There is no better symbol for everything that has gone horribly awry in college sports in the last half-decade than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who today will take his latest turn at pissing into the eyeballs of his conference’s fanbase in search of more dollar bills to not give his league’s unpaid student-athletes.
In 2017, the Big Ten Conference tournament will be played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. after spending the previous 18 years of its existence in either Chicago or Indianapolis, both of which are home to thousands of alumni from Big Ten schools and within reasonable driving distance of its original 10 campuses.
The move to DC is a blatantly obvious attempt to court one of the league’s new East Coast members, Maryland, which will be joining the now-bloated 14-team operation along with Rutgers this fall. It may seem strange to be currying favor with an athletic department so incompetent and mired in red ink that it would be lucky to exist without the bankroll of the Under Armour guy and the life preserver tossed to it by Delany and the Big Ten Network, but that’s not Delany’s reason for making the East Coast play.
What he’s after is the cash windfall of being added to cable providers in D.C. and New York City — thus, his stated desire to rotate the tournament between Midwestern and East Coast locations over the course of the next decade. It doesn’t matter where the majority of the Big Ten’s fans already are, but where the majority of fans are that Delany perceives he can create.
Frankly, it’s an unheard-0f model in college athletics. Rivalries and interest don’t sprout up from nowhere. They are passed through the generations. It is hard to imagine anyone from Maryland working up the same ire they held for Duke or any other ACC opponent they faced over the last six decades for that reason alone, let alone the fact there is no geographic or social rival for the Terrapins in their new domain. Thanks to the Jim Delanys of the world, college sports has become nothing more than a business.
And that’s where the Delanys of the world are soon going to run into some trouble. With all the money being grabbed at, there’s a reason the Northwestern football team feels it deserves a bigger piece of the pie. Or any piece of the pie, as it were. The trouble is at most schools, the football team’s revenue is what is funding the scholarships for every other student-athlete on campus. The percentage of schools profiting wildly is not as large as those treading water or worse — as we’ve seen from Maryland itself.
But it’s likely the endgame for Delany and the rest of his major conference commissioner brethren is to create a big enough pot so only the biggest schools can share in it — essentially, a Walmart-ization of college sports. The little guys we love to root for will be snuffed into irrelevance as much as the geographically based fanbases that helped conferences like the Big Ten rise to prominence in the first place.
For those reasons, Jim Delany is an indisputable, irredeemable tool.