Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jim Delany and the demise of the Big 10

Sometimes when things change, its hard to grasp ahold of what just happened, what caused it to happen or worst yet, when did it actually happen?

That has to be what Big 10/11/12 Commissioner Jim Delany wonders on a daily basis. Just when did my once powerful conference become an also ran in the NCAA? Why did the SEC overtake the Big 10 in football and become the innovators of modern college athletics?

Jim Delany reminds me of warden Samuel Norton in Shawshank Redemption. He has to look out his window and wonder just how did the SEC and Mike Slive overtake the Big 10 in the athletic circles of the NCAA like Andy Dufrense got over on the warden.

To me, the tipping point of this collassal shift in power is a combination of factors that have taken place in the past 20-40 years. The first being the changing demographic/population shifts in the United States. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the states with the most population are changing. The Rust Belt/northern states having been losing populations and jobs for much of the past 40 years and overtime that has taken people, money and power to the southeast and southwestern United States. Things may go back in the other direction at some point, but places that were large cities in the 1980's like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh have consistently dwindled in population while Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix continue to grow.

If you don't believe it, look at pro sports. 25 years ago, Memphis, Charlotte, Orlando, Jacksonville, Nashville did not have pro sports franchises while Miami and Tampa only had the NFL. Now several of these cities have multiple teams in numerous sports while Tampa and Miami support 3 and 4 pro sports teams. Leagues expanded where the people are and in some cases teams relocated to the the growing southeast.

Also, look at the electoral map and our census. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New York are consistently losing seats in the House of Representatives while Florida, Georgia, Texas and numerous other states in other regions are gaining power. The trickle down effect is that more people have moved to a region that also places more emphasis on the pigskin, even more so then traditional places in the north (more on that in a minute).Philadelphia and New York are still huge cities, but there not hotbeds of high school football and don't produce the players that an Atlanta, Birmingham or Miami produce.

The second factor in Delany's demise has been conference expansion. The announcement of Penn State to the Big 10 and Arkansas/South Carolina emerged in the same time period of the early 1990's, with the SEC going to 12 teams in 1992 and PSU fully joining the Big 10 in 1993. Logic would think that the the Big 10 would have added a 12th team to form a conference championship game like the ultra successful SEC Title Game, except that it took the Big 10 just 18 years to add Nebraska. And now the Big 10 has joined the 21st century with a title game of its own, only problem is its ridiculous legends and leaders divisions (two questions, which one was Jim Tressel and does anyone know who is in what division???). But should we have expected the Big 10 to move faster on the expansion/championship game issue, this coming from a conference that took 200 years to add a conference tournament in basketball?

The Big 10 cannot compare to the SEC in terms of athletic facilities. They have fallen behind the times in the college arms race of practice structures, workout facilities, etc. The SEC is second to none, one walk into Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Auburn or even a Texas and its night and day compared to the Big 10. Instead of working to fix the situation and help his member schools, Delany wines and complains about how unfair the NCAA softball and baseball tournaments are and that they should be regionalized to prevent the SEC, Big 12, Pac 10 or ACC from dominating. Instead Delany should be working to improve those programs in his conference, but then again what can we expect from a conference that shares its football championship in a three way tie? He should encourage his teams in those sports to play powerhouse schools in the early spring when baseball/softball in unplayable in the north. Schedule up and it will pay off in due time. When John Chaney took over Temple basketball, he didn't complain about playing Duqense and Rhose Island, instead he played anyone, anytime, ahywhere like a UNLV, Georgetown, etc. and earned his way into the NCAA tournament, if anything he became the blueprint for John Calipari to follow at UMass and Memphis.

A final problem Delany faces is the faltering of his football programs. Two of his bellcows, Michigan & Ohio State are headed for probation. Couple that with what is now an 0-6 showing on New Year's Day (0-3 in the SEC) it is some dark days for the Big 10. A bigger reason for the lack of success of the Big 10 vs the SEC, I believe starts at the junior high level. People in the south live for football 24/7/365. They don't up north. Its a way of life to the point the junior high and high school players go through 10-15 spring practice per year compared to none in Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. Spring football in non existent in the north and thus a player growing up in Altoona, PA comapred to a player in Opelika, AL will have anywhere from 60-90 less practices in their careers. May not seem like a big deal, but when serious players are working on something repeatedly, when they are forming their practice/work habits, it becomes, in my opinion one of the defining reasons you see the SEC as such a dominant player in college football. I'm not sure there is much Jim Delany can do on this issue other then encourage the athletic associations of his states to join in the party.

You couple all these factors togther, along with Delany's refusal to be proactive in the Ohio State situation (think warden Norton's shocked look when he heard the sirens go off while opening Andy's shoes), you currently have the SEC being light years ahead of the Big 10. Michigan and Michigan State were just pounded by Mississippi State and Alabama, Ohio State had its win vs Arkansas stripped, little sisters of the poor TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Only Northwestern and PSU were competitive in their games. Add in the fact the SEC has won 5 straight National Championships, its become a no contest between the two. You might see PSU beat Alabama this year, won't be the biggest upset of all time, but expect the Tide to be a double digit favorite in that game that should show you how far the seperation is between two of the top tier, tradition rich programs in each conference.

This shift started years ago, was a dead heat in the early to mid 1990's, but now its completely off the charts into the differences between the two conferences and sadly, the argument can be made that the Pac 10 or Big 12 is ahead of the Big 10 too. How does Jim Delany still have a job???

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