Tate | Forward-thinking Delany still not without his critics

Tate | Forward-thinking Delany still not without his critics

The basketball-mad Atlantic Coast Conference will move to 20 league games next season, following the lead of Jim Delany's forward-thinking Big Ten.

Replacing some of those early-season romps with more conference games, plus the Gavit and ACC challenges, is just one way the Delany-led commissioners have enhanced fan enjoyment ... as did the Big Ten's move from eight to nine conference football games in 2017.

Basketball and football coaches went along grudgingly. They'd prefer easier games. Fans profited.

We can now recount Delany's accomplishments as he nears retirement after displaying amazing foresight in three ever-evolving decades:

— Reacting to what he perceived as a low-ball ESPN offer in 2004, he gambled on creating the Big Ten Network, which was launched to low expectations in 2007 and now enters 60 million homes. It brings in more than $10 million of the $52 million in media rights received by Illinois and other members this past school year. More than the money, it has greatly improved fan viewing by allowing virtually all the football and basketball games to be televised, not to mention non-revenue sports which would otherwise be performing in near-private.

— Working closely with his presidents, athletic directors and the NCAA, Delany grew into the most powerful man in college sports, pushing ground-breaking recommendations for instant replay, various football protections, and athletes' stipends (the UI provides $2,900 for in-state, full-scholarship athletes, plus tuition, books, enhanced meals, tutoring, medical, etc.).

— Criticized for his deliberate (OK, call it slow) move toward a football playoff, he now sees the Rose Bowl as "fully protected" and is offering full support for an eight-team playoff. His backing means it is just around the corner. Meanwhile, the Big Ten's seven-bowl arrangement, negotiated by Delany, stands strong.

— Arriving just in time to implement the Big Ten presidents' acquisition of Penn State (led by UI President Stan Ikenberry) in 1990, he was beyond patient in failed efforts to entice Notre Dame before shocking the collegiate world with Nebraska. And then, by adding the TV sets around Maryland and Rutgers, he pulled off a six-year, $2.64 billion multi-media package in 2017.

Not all roses

Despite Delany's foresight and accomplishments, the slings and arrows keep flying in.

There were scandals under his watch (most noticeably, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and Larry Nassar at Michigan State). He took too long in mustering football playoff support, too long in pushing for a Big Ten basketball tournament way back in the late 1990s. He upset the high schools by slating Friday night football. And questions resound about the viability and attraction of Rutgers.

But most of all, Delany is challenged for his deep and ongoing belief in the scholastic model which insists, in the face of multiple challenges, upon amateurism in college sports competition.

As his influence weakens, it won't be long before the new wave of leaders scheme a path around Title IX and install the Olympic version of "amateurism" which allows star athletes to use their names and likenesses for endorsement purposes.

This is appropriate because the vast landscape of college competition reveals nearly half a million athletes operating on money provided by a select few in mostly two sports. When the UI baseball team travels to Phoenix, or the volleyball team enjoys charter flights, they should give thanks to the two money-making programs.

A matter of time

It is increasingly unseemly to see such huge piles of cash produced on the sweat of so few, to see outlandish coaching salaries and ridiculous facility improvements without men's basketball and football players receiving even a tiny sliver.

This latter sentence is a statement of inevitability and acceptance that we old-timers are only now becoming comfortable with.

Understand, this doesn't change the fact that, with nearly a half-million student-athletes competing each year in college, the overwhelming majority will benefit far more from education than sports. That's why more than 86 percent in Division 1 earn a degree, because it impacts their next 60 years.

And while a tiny percentage of roughly 460,000-plus athletes go on to compete professionally, most of that small number are back in the workforce long before they're 30, or even 25. That's where those billions in athletic scholarships truly pay off ... in the workplace.

Repeating, the object of school is to prepare for the future, not to reward for extra-curricular activity. But we'll soon see some form of compromise where the most talented athletic earners receive greater compensation.

It will be messy and inequitable but it's coming, and something tells me Delany won't miss $50 signatures and player endorsements of Toyota, which he has resisted under his watch.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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