Commissioners follow one thing and one thing only: Money
Share This Post

It’s never easy to take college sports administrators seriously, because their efforts to seem lofty and ethical play so poorly against what they actually do, which is run brokerage houses.

Thus, when Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany, a particularly noted gasbag, said that his school presidents might go to a Division III model – no scholarships, need-based aid only – rather than consent to a pay-for-play model, his stern visage played poorly against the audience doubled over in laughter.
His claim, in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, will no doubt be part of the pregame wrangling in what has come to be known as the Ed O’Bannon case, which is asking a court to hear that players receive 50 percent of television money generated. In sum, he is saying the Big 10 would shut up shop rather than consent to losing half the storefront to the labor force.

Now you are certainly entitled to believe what you wish on the issue of pay-for-play for college athletes. In fact, go do it over there, at the other end of the bar, where nobody can hear you. It is an old and tired debate, one whose participants long ago hardened their positions into frozen rage-based gesticulations.

As for Jim Delany, though, a cheerful, “Oh shut up” is the only sensible response. He would no more guide the Big 10 toward Division III athletics than he would date Ke$ha. He’s a rainmaker; that’s his job, period. He goes where the rain is, and if some court says half his barrel goes somewhere else, he will do what he was preternaturally born to do.

Find more rain.

Delany has always been about two things – talking lofty talk, and walking moneygrubbing walk. We begrudge him none of this. That’s the job of a commissioner – to be an athletic director on a grander scale. And Delany has been better at it than anyone. His model for the Big 10 Network alone has changed the landscape of cash accumulation for colleges everywhere, thus exacerbating what will be the ultimate dismantling/diminution of the NCAA. He showed the world, if nothing else, that the money doesn’t have to go through Indianapolis at all. The conference offices will do just fine as the industry’s middlemen.

Thus, when he rises on his hind legs to speak about what his presidents will or will not tolerate, he defeats his own purpose by speaking at all. He can’t be taken seriously because most of his other highminded pronouncements have turned out to be ground cover for eventual money grabs. His stances on expansion, on a football playoff, and even divisional alignment have all been stern lectures followed by market adjustments. He goes where the money goes. He always has, and he always will.

The same is true for all commissioners, because the job is not about running a sport at all, and never was. It’s about running a business, and college sports has been particularly useful in that many of the laborers do not get paid.

But the college paradigm has also shown the great flaw of being given wealth – in this case, many schools have expanded their athletics budgets through construction and other overspends that many of them are more in debt than ever. See, for you locals, Cal.

Indebtedness, after all, has always been the most convincing argument against reform in any business, and college athletics upheld their massive debt loads as the prime argument against pay-for-play. Not morality. Credit ratings.

But if a court says the pie will be divided, and that players will be paid, Delany will find a way to explain that too. Because that’s the other part of his job – making you forget what he said before while doing the exact opposite and shaking the change out of someone else’s pockets, all at the same time.

He is, in short, a commissioner. He’s a businessman. And he’ll never be anything more, or less.