MADISON, Wis. — Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany visited the University of Wisconsin on Thursday, his seventh stop as he tours all Big Ten schools as part of his 25th year in charge of the conference.
He met with reporters to discuss a wide range of topics, including the Big Ten and Wisconsin’s football program. Here is a sampling from the question and answer session.
Q: Do you have any early impressions of Gary Andersen? Delany: Good guy. Straight shooter. I think the words and the actions sync up pretty good guy. It looks like he really connects with his players. He did at Utah State. I read about that. Obviously very direct with these kids. No fluff. You get what you see, I guess. He’s been pretty successful. He built Utah State, into what’d they win, 10, 11 games last year? That’s pretty good work. He and Barry (Alvarez). Barry gives me the good housekeeping seal of approval. That’s good enough for me. I’ve seen a lot of football coaches and it seems to me like the players have responded really well to him.
Q: What’s it like to have an athletic director (Barry Alvarez) who has been a football coach? Delany: It’s really helpful. He’s got a lot of credibility in and around that sport. Barry, I came in one year before Barry. I saw him build the program and move over toe administration and he’s seen the full cycle of expansion, television, BTN. On top of being a good guy, he’s got a lot of credibility with the coaches and the administrators and has a good perspective. He’s a good friend and a good colleague.
Q: How do you pick your representative for the BCS Final Four? Delany: We had a lot of nominees. Then we give those to the commissioners. Management committee. Then we’ll identify and sort through that.
Q: If you look at the resurgence of Big Ten basketball the last couple years, do you think there are any lessons that can be applied to be football? Delany: No. Except I think it has a lot to do with successful recruiting. Successful development of players. Continuity of coaching. Assuming you’re at par or better on facilities and television, which we are. It’s all a little bit cyclical, but I think the foundational pieces have to be there. You have to have great institutions. You have to have good facilities. You have to have good coaching. And then I think recruitment is cyclical and player development is a little cyclical.
But the better your coaches are, the more continuity you have, the more you’re going to be able to leverage the resources that you have. I think our basketball was up and then it was down and then it was up and down and now it’s been up. It’s cyclical. I think the aberration is the SEC has been so successful with different teams over a seven-year period. Normally there’s more people jumping up and jumping down so hats off to them. They’ve done a really nice job.
Q: Is this coaching group overall strong? Delany: For me, I can only tell coaches after they have success. I can’t tell what a coach is before he has success. I’m not a film guy. I’m not close enough to the game to be able to break it down that much. Barry tells me the guy is really well prepared. After they win the game, I can tell. But I’m like most fans. I can’t tell before the game.
Q: What do you think of the new facilities at Wisconsin? Delany: They’re fabulous. As I travel around, it’s amazing. A lot of these facilities were built in the early part of the 20th century. You’ve got three choices. You can let them fall down. You can renovate them on the cheap. Or you can build them to pay for themselves. I think most people have chosen the third option. I got here a year before Barry did. He got here in ’90. I got here in ’89. Anybody that’s been around realizes the kind of program that has been built here but also the ripple effect its had on all the other programs and facilities.
Q: How will history look back on the BCS? Delany: I think as you get away from it, you’ll see it as probably a transition point from the sport that was mostly regional, that had some national games. So that you had the Auburn-Alabama or Texas-Texas A&M or Pittsburgh-Penn State or Michigan-Ohio State. Most of the games were local and regional with a half-dozen exceptions. Army-Navy. I think after the BCS, what you saw was the emergence of games maybe of not national stature but of national interest because everybody is watching everybody else. They’re watching Oregon. They’re watching TCU. They’re watching Boise. They’re watching Wisconsin. They’re watching Auburn.
So you see that happen at about the same time we get technological exposure. The Internet, various platforms, satellite. I don’t think that you could separate the BCS’s influence with the technological changes that occurred in that 10- or 15-year period to take the sport to clear the No. 2 position among all sports in America. NFL. College Football. And then I think Major League Baseball and NBA. College basketball. They kind of oscillate for position.
Q: Will people look back and say the BCS was a success? Delany: People are passionate about their teams. There is a lot of experimentation with selection. It was done in good faith. Probably in the early years, people are not going to like a selection committee. But the selection committee looked pretty good compared to the computers. So do you have a selection committee that uses computers or do you have computers?
I think (BCS creator) Roy Kramer deserves a lot of credit for envisioning it and putting it together. I like the fact it happened inside in relationship to the bowls and I think it helped grow the game. Really in the last six or eight or 10 years, it’s 1 versus 2 every year. The computers were really secondary to the coaches’ poll and the writers’ poll. You got 1 and 2. And really they did a much better job of matching 1 and 2 than the NCAA basketball tournament.
So what do you want? Do you want to reward people for what happened in the 12 games or do you want to create a tournament environment where you may get upsets but you’re not getting 1 and 2? So I thought they did a great job of getting 1 and 2, nationalizing the game and creating a lot of interest. Controversy. Interest. And success. I think let’s see. I hope the college football playoff contributes as much to college football as the BCS did.
Q: The first time the Big Ten broke up divisions, Wisconsin was just outside the top four in that pecking order. Do you think they’re at that level now or knocking on the door of that level? Delany: They’ve had sustained success, so it’s a national program. It depends on what period you measure. When we measured for the creation of the first divisions, the first time we were measuring, really from the time football scholarships went from 95 to 85. From the time that Penn State came in and from the time of the creation of the alliance. We took that period like 1993. If you took a shorter period, Michigan State has won more conference games than anybody in the last five years. So if you take that five-year period, they’re probably up there. If you probably take a 10-year period, maybe Wisconsin is up there. We took a 20-year period and looked at with Nebraska as you sorted out what they did. BCS games, winning championships, how many 10-win seasons, it was the four of them that were there and Wisconsin and Iowa sort of were on that next line. It all depends on what period of time you’re talking about.
Q: Do you think Big Ten-FCS matchups will continue down the road? Delany: It’s a goal is the best way to describe it. We don’t have any penalties for those that don’t. It’s not like a violation of our rules. But everybody agreed when every game is televised, every game matters and the fans matter. Interest in those games is less. They’re from another division. They have 20 less scholarships. It’s like a junior college team playing against a high school team or a high school team playing against a JV team. And not to say you can’t lose the game because certainly Appalachian State and obviously Furman beat NC State and there are a lot of good teams. But when we went to 12 games, we really increased the number of those games. I don’t think the players are as excited. I don’t think the fans are as excited. I don’t think the media is as excited. I don’t think the television companies are as excited.
When we looked at what happened over a long period of time, we just thought it made sense to do everything we could to schedule one team that was comparable to the team. It doesn’t mean if you’re Indiana you have to go play Southern Cal, but maybe you can go play Kentucky. And maybe the other schools should come from the other five conferences who give the same number of scholarships. But it’s going to be up to the schools to schedule.
The other thing is as you try to get into the playoffs against highly regarded teams, strength of schedule matters. It’s not only what Ohio State does, but it’s what Ohio State’s opponents do or it’s not only what Wisconsin does, it’s what Wisconsin’s opponents do and the opponents’ opponents. So when you get into the kind of assessment of strength of schedule, who you play, who your opponent plays and who their opponent plays matters. We’re just trying to create a better package that was more interesting to the fan, more interesting to television, more interesting to the players that you can recruit to. It’s a work in progress, but everyone has agreed to try and do that.
Q: You’ve probably seen pictures of Oregon’s facilities. Is there any concern we’re going too far in that direction? Delany: It’s a matter of taste. It’s a matter of priorities. If you have the revenues and resources, I don’t know. I’ve traveled around our conference and seen all of the growth of facilities. I don’t know what Oregon had before. I don’t know what their competition has. I’ve got enough judgments to pass without passing judgment on somebody 2,000 miles away.
Q: When you came through in 1989, did you think it was possible Wisconsin would elevate itself? Delany: My vision wasn’t clear. Their facility was in bad shape. The fan support wasn’t here. It was more about the party then it was about the game. Everyone loves a good party, but it’s better to party after you have a win.
Q: What do you think of Wisconsin playing LSU and Alabama over the next few seasons Delany: I don’t know if (Michigan State basketball) coach (Tom) Izzo was advising coach Alvarez or what. But you can make a franchise out of playing anybody, anywhere, any time. Kids love that. I think it really raises the profile because you can even win when you lose because you create an atmosphere of challenge. And so my hope is that the committee will not discredit people for losing those games. You play against a top-5 team, you can lose and be a top-5 team.
Q: Do you like the neural site games? Delany: You do what you need to do. I think it’s great. I think the players love to play big games. I think fans love it. If you’re not playing people at your level or higher, you’re playing people at your level or lower. Now there’s got to be a balance because you have to pace your team and build your team and you have to know when your team is ready to do that. I think something that’s two or three years out really makes sense because you can recruit to it. I’m hoping overall that our schedules improve. It improves the fan experience, it improves the television games and it elevates us. When we play good teams, there’s always a 50-50 chance. But when you play great teams, you play uphill. But that’s good. That’s why we play the games.