By Bruce Hooley
I get the feeling after the Big Ten’s addition of Rutgers and Maryland this week that conference commissioner Jim Delany is the sort who’d sidle up to an attractive widow at her husband’s funeral and say, “Wanna grab a drink later?”
Besides being an egregious money grab, the Big Ten’s announcement this week was horrifically timed to eclipse what Delany used to love peddling as his league’s chief selling point -- tradition.
Honoring that tradition -- iconic coaches, great players, championship teams -- is how, when the Big Ten finally got around to joining the conference football championship revolution a decade late, we wound up with the pompously and pretentiously named Legends and Leaders Divisions of Delany’s fiefdom.
No matter how epically the Big Ten struggled on the field -- and it’s a conference that’s won exactly one undisputed national championship in football in 44 years -- the conference fathers continuously looked down their noses and sniffed at other leagues who couldn’t marshal the same ghosts from bygone eras as Nile Kinnick, Bronco Nagurski, Red Grange, Archie Griffin, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler or Joe Paterno.
This used to be the week the best of those Big Ten traditions moved even those of us who saw through the ruse. The most cynical skeptic still found something irresistibly-intoxicating about the Ohio State-Michigan game and the other passionate rivalries that brought down the curtain on the regular season.
Indiana-Purdue, Northwestern-Illinois, Minnesota-Iowa and even the recently-forged Michigan State-Penn State game, though manufactured after Penn State’s addition in 1993, gave fans throughout the league a matchup to anticipate all season.
Of course, Delany and the empty-headed presidents he ostensibly works for don’t need any of that pageantry and love of alma mater nonsense now. Those are nothing but out-dated talking points in the new frontier of growing the Big Ten Network and it’s national brand.
Now Delany chirps about population metrics and expandable market share as he runs his bulldozer over tradition and a few rival sports leagues in the process.
Sure, a couple of fan bases will have to grow accustomed to riveting end-of-season games against Rutgers and Maryland, and every school who plays the newbies will forfeit a game against a tried and true Big Ten rival, but just imagine how much more the conference can extort out of cable operators in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and New York.
The accompanying financial windfall will be spectacular, but for who?
For Maryland and Rutgers, sure, because both are paupers in the world of big-boy college athletics, having stripped away 13 varsity sports between them in recent years while trying to keep up with the Joneses.
For Big Ten bottom-feeders, maybe, because now they’ll have the cash to build their own opulent indoor facilities and equip their players’ luxurious locker rooms with flat screens and iPads.
As for Ohio State, Michigan and the other elite achievers that made the Big Ten, they added those trinkets years ago. There’s already a juice bar and a racquetball court in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the basketball Buckeyes are already building a $20-million practice facility so they won’t have to share a practice court -- a practice court -- with the women’s team any longer.
What’s next? Versace uniforms?
Rest assured, the money will be spent on something. These universities and their athletic departments are non-profit enterprises, if only in IRS terminology. So the first $10 million annual contract for a coach might not be far off.
It would be nice -- a fantasy, to be sure, but nice -- if the financial windfall coming the Big Ten’s way would be funneled back into the general funds of the schools to -- here’s a radical thought -- lower tuition for the entire student body and not just spoil the hundreds gifted either in the genetic lottery or by Title IX with a full athletic scholarship.
Most of the time when you see an athletic department claim to inject millions back into the school’s budget, it is only as a reimbursement payment to cover the room, board and tuition of the athletes who play a varsity sport.
So that cost isn’t some magnanimous gesture on the athletic department’s part, but an investment in the very human resources it needs to turn the massive profit that allows Urban Meyer to make $4.4 million a year and Braxton Miller to make not one thin dime off the scores of No. 5 jerseys OSU is selling.
Not even the great Jim Delany has quite figured out how to make money off teenagers without having them on campus in the first place.
Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Email Bruce firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz
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