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Jim Delany Warns Non-AQ Leagues: Don't Expect More Than You're Getting

Dec 9, 2010 – 1:45 PM
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Brett McMurphy

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NEW YORK – Inside The W Hotel in Manhattan on Wednesday morning, they sat side-by-side on a platform. Five of the most powerful men in college athletics -- the conference commissioners from the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-10, Big 12 and Big East. Also part of the panel was Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson.

Although Benson was seated with the group at IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, it's very obvious: Benson and his league are clearly viewed as an outsider by the big boys.

And college football's behemoths -- the automatic qualifying BCS conference commissioners -- vow they'll keep it that way.

They indicated that after providing the non-automatic qualifying leagues unprecedented financial reward and access to the BCS bowls in the past, enough is enough. They flat out said if those leagues try to get even more there could be dire consequences.

"Don't push it past this because if you push it past this, the Big 12's position is we'll just go back to the old (bowl) system," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told FanHouse. "You're getting the ability to get to places you've never gotten before. We've Jerry-rigged the free market system to the benefit of those institutions and a lot are institutions that don't even fill their stadiums."

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott had the same message.

"The six (BCS) conferences have bent over backwards and tried to be politically correct to their own detriment, probably further than they had to, maybe should have," Scott told FanHouse.

However, it was Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany who wanted to make the automatic-qualifying BCS leagues' point loud-and-crystal clear.

During the forum, Delany emphasized how he already had testified before Congress three times. He discussed the congressional pressures, media pressure and public pressures that he and the other commissioners have faced defending the BCS system. He often referenced "BCS-defense fatigue" and having to be "politically correct" when discussing the smaller conferences.

At times, Delany was a mixture of Col. Jessup ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!") and Network's Howard Beale ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore").

Delany sat between SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Scott, the Pac-10's new commissioner. Only a few feet to Delany's right sat Benson, but they may have been located on opposite sides of the Earth -- much like their polar opposite views of the BCS.

At least on two occasions during the forum, Delany interrupted Benson to hammer his opinion home.

"The BCS has provided greater access," Benson said. "Look at 120 schools, 11 conferences and to establish opportunities for those student-athletes. To play on the big stage, we've been to the big stage. ...

"The problem," Delany interrupted, "is your big stage takes away opportunities for my teams, to play on the stage they created in 1902."

"We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SEC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, others were included but they never had access to any of this before. You have to understand who brought what to the table. Who's continuing to give and who's continuing to get."
-- Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner
Responded Benson: "I think the group of five (non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences) has established value in the last five years."

"The notion," Delany said, "that over time by putting political pressure on, it's just going to get greater access, more financial reward and more access to the Rose Bowl, I think you're really testing. I think people who have contributed a lot have, what I call, 'BCS defense fatigue.'

"If you think you can continue to push for more money, more access to the Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl. I have tremendous respect for Boise and TCU. ... I think they are tremendous teams that can beat any team in the country on a given day. I think the only question is, 'Does one team's 12-0 and another team's 12-0 equate?' And that's where the discussion plays out, not whether or not they're elite teams or deserving access to the bowl system.

"I'm not sure how much more give there is in the system."

The BCS began in 1998 when the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl agreed to join the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Big East and Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls to ensure a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game each season.

In the 13 years since the BCS expanded access to the bigger paying BCS bowls for teams in the non-automatic qualifying conferences (WAC, Mountain West, C-USA, MAC and Sun Belt) and increased the revenue those leagues received. Last season, the five non-automatic qualifying BCS leagues divided $24 million with the Mountain West receiving $9.8 million and the WAC $7.8 million.

However, the Big Ten and SEC each received $22.2 million and the Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East each received $17.7 million.

"I think the system does provide access and opportunity for a team like Boise State or TCU to play in the championship game," Benson said. "But we've also proven that it's a lot easier to get to No. 4 than it is to get to No. 2."

Benson said he supports the BCS, but wants even more access and more revenue. This is not a popular subject with Delany.

"We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SEC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, others were included but they never had access to any of this before," Delany said. "You have to understand who brought what to the table. Who's continuing to give and who's continuing to get."

Delany, then, not so subtly drew a line in the sand.

"The only thing I would say, if you think you (the non-automatic qualifying leagues) can continue to pressure the system and we'll just naturally provide more and more and more," Delany said. "I don't think that's an assumption that our presidents, athletic directors, football coaches and commissioners necessarily agree with.

"Karl (Benson) says we like this contract and we want more. Well, we've got fatigue for defending a system that's under a lot of pressure. The pressure is for more. It's never enough."

Last year, non-automatic qualifying teams Boise State and TCU received BCS bowl berths. This year, TCU earned an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl because the Rose lost Pac-10 champion Oregon to the BCS title game. Delany didn't hide his displeasure that Stanford, the Pac-10 runner-up, was not allowed to replace Oregon instead of TCU.

The current BCS system runs through 2013. If the automatic-qualifying leagues are pressured to give the smaller leagues more money and more access to the bowls, they said they likely would go back to the bowl system before the BCS. That means, the bowl games would align with the most attractive conferences and be free to pick whatever team they wanted -- i.e. you would never see a WAC and Mountain West team selected for one of the big four bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange).

The current BCS formula limits a conference to have only two teams in a BCS bowl. Delany said he would like to see that restriction lifted. This year, for instance, the Big Ten had three of the top nine teams in the final BCS rankings but because of the two-bid per conference rule, No. 9 Michigan State was sent to a non-BCS bowl while Wisconsin (Rose) and Ohio State (Sugar) went to BCS bowls.

Delany said he and Slive are in favor of allowing a third team from a conference to earn a BCS bowl berth, but isn't sure how the system and its 10 bowl berths would be restructured to allow that. Beebe also told FanHouse he would be willing to look at it, but would have to examine how it applies.

"I think the conferences should be allowed to have three bids," Delany said. "If the SEC has three teams in the top eight, the bowl system would be well served, the public would be well served. But that comes at a cost to something else. Mike (Slive) and I could suggest -- I would support Mike's motion, but we can't get a third vote.

"You can discuss it until the cows come home. The only way the system works is if everyone is willing to play the game. It doesn't work if I take my ball and go home. It doesn't work if the Big East takes its ball and goes home. Does it work if Mike (Slive) takes his ball and goes home?

"This is nothing but an interlocking of contracts that are negotiated."

Those contracts, though, may not be renewed if the non-automatic qualifying leagues keep asking for more. And from Delany's tone: this isn't a threat, but a promise.

Brett McMurphy is a national football writer for FanHouse. Contact him at brettmcmurphy@gmail.com and please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY
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