Jim Delany is a smart man.
His history of successes as Big Ten commissioner reads like a Michael Phelps swimming resume. In 22 years he has overseen the development of instant replay, the conference basketball tournament and the cash cow Big Ten Network. The last two were the strokes of innovation; a true repeatable system of replay had never been established nor a network devoted strictly to a conference. Now, replay is everywhere and the University of Texas just signed their own deal with ESPN.
Usually, pioneers are the ones with arrows on their backs. In Delany's case, you better be the one who ducks when he rolls into town.
That's why Monday's announcement that the new Big Ten football championship game would be awarded solely to Indianapolis -- and not rotated with Chicago or other Midwestern cities with big stadiums like Detroit or Green Bay -- was hard to consume. It didn't sound like the decision of a visionary. I didn't sound like Jim Delany.
His reasons were sensible enough -- Indianapolis's bid was more streamlined than Chicago's and he stressed the importance of "fan comfort" in deciding the host site. He also said something about the "consistency of planning." It's hard to quibble with those answers. I'm a Cubs season ticket holder, so fan comfort to me is not getting splashed with another man's urine while I relive myself in the bathroom troughs at Wrigley Field.
If I were a holder of Hewlett-Packard stock, I'd be most pleased with his reasoning. It's what you would expect from a corporate communications manager. But I expect more from Delany. The Big Ten football championship games will be the first ever played, the culmination to one of the most historic periods in the conference's history. They have a network that is beamed into tens of millions of homes. Nebraska enters as the 12th team. Divisional play.
Why not double down on this and rotate the games? Why can't you have the 2012 game at Soldier Field? Have the 2013 at Ford Field in Detroit, then 2014 at Lambeau Field, rotate indoor and outdoor. The cultural interest in these games would far surpass what you will have in Indianapolis. How fun would it be for fans to travel to a different site each year? That would do more for "fan comfort" than the static, controlled environment of the new Hoosier Dome (Michigan! Penn State! The Rose Bowl at stake! Welcome to Lucas Oil Stadium. Leave your socks in the car!)
Look, even our smartest leaders make boneheaded decisions (google Ted Turner Time Warner). But on a day when our century's most brilliant mock turtlenecked entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, announced more cool stuff from Apple, it was disappointing to hear one of college sports most admirable front men drop the ball.
Jim Delany, you blew it.