Thanks to this post on mgoblog, we now know that Jim Delany has come unhinged about this Big Ten Network deal. The Big Ten sent an e-mail to various outlets that says this:
"Comcast recently has characterized events that will be on the Big Ten Network as ‘second and third tier.’ I believe Comcast owes every Big Ten university an apology. The comments are an insult to Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: To the universities, their students, their fans and alumni and their communities. There are no second-rate contests in the Big Ten."
I love IU football, but if that November 10 contest at Northwestern qualifies as second tier, it will have exceeded expectations. We're adults, Jim. Those of us who follow such programs understand that IU-Northwestern isn't going to attract more viewers than Auburn-Georgia. Unfortunately, Mr. Delany seems to be utterly clueless about how to conduct a negotiation. Don't let them know it hurt, Jim.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest public statement by the commish that casts doubt on his fitness to lead a major conference. Let's not forget, just months ago, this ridiculous broadside against the SEC, including:
I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics. Each school, as well as each conference, simply must do what fits their mission regardless of what a recruiting service recommends. I wish we had six teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process. Not every athlete fits athletically, academically or socially at every university. Fortunately, we have been able to balance our athletic and academic mission so that we can compete successfully and keep faith with our academic standards.
First, it's idiotic for a conference commissioner to issue any sort of statement, snippy or otherwise, to serve as a self-described response to "recruiting services and talking heads." Second, why impugn an entire conference? No one will soon confuse the SEC with the Patriot League, but our fine league, which I think is great, has had its share of black eyes in the last decade. The scandals involving the Michigan and Minnesota basketball programs were among the most breathtaking in the history of the sport. The disclosures about the class loads of Andy Katzenmoyer and Greg Oden make one wonder whether the typical Buckeye is getting anything approximating a college education. To be fair and balanced, one could note that one of the few Big Ten programs that has never been found guilty of an NCAA "major violation" hired a coach with a less-than-pristine compliance record. What an odd decision by Delany. And again, this wasn't an off-the-cuff temper tantrum in front of a live mike; this is a letter that remains on the Big Ten's website months later.
And let's not forget the Hartzell affair. You will recall that late in the 2005 season, IU, on the NCAA bubble, lost a close game at Wisconsin after a series of questionable calls. The game was officiated by Rick Hartzell, the athletic director at Northern Iowa and Ed Hightower, a trustee at Southern Illinois. Both schools were MVC bubble teams. Many in the media, including ESPN analyst and reformed credit card thief Doug Gottleib, criticized the Big Ten, not for any actual intent of the officials to steal the game from IU, but for the appearance of impropriety. Here's what the Big Ten said (this is a link to the Doug Ross @ Journal blog, a political blog that preserved the statement, which no longer appears on the Big Ten's website). Although Delany's name wasn't on the statement, it's in the same voice as the aforementioned SEC diatribe:
The Big Ten has communicated its extreme disappointment and concern to ESPN's management relative to statements made by Mr. Doug Gottlieb at the halftime of Thursday's Purdue at Illinois basketball game on ESPN2.Specifically Mr. Gottlieb called into question the integrity of Mr. Rick Hartzell, an official in Tuesday's Indiana at Wisconsin basketball game, telecast by ESPN. In addition Mr. Gottlieb questioned the professionalism of Big Ten Associate Commissioner Rich Falk relative to the administration of the Big Ten's men's basketball officiating program. Neither statement should have been made, and in our view these statements represent an example of irresponsible sports `reporting'. It is unfortunate that Mr. Gottlieb, whose own reputation for honest dealings has been called into question in the past, has been placed in the position by ESPN to pass judgment on a well-regarded, veteran official working a Big Ten basketball game, and a Big Ten associate commissioner who has rendered valuable service to the Conference and college basketball for decades. The Big Ten Conference considers this matter concluded and will have no further comment.
The Big Ten is a coalition of eleven prominent universities, yet the conference's leadership has no concept of "the appearance of impropriety," a pretty straight-forward concept used in many professions and contexts. With so many officials in the world, why would the Big Ten hire two guys with direct ties to bubble teams to officiate a game involving a bubble team? Because, in essence, Rick is good people, and Rich is good people, so the rest of y'all butt out. This parochial, dim-witted, good-old-boy stuff is what one would expect from the leadership of a backwater high school athletic department, not the Big Ten.
And, finally, the double standard of 2002-03. On September 28, 2002, Joe Paterno, angry about a series of calls that went against his team, chased down and angrily grabbed an official. No action was taken against Paterno, and Jim Delany laughed it off. Fast forward to December, when Mike Davis made a fool of himself by running onto the court and angrily confronting the officials during a nonconference game against Kentucky after a (proper) no call on a supposed foul. After doing nothing to an unrepentant Paterno, the Big Ten initially suggested that Davis, who was immediately and profusely apologetic and did not make physical contact with an official, should be suspended for six games.
The Big Ten has done well under Delany's leadership, but the more we see from the guy, the more I have to wonder whether it is because of Delany or in spite of Delany. It's a tribute to the strength of the member institutions that this guy hasn't ruined us yet.