Story by Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 2, 2014) – With Rutgers set to kick off the first of six premier R B1G Tour stops tonight in New York City, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has made the trip East to be part of the festivities.
Scarletknights.com caught up with Delany, one of the most influential people in college sports, for a brief on-campus interview before the evening event.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q. How do view Rutgers’ official July 1 start date from a Big Ten perspective?
JD: “Our goal is to enter a new region in the country, to make friends, to plant flags, to try to build a presence. It’s probably the most competitive sports corridor, financial corridor, political corridor in the world. So the way I look at it, whether it’s Rutgers or Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State or Michigan, we’re all in it together. I think there have been distractions, but that’s part of life. The important thing is to focus, move forward and look at the bigger picture.”
Q. How quickly do you see Rutgers acclimating athletically to the Big Ten?
JD: “We’re a broad-based conference. With Rutgers and Maryland we have almost 9,500 athletes, 350 teams, 43 different sports and 28 championships. So to be honest I don’t have a great, great feeling (about the transition athletically) when we made the move with Rutgers and Maryland. Probably like the general public I couldn’t tell you where all of the areas of excellence are. That’s not why we expanded here. It was an institutional movement. It was movement because of similarity of institutional purpose.
“My view, both with respect to Maryland and Rutgers and the Big Ten, is that together I hope that everybody gets stronger, we develop more resources, we have more compatible competitions. The academic interface is beyond doubt. A great fit. How quickly that (athletic transition) happens is to be determined. I know this: When Texas A&M beat Alabama (in football two years ago, the Aggies’ first season in the SEC) that facilitated integration pretty much for Texas A&M. When Missouri struggled its first year (in football in the SEC) and came back and played in the championship game (last fall) that facilitated integration. So I think integration is a little bit success-dependent.
“I expect Rutgers and Maryland to have some immediate success in some areas where they’re good and I think in some areas where they’re not competitive before they’re not expected to be immediately competitive right away. So where they are competitive in the conferences that they’re in they’ll probably be competitive in our conference.”
Q. Was the announcement of opening a Big Ten satellite office in New York City on June 1 an outgrowth of having Rutgers and Maryland joining Penn State as the league’s “Eastern” presence?
JD: “I think it’s partly substantive and partly symbolic. I think substantively we’re spread out and I’ve always felt like when the NCAA was in Kansas City and they had schools in the far Northwest and the far Southeast, I always wondered why there wasn’t more of a regional outreach.
“ We’re not a national conference (geographically) but we’re as close to being a national conference as anybody is, not only because of our network and going from Colorado to the Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian border to the mid-South but also because the Big Ten diaspora of our graduates. We’ve got more people in Phoenix than the Pac-12 does. We’ve got 300,000 people in southern California. A million people between Washington D.C and New York City, half of them are Rutgers and Maryland, half of them are our own people.
“So I just think you can’t make the kind of change that we’re trying to make to live in two regions. We’re not visiting one region. You’re not joining a Midwestern conference. Yes, it’s predominantly Midwestern historically. But if we’re going to talk the talk and walk the walk we’ve got to be in both places, we’ve got to live in both places. We’re going to want distribution of the Big Ten Network here, we’re going to want bowl games here, we’re going to have basketball games here, football games. So the goal would be to increase the rate of adoption and adaption by everybody to expansion. I think it’s important both symbolically and substantively to be here.”
Q. What’s the significance to the Big Ten Network’s profile with Rutgers and Maryland joining and the markets they bring?
JD: “We have to get distribution. It’s more complicated than just getting on some cable systems. We want to have it on the same basis that exists in Illinois and Michigan. This is an outer-market, somewhat-distributed situation. And it has to be an in-market situation, where we have the same kind of relationship we have in the East as we do in the Midwest. And it didn’t just happen in the Midwest. It was a hard fight. It was difficult. So people here should not expect it to be simple and easy. It wasn’t simple and easy when we started and it won’t be here.
“I think it’s got to be demanded by the people. If the people don’t demand it then there’s probably not a great business reason to have it. So it’s not a layup. But it’s not a halfcourt shot, either. I think it could happen. But Maryland fans and Rutgers fans have to know it’s a phenomenal asset for a conference to have a 24/7 network that serves men’s programs, women’s programs, institutional interests. But it’s not a given. If you look around the country, if it was a given everybody would have one. The Big East would have one, the ACC would have one, the Big 12 would have one. But that’s not the way it is. It’s not easy and I don’t think that anybody should expect that it will be easy. I think it will be a challenging situation, but most things that are good are challenges and take time to develop.”