff debates. Better opponents make for better games, better experiences for fans and a better overall sport.
The Big Ten was right to go to nine conference games and is correct in eliminating FCS opponents. If other leagues are too cowardly to follow suit, so be it. Let the conference that once gave us a Leaders Division show some true leadership to improve the game.
Many league coaches see the benefits but differ on when such a period would start and how exactly it would work. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and his colleagues will discuss early signing dates at the Conference Commissioners Association meeting this month.
Delany sees pros and cons both to the current national signing date (first Wednesday of February) and the proposed dates for a signing period in late November or December. He doesn't agree with the Aug. 1 signing date recommended by the ACC after its meetings last month.
"We have real, emerging, serious problems in the summertime," Delany told ESPN.com. "Camps, 7-on-7, it's starting to mimic men's basketball's summer, and I don't think that's been particularly healthy. What I think would be best, given that we're working through all the [NCAA] restructuring ... that we take an opportunity to study this and really look at what underlying regulations need to be changed.
"I don't think simply changing the date on a National Letter of Intent works without a fairly deep review."
The discussion about an early signing period in college football is hardly a new one. The American Football Coaches Association in 2008 drafted a proposal for a mid-December signing period, but the commissioners ultimately voted it down.
Since then, recruits are making their verbal commitments earlier and earlier. There is more flipping to different schools, and the number of transfers is rising. Coaches like Maryland's Randy Edsall and Nebraska's Bo Pelini have proposed ways to slow down the recruiting process.
"We know the consequences of what we're doing, and I don't think anybody's comfortable with the babysitting and the flipping and summer environment," Delany said. "I don't want to anything unless we take a real, hard look at football recruitment: what's working and what's not.
"I would be reluctant to jump into any quick fix."
But no initiative -- other than bringing in Maryland and Rutgers -- sparked more reaction than the league's announcement that the 2017 men's basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington D.C. Since its inception in 1998, the hoops tournament had been held only in two Big Ten strongholds: Chicago and Indianapolis.
"Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said at last month's administrators' meetings. "While excited to have this new frontier, our foundation is in Chicago and Indianapolis and Detroit and other areas. I just want to make sure we protect our homeland while flanking out to a very important East Coast."
The Big Ten on Thursday let its core fans know it hasn't forgotten about them. The league announced future sites for its football championship game and men's and women's basketball tournaments. All of the events will be held in Indianapolis or Chicago.
Here's the breakdown:
Football championship game: Remains in Indianapolis through the 2021 season. The 2014 and 2015 events already had been announced for Lucas Oil Stadium, and the new agreement covers 2016-21.
Men's basketball tournament: Will be held at Chicago's United Center in both 2019 and 2021 and at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2020 and 2022. As previously announced, Chicago will host in 2015, Indianapolis will host in 2016 and Washington D.C. will host in 2017. Negotiations on the site for the 2018 event continue and an announcement should come later this month.
Women's basketball tournament: New agreement has the event at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse from 2017-2022. As previously announced, the 2015 event will be held at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and the 2016 event will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"We've always intended to use those cities," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com on Thursday. "They've been great partners. We're fortunate to have great fan bases in both places, tried and true success in both of these cities.
"It gives us a lot of stability going forward."
Despite the Washington D.C. event in 2017, Indianapolis and Chicago were always part of the Big Ten's future vision. There were "no surprises," Delany said. But he added that the Big Ten will continue its push to integrate in the East Coast.
"I'd be shocked if we didn't have very deep engagement in both regions," he said. "With the number of institutions, fan bases, cities, I'd expect there to be a rotation."
“There won't be a rotation for the football championship game, at least in the immediate future. Delany still considers the game a new event that needs to be developed, and the league never seriously considered moving the game from Indianapolis in the next cycle.
Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots.” -- Mark Hollis, Michigan State athletics director
There was no formal bidding process like there was in 2011, when groups from both Indianapolis and Chicago presented to the Big Ten athletic directors and coaches.
"We're not at the stage of experimentation with respect to indoor quality, the centrality of it; it's a new event," Delany said. "We've been cautious in trying to grow it, trying to understand it. We always thought it will be central. By the time we’ll finish up [the agreement], it will be 11 years there.
"After 11 years we’ll figure out how successful it’s been, how much it’s grown, whether that kind of alternative venue makes sense. But at this point, we're building it, stabilizing it, creating a great brand around it, making it as accessible as possible."
There's no doubt Indianapolis puts on a great event at a world-class facility and has logistical advantages over a site like Chicago. But Chicago remains the hub of Big Ten fans and should gain future consideration, as should other cities like Detroit and Minneapolis, which recently was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl for its new football stadium.
The Big Ten will continue to monitor cities and facilities. Delany gushed about the recent Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha, which set several attendance records.
"We've got a bowl game in Detroit, we've got hockey [tournaments] in Detroit and Minnesota, great sports towns, great sports venues," Delany said. "We will obviously watch the facilities and events that go there and will stay in close contact with those communities. As this cycle plays out, there will be more communications."
Bottom line: The football title game isn't leaving the Midwest any time soon, which makes sense with only two teams involved and often little time to plan. Big Ten basketball fans should prepare for other tournaments outside the traditional footprint. It's an easier event to move, because all 14 teams and fan bases are involved.
But Thursday's announcement signifies that the Big Ten still knows where its bread is buttered.
He jokingly offered a possible reason for his escape.
"It seems like every vote we take," Hollis said, "costs us $100,000."
Expenses are rising for major-conference schools, especially with the welfare of college athletes in the national spotlight. One area that continues to get more expensive is the cost of home games, and the prices will continue to rise.
While Big Ten schools make millions from football games in their campus stadiums, they also are paying large guarantees for opponents to show up and play. According to recent analysis from "Outside the Lines," Big Ten teams paid nearly $42 million to visiting teams in all sports during the 2012-13 season (this includes Rutgers and Maryland, but not Northwestern, a private institution that doesn't report figures). The Big Ten, with its big football stadiums and broad-based athletic programs, paid more to opponents than any other conference. It's not a surprise considering many Big Ten teams make more than $3 million per football home game.
In 2012-13, Ohio State led the nation in money paid to opponents ($7,999,881), followed by Minnesota ($4,799,383) and Wisconsin ($3,987,864). Two other Big Ten teams -- Michigan State ($3,650,864) and Indiana ($3,375,562) -- finished in the top 10, and 10 schools finished in the top 25.
Ohio State has spent more on visiting teams in each of the past six years, averaging $7.4 million per year. Its total spent since 2007-08 ($44,418,002) is more than double that of the next Big Ten school, Indiana ($21,576,798). The simple explanation for the disparity: Ohio State is the league's largest athletic program with 36 varsity sports, and with a massive, often sold-out football stadium, it spends because it can.
"We’ll net north of about $7 million off of each [home football] game," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "That's why we can afford to pay that guarantee. If you're over 100,000 seats -- you look at Michigan, us, Penn State, Tennessee -- you have to look at their average ticket price, which is typically north of $75. Then, you're probably looking at $5-7 million that those stadiums are netting individually.
"So when you take out a $1-million, $1.2-million, $1.3-million guarantee, you can handle it."
According to the Associated Press, Ohio State will pay more than $2 million in guarantee money to its three home nonconference opponents this season (Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Kent State). The Buckeyes also will receive an $850,000 guarantee for playing Navy in Baltimore.
These fees aren't new to college football. Many major-conference schools with big stadiums have been spending $800,000 or more on guarantees since the latter part of the last decade. In 2008, both Ohio State and Michigan State paid more than $5.5 million to road teams, finishing first and second nationally, respectively.
"We're in the market, we're part of that market because we’re a large stadium," Smith said. "It's just what you have to do today to get the mix."
The problem going forward is inventory, a word used by several Big Ten athletic directors at last week's meetings. Although the Big Ten moves to a nine-game league schedule in 2016, which reduces the number of nonconference games to schedule, the demand for nonleague home games remains high, if not higher. Big Ten teams will have five conference road games every other year, so to get the seven home games most need to meet budgets, all three nonleague games must be at home.
The Big Ten also has placed a moratorium on scheduling FCS opponents, a route many Big Ten teams have taken because FCS schools don't require return games and have relatively lower guarantee fees. So Big Ten teams in many cases must find FBS teams willing to play on the road without requiring a return.
"The issue with nine is inventory," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "You're trying to schedule all [FBS] schools. The inventory becomes questionable. People don't want to go home-and-home. You try to stay at seven games at home, it's very difficult to do that in the year that you have four Big Ten games at home. So there are some issues."
One of them is cost.
"As the supply shrinks," Hollis said, "those that are in the window of who you want to play have the ability to ask for more."
Like many college football observers, Smith had hoped both the SEC and ACC would join the Pac-12, Big 12 and, soon, the Big Ten in adopting nine-game league schedules. But he didn't see it as a competitive balance issue.
The problem: inventory.
"If they'd gone to nine, obviously there's a lot more inventory out there because they would only schedule three [nonleague games]," Smith said. "Everyone is trying to schedule the same types of nonconference games in the same window of time, September. It's challenging."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, while reiterating the need to avoid scheduling FCS opponents, says he will assist member schools with the scheduling dilemma. Some schools are exploring neutral-site games, which are lucrative and have gained greater popularity in recent years. Penn State AD Dave Joyner, who will watch the Nittany Lions open the 2014 season in Ireland, said, "It's almost like having a home game."
But Big Ten ADs also have been resistant to move games -- and the money they generate -- away from local markets.
"I don't know about the neutral-site thing," Minnesota AD Norwood Teague said. "We just built a stadium on campus, a beautiful new 50,000-seat facility. That was built for a purpose, and $150 million of that stadium was paid for by taxpayer dollars."
Hollis also has stiff-armed the neutral-site trend, but he acknowledged last week that MSU and longtime rival Notre Dame are discussing a neutral-site contest, possibly in Chicago.
"Some of us aren't traditional thinkers," he said. "You can come up with some creative ways that make sense for student-athletes, fans and … that you can meet your financial challenges."
It's all part of the Big Ten's push to be a bi-regional conference with the additions of new members Rutgers and Maryland on July 1. The league has partnered with the Big East for the Gavitt Tipoff Games in men's basketball and moved the 2017 men's basketball tournament to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The football championship game, which will remain in Indianapolis at least through 2015, likely will stay in the center of the league.
"The challenge will be living in two regions," Delany said Wednesday after the league's athletic directors met. "All the major conferences are doing it. Nobody has done it before. That will require a real concerted effort to build, make friends, become relevant and build relationships. That's what we're in the process of doing.
"But the other side of it is that 80 percent of our historic fan base and our alums aren't in this region."
In some ways, that's the real challenge for Delany and the Big Ten: building the brand in a new, competitive region, without forgetting where you came from and what made you who you are.
"I want to get a better sense of what our landscape is going to look like in the conference with the Eastern push," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "It’s an extremely important component for the conference. It’s important for Michigan State because of the donors we have there. But you don’t want to leave the Midwest in the wake of an Eastern push.
"Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots. While excited to have this new frontier, our foundation is in Chicago and Indianapolis and Detroit and other areas. I just want to make sure we protect our homeland while flanking out to a very important East Coast."
Hollis is absolutely right. While time, money and some events should be devoted to the new territory, the Big Ten can't alienate its base, a large chunk of which remains miffed about the new additions. But the Big Ten's latest expansion always was less about the specific schools than their locations.
If the ACC hadn't added Pitt and Syracuse -- infringing on the eastern edge of the Big Ten's current footprint, because of Penn State -- there might not have been a need to get bigger than 12. But the Big Ten felt it needed to protect Penn State and enhance its footprint, especially with a new TV contract on the horizon.
"That's the new Big Ten," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said. "We all have to accept it, our fans have to accept it. We want to welcome our two new members in Rutgers and Maryland, and we want a presence in the East. We want to take advantage."
It's Delany's job to capitalize on those advantages, while not turning his back on the region that defines the league.
"You're going to see a rotation [of events] and a respect for both regions," Delany said. "You're going to see a representation in both regions with our competitions, our championships, our television network and our alumni base."