ROSEMONT — Jim Delany has a full plate. He's got a new conference office to start building (expect an announcement today), a national football playoff to help plan and the 2012 season just around the corner. Plus, he's got continued fallout from the Penn State scandal.
But the Big Ten commissioner took time out of his busy schedule to spend part of the weekend with an important group: his football officials.
The Big Ten officials, in conjunction with those from the MAC and Missouri Valley, held their annual clinic this weekend.
Delany opened Saturday's session with a 15-minute talk in the crowded InterContinental Hotel ballroom.
"I can't think of an area that's more transparent than officiating," Delany said. "Many games are televised. Most games have replay. The evaluation process is a thorough, deep, broad report card, and it's done in public."
Because of the public scrutiny, Delany told the officials they have to be mindful of their actions away from the field.
"Who you play golf with," Delany said. "Whether or not your mortgage is paid up. That's all out on the table for people to take a look at. There's a high standard we ask from you. The standard is not 'What would a reasonable person expect from you?' but 'What would a person with a stake in the outcome of the game expect from you?' That's a high standard."
Fans don't always think in a reasonable way. They expect the players to catch every ball, the coaches to pick the right play and the officials to get every call right.
That isn't reality. Not in the NFL. Not in the Big Ten. Not anywhere. There will be mistakes, even with the use of instant replay.
"We know those expectations are not reasonable," Delany said. "People are human, and they are going to make mistakes. But what we do expect, which I think is reasonable, is that you're all in."
That means being in shape. That means being mentally focused each week on the field. That means learning from past experience. And it means avoiding trouble away from the field.
"You need to be poised," Delany said.
Part of Saturday's clinic included a session with a stress doctor. Good idea, Delany said.
"We're all under stress," Delany said. "We know about the guy who can make 90 percent of the foul shots in practice. Maybe even 90 percent of the foul shots in the first half. We're looking for someone to make 90 percent of the foul shots at the end of the game.
"To do that, you need experience. You need teamwork. You need humility. You need to let the game come to you. You need to anticipate the play, not the call. You need to understand what you're doing out there."
Delany wants to keep the officials' efficiency at 90 percent. Or better.
"We don't need phantom calls," Delany said. "We don't need people who are either victims or bullies. We need reasonable people to handle tough situations with pressure on a regular basis."
The officials in the room Saturday earned the right to be there, Delany said.
"There's no hidden-ball trick here," Delany said. "It's about being in shape. It's about knowing the rule book. It's about experience."
Officials have to deal with the plays they see. And activities off to the side.
If a sportsmanship violation occurs, Delany demands the officials take care of it. Quickly and decisively.
"Sometimes a warning is appropriate," Delany said. "Sometimes a penalty is appropriate. Sometimes an ejection is appropriate.
"The product on the field has got to reflect the best values that are part of where we live. Which is win fair, play hard and be a good teammate. The officials are part of that culture."
The difference in the talent between the schools has been reduced since the 1980s. The games are closer than ever.
"That means mistakes by coach, player or official stands out more," Delany said. "You have to be able to perform at a higher level."