What is Jim Delany up to?


Say what you want about Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, but the man is nothing if not a big thinker. Delany was the genius behind the Big Ten Network. He was the first to publicly advocate for a small stipend for his players. And while he didn’t ultimately get every wish on his list, there’s no doubt he was one of the key players in the new playoff that will hit college football in 2014. Not to mention he also started this whole college football realignment frenzy we’re currently stuck in, when he tabbed Nebraska as the conference’s 12th school back in 2012.

There’s no doubt the man has pizazz and there’s also no doubt the man has power. But how much power is too much power? That’s the question folks across college football are asking this morning after the Chronicle of Higher Education released two separate reports Thursday detailing Delany’s latest power play in the Big Ten.

The first, which came out early yesterday morning, cited an 18-page report given to Big Ten leaders, where Delany actually proposed the concept that the Big Ten offices have the power to fire rouge conference coaches. Yeah, seriously, that happened.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The Big Ten is mulling a proposal that would give its commissioner, already one of the most powerful men in college sports, the authority to fire coaches himself, The Chronicle reports today.

The proposal, part of a plan being circulated among Big Ten leaders, would give James E. Delany, who has overseen the league since 1989, and a powerful committee of conference presidents the ability to penalize individual members of an institution, should their actions significantly harm the league’s reputation.

Hmm, could we see Jim Delany go all “Donald Trump on the Apprentice” and run around the Midwest screaming “You’re fired!!!” to overmatched coaches sometime soon? It seems highly unlikely.

Now obviously, the impetus behind the Delany document leak here (as best I can tell they’re not his “words” since Delany hasn’t actually spoken about this publicly yet) comes from the scandal that Penn State is currently embroiled in. You all know the sordid details of what Jerry Sandusky did by now, so frankly there’s no need to get into them here.

But with the facts now out, there’s undeniable proof continues that not only did Joe Paterno cover up Sandusky’s crimes, but so too did high ranking officials of the school. Therefore, it’s not totally surprising that Delany would call for the conference office- essentially an outside, unbiased entity- to take control of a school’s football and basketball affairs if the school itself wouldn’t. Basically, what we’re seeing here is Delany trying to put on his Roger Goodell hat, and play judge, jury and prosecution in the oversight of the conference members.

Of course the difference between Goodell and Delany is that while Goodell is essentially running a private company however he sees fit, Delany is dealing with public schools, and any firing Delany had a hand in would come with the heavy layers of bureaucracy that comes with the territory. As Matt Hinton at CBS pointed out yesterday, 11 of the 12 schools in the Big Ten are public (Northwestern is the only who isn’t), meaning that the conference would not only be dealing with not a political and public perception nightmare, but also a legal one too.

Simply put, Jim Delany ain’t firing anyone anytime soon.

However, the Chronicle of Higher Education wasn’t done yesterday, releasing a second report late Thursday evening, as a follow-up to the original report.

What did the follow-up say? Apparently, in addition to seeking autonomy to fire coaches, Delany believed he might do a better job of hiring them as well. As in Jim Delany- again, the commissioner of the Big Ten- believes that maybe he should have some authority in the people who coach the football and basketball programs in his conference.

Again, we’re being 100 percent, stone-cold serious.

From the second report:

One person I talked to mentioned another proposal that didn’t make it into the document. The idea, which Delany outlined for a Big Ten athletic official during this year’s bowl season, would give the commissioner even broader authority to help institutions make coaching decisions.

Expressing frustration at bad hires that certain Big Ten institutions had made, which had led to NCAA violations and other problems, Delany said he thought he could do a better job of vetting candidates. He also believed he could pull the trigger sooner on coaches whose poor behavior could damage the Big Ten’s reputation.

For those reasons, he thought it would be “useful” if he had the authority to make hiring, firing, and evaluation decisions involving football and men’s basketball coaches.

So now we’re talking about Jim Delany the headhunter? To quote John McEnroe: You CANNOT be SERIOUS!?!?!

And frankly, we don’t think Delany is.

Besides the obvious, you know, like the fact that Delany has no background as a football coach or administrator (although surprisingly, he did play basketball at North Carolina), like the fact that each school and job has different demands and requirements (how much different is the Northwestern football job from say, the Ohio State one?), and despite the fact that he is after all the COMMISSIONER of the conference, and clearly has plenty of other responsibilities on his plate already, this one seems entirely far-fetched and totally implausible. In some distant, far-off universe, you could see a scenario where Delany had the oversight to fire rouge coaches. But to hire them too? That one seems too loopy. Even for the especially loopy world of college football.

As a matter of fact, if anything, this seems like a different kind of power play from Delany, one that has little to do with hiring and firing and personnel decisions. It seems like he’s using the media as his mouthpiece, and using these reports to get something else he wants down the road.

What could that “want” be? It’s impossible to say, but I’ve got a feeling Delany is up to something. After all, couldn’t you see him walking into his next meeting with the school presidents and AD’s, abstractly citing this Chronicle of Higher Education report and using the details against the people sitting right there in front them? As in, “So as you all now know, I wanted this (the whole hiring/firing thing) and didn’t get it. But since I gave you that, you’ve in turn got to give me this.” It’s Bait and Switch 101, and if you don’t think Delany will be using it in some form going forward, think again.

The simple truth is that I have big-time reservations about Delany’s desire to hire or fire anyone.

But what else could he want going forward?

That’s where things get interesting.

For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.