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Delany: Bad Excuses, Good Business


College football is a business.  That is not news.  To say it is disguised as a sport is misleading, because it is, right down to it's roots, an amateur game.  The problem, I think, is the way it has been packaged in recent years by guys like Delany and his departed brethren.  The question I've always wanted an answer to is this: is the current guard responsible for the growing popularity of the sport?  Or are they simply the toll booth collectors for a product that was already taking off?  We will probably never know the answer to that question, but I think it is fair to say the current group of commissioners has impacted college football like no one before them.

The point, really, is I simply don't know what to think of Delany.  After the infamous fallout from 41-14, Delany made Ohio State, the conference, and the entire fan base look like a bunch of whiny sallys with his legendary "open letter".

 I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics.

That is probably the one line that kills me the most.  To this day, my reaction to all that nonsense is still the rather straight forward "what the hell was he thinking?" 

My dumbfoundedness turned to anger when he decided to wage a war against football as part of the 2008 rule changes he supported.  In that Rivals' story he offered up the following bit of advise that convinced me he was totally out of touch with the product he was hired to promote:

"In a perfect world, the games should be in the three-hour range, not the 3:30 range. If you look at the listening and viewing habits of the next generation, 3½ minutes is long; forget about 3½ hours," Delany said.

Yep, he compared tween's inability to focus on the latest music video to us, as fans, having trouble watching a three and a half hour game we wait all week for.  This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation and sheds insight into a thought process that I, since February, simply cannot trust.  I can't believe I got through that whole thing without swearing.

So here we are, the nineteenth anniversary, to the day, of having Jim Delany as the face of the conference:

Delany is in talks with conference officials about a contract extension that could take him through 2013. His current deal expires in 2010, so there's no great urgency.

So for better or worse, one thing is clear: his bosses, the eleven individual presidents of the member schools, are quite happy with his work. Why?

But none of [the negatives] would appear to outweigh Delany's accomplishments: lucrative television deals with ABC/ESPN and CBS [$$$], the early success of the Big Ten Network [$$$], the league's strong position in the BCS and maintenance of its Rose Bowl ties [$$$], adding Penn State [$$$], developing the first collegiate instant replay for football and the adoption of a gender-equity plan.    [--dollar signs mine]

I can't say I'm familiar with his 'gender-equity plan', and I love instant replay even if it is not applied very efficiently, but the general concept is pretty clear: $$$. And therein lies the problem.  It's not Delany, even though he's a PR moron. It's not his stance on fan's rights or healthy's his ability to do exactly what all good capitalistic employees do: make lots and lots of money for their boss.  This is the part where I say "so lay off, he's just doing his job", but that's not my opinion.  He is simply enabling the presidents to exploit their students, alumni and general fan base.

But before I get too self righteous, let's sit back for a second and see exactly what we mean by "it's all about money".  Schools are not owned by ABC or Comcast, they run not-for-profit and typically do a good job of using their resources to further the education of their students.  To say "the Big Ten is being greedy with their BTN demands" is really saying that they would prefer to make as much money for their schools as the publicly traded Comcast is willing to part with.  Every penny they don't get out of the cable provider goes to shareholders and not to education (and to be clear, Comcast is going to charge what the market will allow, your monthly cable fee has very little to do with Comcast's programming expenses).  Maybe presidents, coaches and professors get a pay raise, but those increases are all a means to an end: growing post-administrative profit so that the cash can be pumped back into the system.

So here is the other side of the coin: is it more important to keep the game as pure as possible, or are schools foolish to not take advantage of the large amounts of cash available by over-marketing the game we've all come to enjoy?  I write for a football blog so you know my answer, but at least this way when I talk about how much I want Delany fired I can say in an honest voice that I know where he's coming from.