Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany Talks BCS, Expansion And His Memories Of Dean Smith
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is in his 22nd year at the helm. Most recently, he helped create a massive collaboration with the Pac-12 that will increase athletic competition across several different platforms for all 24 schools.
Delany was also responsible for adding Nebraska as a member of the Big Ten and, just five years ago, created the highly successful Big Ten Network. Delany himself played in two Final Fours at North Carolina under Dean Smith.
He caught up with The Huffington Post to discuss his newest partnership, the potential for further expansion and his stance on the BCS.
What exactly does your alliance with the Pac-12 bring to the table?
We wouldn’t have done it unless we felt it had a lot of potential. It's a historic set of academic and athletic relationships that goes back to 1902. We'll have the 100th Rose Bowl in 2014. We really thought that it's important to continue to investigate change and ways to improve. The non-conference football and basketball schedules are often criticized for not being competitive enough and we felt we could extend it. Underlying it is that neither conference overlaps with the other. Between the two conferences we touch 15 states, 45 percent of the country's population and half of the top 50 markets. We've launched [the Big Ten] Network and the [Pac 12] is launching in August, so we thought it was a great way to create competition and serve our fans.
Is it safe to assume you will not be further expanding as a conference?
I think we're very comfortable with where we are. You never say never, but we've been cautious. We were the first conference to experience major expansion from 20 years ago. We looked at configurations, like 16 and 20, and just decided that's not who we wanted to be. That would affect our DNA, our rivalries and how we do things. We like to play each other more, not less, and so I would say there is a high degree of comfort. You don't unnecessarily pin yourself in if you don't have to. [Expansion] is not active and not on the horizon. Our schools are located in roughly 25 or 30 percent of the population. Our media agreements are all national. I don’t think there is a conference that spans more than a couple of time zones. Most conferences are regional. Most rivalries are local.
It sounds like you are opposed to the "Plus-1" BCS format for college football?
We have historically been opposed to it, but we also have a lot of colleagues who are opposed. I think the last time it came up, there were five of the seven founders discussed it, and now most people want to discuss it. We're curious and engaged, but I think what a lot of people don’t understand is underlying any of our positions are university presidents, athletic directed and coaches. I'm engaging with them over the next 60 days.
I would say the No.1 factor for us is: What is the impact on the athlete and then the regular season because that's everything that we've been about for a long time. Three, is what is the impact on the Rose Bowl and the bowl system? Lastly, what is competitively fair? We have strong opinions on it internally, which are not always aligned. [Former Wisconsin football coach and current AD] [Barry] Alvarez has spoken favorably about it and [AD] Dave Brandon of Michigan has spoken strongly against [the BCS]. [Northwestern football coach] Pat Fitzgerald has spoken against it and others are in favor. I would say that for us to move or change it, it needs to work for [all four of those elements] and that the competitive fairness is somehow tied to the regular season because we play that for 13 weeks and average 70,000-plus. That's why I say it's regional; Michigan-Ohio St, Illinois-Michigan State; those games have been meaningful for a long, long time, and we want to make sure they maintain their meaning.
You played in two Final Fours for North Carolina. What are your memories from those experiences?
It was really early in Coach [Dean] Smith's career. Our freshman year was his first year and we went to the Final Four, although back in that day, freshmen were ineligible, and then we went two additional years. This was during the great UCLA run when we were getting better but they were dominating, winning 10 of 12 I think in that period of the 60s and 70s. I think overall we probably had the second strongest program in the country. Larry Brown was my freshman coach, so it was a great experience for me. I played some as a junior and senior as a part time starter. I love the game. It doesn’t seem like so long ago, but the memories are fresh.
What do you remember most about Brown and Smith?
Coach Brown was a young guy. He played on the Olympic team in 1964, and it was before the establishment of the ABA, and so he played a couple years in the Industrial League and then came back to coach us. He was an exceptional coach; a great defensive coach who was still playing a lot at the time. He actually -- after two years there -- went and played as a player-coach in the ABA and I think was the all-time assist leader in that league. Even then, we would play against him and he was the best guard on the court.
And Coach Smith was just a great innovator, a great guy in terms of taking care of his players and really building a program. The thing I remember most about him was how innovative he was, as maybe [former Dallas Cowboys head coach] Tom Landry was, with multiple offenses and defenses.
I think Dean Smith was ahead of the curve in those years. He never had a problem with the rule changes (e.g. shot clock) because he would study them; he had a math background. Everything we did was measured up against an efficiency rating. Everyone talks about Bill James in baseball or "Moneyball," but Coach Smith was way ahead. If you go back and read his books today, he was using statistical data and different metrics to measure the efficiency of any offense or defense that we were running, and so I just think his preparation and creativity was a special window for a young person. There are some games that you're just never going to win. We probably could have played UCLA ten times or maybe 20 times before we could get a win against them; they were just better.
Coach [John] Wooden used to say that team in '68 was maybe his best team with [Lew] Alcindor. As much as any coach that I've ever watched over the years, [Smith's] attention to detail around the end of the games was the best. We were constantly spending a disproportionate amount of practice time on the last 2-3 minutes of a game -- whether your up or down, whether you have the ball or not, what the foul situation is -- so that when you got into those 3-point and 7-point games, you were just drilled to death.
Had he already installed his infamous 4-corners offense?
A little bit before; it was my understanding that it sort of came out of a practice with Larry Brown. He spread the court and it came into effect a couple years before I was there. Then, it got developed into an actual delay game; I know they used it at Kentucky with [Adolph] Rupp and the Van Arsdale [brothers] at Indiana. When I was there, it was not an actual offense, but more of a delay game, but we could go into it pretty early some times. It's pretty spectacular; I don't know if you could do it today because the players are longer and better, and they combine zone with man, but again, it was way ahead of the curve. Back in the day, if they wouldn’t come out and chase you, he felt that they had bigger players and would sit back in the zone. He'd hold it out and there was a "4-to-score," to create backdoor cuts.
It sounds a lot like a pre-Princeton offense.
Yeah, that's the best way to say it. That's when people were guarding the ball when they didn’t have to. If you were in the corner, they would go to the corner. It was a lot of fun.
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