Delany making sure league members do their share financially
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Jim Delany counts off the economic downturns during his professional career like they are football scores.
"I've been through more than a single recession," Delany said. "In college athletics, the first one I recall was the '73-74 oil shock. We had one in '82. We had a stock market crash in '87. We had another downturn in '90-92. We had the tech bubble in 2000 and we have this. I think this may be qualitatively different both in its length as well as its depth."
The current slide isn't lost on the Big Ten commissioner. But it also isn't sending him into a panic. You don't run a high-powered conference for two decades without plenty of patience.
No changes in the Big Ten's bowl structure. No ban on long trips. No salary cap for coaching salaries.
"We'll be planning for the long run," Delany said. "Whether this is a 12-to-18 month downturn or an 18-to-36 month downturn, it's a downturn. And it's going to come back. We have to deal with the realities that we're in."
Delany and conference leaders spent part of their recent meetings talking about the economy. The solutions can be addressed at three levels, Delany said, starting with the schools.
"There's been a lot of discussion conceptually," Delany said. "People are all preparing their '09-10 budgets right now. Some people have budgets of $50 million. Some people have $100. Some people sponsor 30 sports. Some people sponsor 17. How they travel, when they travel, who they play, where they play, etc., are all on the table. That's how it should be."
Any push to scale back travel during the Big Ten season will be left to the schools. If Illinois decides to takes buses to Ohio State rather than fly, the league won't object.
What Delany wants, and what the league demands, is equity. It's fine for one school to take a lead in economic issues as long as the others are willing to follow.
"We'll encourage our schools to talk to each other," Delany said. "The two schools want to mirror each other."
The conference is also preparing next year's budget. Delany said there will be no growth in spending at the league level. And no decline.
"We're not adding anybody," Delany said. "We're not firing anybody. Everything will be flat, from personnel to travel to everything else."
At the national level, Delany said, he doesn't expect a push for scholarship cuts. College football coaches are uncomfortable with 85 full rides. They would strongly fight any further reduction.
"I think everything else is sort of on the table," Delany said.
A change in ticket prices will be considered.
"We're sort of in between a want and a need," Delany said. "The more rabid the fan base, the better we're insulated. But it's still discretionary spending. It's not food. It's not water. It's not education. It's entertainment.
"Generally speaking around the country, I think you're going to see a lot of effort to woo the fan to make the ticket as reasonable and as empathetically priced as possible. It is a difficult time. Our fans have been loyal to us in the good times and I think we need to show loyalty to them at a time when things are difficult for them."
The economic downturn hasn't had a major impact on the Big Ten Network, Delany said.
"It's doing fine," Delany said. "In fact, they're adding a little bit of personnel. They are quite a bright spot in the overall pantheon of the media story. They're profitable. They have more than met their advertising goals for the year."