CHICAGO – The topic that is dominating the college basketball headlines nationally did the same to commissioner Jim Delaney’s time at the podium during Thursday’s Big Ten Media Day.
Four of the five questions Delaney fielded during his 20-minute session in front of the media related to the corrupt within college basketball and the trial happing in New York, and he had a lot to say.
“This is college basketball,” Delaney said. “College basketball has been challenged, is being challenged. A lot of that is in the Southern District of New York now. It's not a good story, but we have to be realistic about it. There are issues and challenges. But we're committed to try to do it the right way.
“You can change rules, but you also have to change culture if you're going to get different results. We’re going to continue to recruit students, graduate students, develop students. We've had six students [named] National Players of the Year in the last decade, all of whom have gone on to professional careers. We’re proud of them. Proud of the coaches and young people that come to our campuses. We'll see what’s outcomes are, but we're excited about the way the game is presented.”
Delaney was asked about his thoughts on what the impact of the trial, and the trials to follow, might be on college sports as a whole. He said it is a very serious matter that need to be addressed, but also made sure to note that there are a lot of players and coaches doing things aboveboard as well.
“It's certainly an unsettling, negative narrative,” Delaney said. “Not shocking to me. I would say there's going to be three trials. Every day there seems to be revelations. Some of them are new, some have been heard before. These are statements made under oath as a result of the FBI wire taps of hundreds of hours, if not more, thousands of conversations. Very negative. I would say as negative as it is, there's no doubt that they are storm clouds of a significant magnitude, we have 300 Division I institutions, and we have a thousand players that are going recruited every year. While these are not isolated, I think they are, at a certain level of recruitment, at certain institutions, appear to be a pattern. These are not to be dismissed, taken seriously.
“But I will tell you this, I think there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of players who are recruited properly, and hundreds and hundreds of programs that are clean and do it by the book. But there's no doubt in certain places, at certain times, there's been a total crater in terms of approach in terms of compliance with the rules that we pass and that our institutions pass. While a lot of us have had suspicions and concerns for a very long time, I would tell you that there are a lot of people that still do it the right way.
“We have a rule of law. We have due process. People will be charged. They have been charged. They will get their day in court. The theory of the government will be tested. The jury will make its decision. We have an opportunity here to get better and healthier. I hope we take advantage of that.”
Delany said the black market in college sports has existed for a long time in different forms, but the solution isn’t as simple as paying players.
“We do have a problem in certain parts of our sports programs, and there is a black market,” Delany said. “It's not a new black market. I mean, it was there in the '70s, it was there in the ‘40s. I spent five years as an NCAA investigator in the ‘70s. It was a different problem then. It was a booster problem. We don’t have a booster problem, but we have a corporate problem.
“Before you throw the baby out with the bath water, say the only answer is to have a draft, pay players at certain colleges, that will solve it. You have a situation in the NBA where you have players caps. You have a variety of other mechanisms. People violate that. They lose first round draft choices. People in many cases are broken timber. We do have the rule of laws. There's being tested in the courts. Like the cases in New York, we'll live with the outcome …
I think our way of doing business is justified, justifiable historically. We'll see whether or not college sports will be college sports 10 years from now. It's being challenged in a lot of different ways. In the interim, until those decisions are rendered in New York, California, or by the Supreme Court, we'll try to manage and provide as many quality educational opportunities as we can, notwithstanding the fact it's an imperfect system and people are imperfect as they try to work through it.”
Other News and Notes:
>> The other major storyline Delany touched on was the future home of the Big Ten Tournament. After the conference adjusted their schedules to squeeze the Big Ten Tournament in at Madison Square Garden in New York City last season, the event is set to take place in Chicago, then Indianapolis, then Chicago again and Indianapolis again over the next four years. Delany isn’t done trying to expand the conference’s footprint to the east, however.
“Long-term, as noted, we'll have probably 80 percent of our post-season play in the Midwestern region, probably 20 percent out east,” Delaney said. “We had a very successful opportunity to play in New York City, very good crowds, great excitement. We’ve talked to them about the future. We've presented them with a powerful promotion plan that we think, along with other conferences, if you can elevate Madison Square Garden, we think we can elevate that to the next level with regard to a college basketball post-season.”
Currently, the Big East is under contract with Madison Square Garden for its postseason tournament through the 2025-26 season, which is why the Big Ten had to hold its tournament a week earlier than normal.
“We're not going to be able to play early, but if we can play in a regular date in the out years, that would be something we would try to achieve with really strong presence 80 percent of the time in the Midwest,” Delany continued. “But that’s part of our conference territory. We want to be in our legacy territory, as well as out east from time to time.”
If Delaney does seek to move the tournament around in the Midwest rather than holding it just at Chicago and Indianapolis, Omaha (and the CHI Health Center) would likely make any short list of prospective locations.
>> Starting this season, the Big Ten has extended its league schedule to 20 games for each team
“We’re pleased about that,” Delany said. “If you went back a decade ago, we had a year where we were 16, then went 18, now 20. I had a couple coaches joke last night that someday we'll be at 26. I don't know if that will be a fact any time soon. Conference games by and large are winners with our fans, provide great competition for our players, and certainly television likes that they rate extremely well.
“In the format, a 20-game format, everybody will have seven partners that they play on a regular basis twice, then six that sort of rotate. We've got three protected rivalries, Purdue-Indiana, Illinois-Northwestern, and Michigan-Michigan State. If you really inspect it closely, there's more, the closer you are to each other geographically, the more you play each other. We’re going to try to leverage rivalries in that way.”
>> Delany said the Big Ten surpassed three million fans for the fourth time in a row last season and led all conferences in attendance for the 42nd straight year. Big Ten teams recorded 80 sellouts last season.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.