Jim Delany, Man On Top Of Oil Comment Count

Brian March 5th, 2019 at 11:02 AM

Jim Delany's retiring in 2020, spurring the usual round of kow-towing to a rich guy who was just in charge of things. Since Delany didn't do anything good, these pieces have to talk about how important he is. And when people talk about Jim Delany as a "transformative" or "influential" figure, this is what they're talking about:

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Wait.

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Ah, crap. That's not the right graph. This is the right graph.

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Maybe this one?

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Sorry, sorry, all these graphs look exactly the same, they're hard to pick apart.

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Netflix, fractioning audiences, sports is the only live thing a lot of people, etc. Crediting Jim Delany for the Big Ten's revenue surge is crediting Saudi Arabia for being on top of a lot of oil. Delany didn't create the Michigan and Ohio State fanbases. He just exploited them.

And exploit he did, as anyone who's been to a football game in the past decade can attest to. The increase in revenue came with a commensurate increase in commercial time, to the point where there were several stretches in Michigan games where there were more commercials than plays over the course of an entire quarter. Adding injury to injury, one of those games was against Rutgers, and another was against Maryland.

Delany's never-ending quest for revenue made every Big Ten fan's experience worse, and the money then went to everyone except the people actually earning it. While Delany was ruthlessly strip-mining every dollar out of my fandom and yours he was simultaneously asserting that if the courts gave players even a tiny slice of the increased revenue that the Big Ten would drop to DIII, a level that has no scholarships, out of pure spite.

That's who Delany is.

He did indeed sit in one of the most powerful chairs in college athletics for 31 years. He used that perch to reinforce the con of amateurism for his personal benefit. He regularly issued ludicrous proclamations. He spearheaded the Big Ten's fart-sniffing "Legends" and "Leaders" divisions. He added Maryland, an athletic department so out of control it killed one of its football players out of pure negligence, and Rutgers, an athletic department that finishes at the bottom of the standings in almost literally every sport it competes in annually. He did this so he and people like him could have more money. He happily takes personal credit for industry-wide trends.

Whoever replaces him probably won't be any better or braver. But they could hardly be worse.

Comments

BlueHills

March 5th, 2019 at 1:24 PM ^

With all due respect, Brian, Delaney was indeed something of an innovator with the BTN, and did what others hadn’t yet done. One can dispute how much that was worth, and whether it was Delaney’s obligation to be more of a socialist (small s) whose interest needed to be more tilted toward the fans than his employers, but there’s work and politics involved in running a league, and Delaney has always been a good negotiator for the interests that hired him, i.e., the member institutions he was responsible to.

If anyone needs to be figuratively shot, maybe it’s more the member institutions, including Michigan, whose demands to gobble up more revenue have been (and remain) legion, than the messenger, Delaney.

As for taking advantage of the existence of a fan base, the same could be said for any business venture that leverages fan loyalty for the purpose of employing and monetizing its owners, including MGoBlog. In any event, taking advantage of the existence of a fan base is hardly something to criticize, since that’s what sports journalism is all about.

A little perspective might be in order here. None of this exists in a vacuum.

On the one hand, you’re a traditionalist who’s not happy about Penn State, Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers joining the league; nor do you like TV ads at every game.

On the other hand, you’re something of a reformer who’d prefer a more outwardly professional football league in college football - one that, incidentally, would be a lot less likely to happen without television revenues, and therefore, television commercials. 

But those are preferences. Preferences don’t necessarily make someone who doesn’t share them somehow a bad administrator.

I’d say your article was something of a rant, and you’re certainly entitled, this is your blog. But while a certain amount of criticism is certainly warranted, maybe you’re overstating your case.

bronxblue

March 5th, 2019 at 2:15 PM ^

The BTN was an "innovation".  It was merely a collegiate copy of an existing model of dedicated sports channels.  The NFL had created the NFL network 4 years earlier; NBA TV had existed in some form since 1999.  It was as much Fox Sports trying to make inroads in ESPN's pseudo-monopoly over college athletics as any great insights by Delaney.  

Delaney does deserve credit, I guess, for seeing college fandom as a fountain to be exploited in new and "interesting" ways.  But BTN wasn't some innovation creatively.  Had someone else been running the conference when their contract with ESPN had expired, they likely would have sought a similar deal.

Also, I'm tired of the "whatabout"-ism that goes around with people trying to defend gross commercialization of college athletics with "but you ALSO benefit from fandom with this free website that I frequent".  It's a lazy argument that could be applied to literally anything; it's the 'how could you possibly speak out against the atrocities of human labor abuses when you too use a computer that was created from materials extracted from the land in war-torn countries and then assembled in less-than-ideal working conditions in other countries?' absurdist argument.  Not liking Jim Delaney and his crass commercialization is possible while still liking the sports.  And this blog has never been shy about arguing for better treatment, and a more even distribution of revenue, between athlete and schools/officials.

As for the rest of your arguments, I've not read Brian argue that Nebraska or PSU didn't make sense from a sports perspective to the degree Rutgers and Maryland were clear naked cash grabs for media saturation.  And the "professional football league" argument seems to be your read on Brian saying athletes should receive additional compensation for their work considering the league makes BILLIONS of dollars off their efforts, which seems to infer that the athletes are the drivers of these insane revenue spikes and not, again, Delaney's craven desire for an extra $2.10 from every grandma still paying for cable.  Yes, if the NCAA is going to act like the billion-dollar organization that it is, the athletes should get a chunk of that.  But if the whole league changed it's tone completely and started acting like how everyone who prattles on about "the good old days" and guys like Delaney and Dave Brandon and Tim Drevno weren't pulling down million-dollar contracts, I'm sure Brian would be fine with that as well.

BananaRepublic

March 5th, 2019 at 4:07 PM ^

Simply calling something absurd does not make it untrue. What's fairly ironic here is that you defend a post ranting about the evils of driving ad revenue and then dismiss the idea that a "free" site that exists because it monetizes fandom by selling ad space is also driving ad revenue. I'm sure you'd like to quibble over the degree to which both these institutions are exploiting their customers (read: us), but handwaving a valid criticism as "absurdist" without actually addressing the argument is one of my least favorite rhetorical moves. 

 

To be clear, I don't fault Delany or Brian for monetizing fandom for their own personal gain. They both put out a product that I would rather consume than not. 

bronxblue

March 5th, 2019 at 4:57 PM ^

I did acknowledge the argument and addressed it; it just seems like you don't agree with it.  It's one trotted out whenever someone wants to dismiss valid criticisms about an institution by saying "but you too are involved in some tangental way with said institution, so you lack the moral high ground to point out its failings."  It's reductive, intellectually lazy, and frankly disingenuous.  This line of argument could be applied to literally any form of journalism or, frankly, industry analysis of any type.  How could anyone at a newspaper investigate corruption in, say, the the banking industry because isn't that reporter working for a newspaper that sells ad spaces in their publication in part because of such stories, which creates this conflict of interest pointed out above?  If I work in healthcare and feel that it's crazy the board at a hospital receive millions a year while they closed the free clinic 2 days out of the week for "budget" reasons, am I disqualified from pointing out this imbalance because I cash a check from it?  It's absurd as an argument in virtually any other venue, but because we seem to treat sports as this Rockwell-ian ideal when it comes to off-the-field matters, it impugns one's credibility to point out it's failings.

 

Bo248

March 6th, 2019 at 9:58 AM ^

Agreed on the BTN comment...nothing has been innovative about BTN.  Some throwaway announcers, mixed up broadcast schedules (whose on which channel) and fertilizer commercials are nothing to crow about.  Name one innovation that BTN brought forward that other channels/leagues use...

BlueHills

March 7th, 2019 at 1:51 PM ^

I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with monetizing fandom, nor am I suggesting there’s anything wrong with a more traditional approach. As to paying players - you need the money to do that. For a school with 100,000 plus fans cramming the stadium, and plenty of national interest, it’s easier. For other schools, it’s less easy, and they’d need the additional revenue to make that happen. It’s difficult to have a more traditional approach and then pay players.

Remember that the players (unless otherwise provided by law as is the case with the NFL) have the right to negotiate their own contracts and make deals with the highest bidder under antitrust laws. It’ll be hard to keep things competitive.

Whether Delaney’s desire to take advantage of cable subscriptions is “craven” is, of course, a matter of opinion. I have no opinion on whether it’s a good or bad thing to make your best deal.

That fan sites take advantage of fandom is obvious, and the question is one of degree. It’s not all black, and it’s not all white. There are certainly shades of grey involved.

At the same time, Delaney may not deserve to be trashed, given his mission to the schools being so well fulfilled. I’m not calling it right or wrong, but I do think Brian’s overstated his case. It’s not a bad thing to disagree over this stuff, It stimulates discussion.

KalkaskaWolverine

March 5th, 2019 at 1:27 PM ^

As much as I'm annoyed by the generally bad quality of the Rutgers athletic teams, I think there is a bigger problem that gets overlooked. How much travelling does this add to the schedules of the non-revenue sports. It's a damn long ride from Nebraska to New Jersey for the poor kids on the tighter budget sports. How much more time in the classroom is being missed with this gigantic footprint?

bronxblue

March 5th, 2019 at 1:58 PM ^

Delaney was your average P5 commissioner; his job was to make money on football and basketball and try to not seem like a monster when it came to quietly minimizing everything else, including the athletes.  He's a massive hypocrite when it comes to student-athletes, but he's a rich old dude; that shouldn't surprise anyone.  The Venn diagram of rich old white guys and "the interests of young athletes" is basically two unconnected circles.  I know Brian wondered how bad the next guy could be, and I can say with near-certainty we haven't come close to the bottom of the barrel.  There are a hundred Dave Brandons out there, dozens of Larry Scotts.  Delaney is the devil you know and lord help us with the devils we don't.

I will say, though, I've had an issue with people lumping Rutgers and Maryland together as bad additions to the conference.  McNair's death was a tragedy but isn't particularly unique to Maryland; Northwestern had a guy die on the practice field.  And the conference is certainly not bereft of long-standing members doing horrible things:  Larry Nassar and MSU's terrible handling of a sexual predator, PSU's systemic cover up child abuse, OSU frequent "hey, who gives a shit?  We still win" mentality when it comes to their coaches, etc.  Maryland, in my eyes, has been a net-positive for the conference on the field as well as academically.  Rutgers...yeah, that is a shit show, but it's a shit show we all knew when they came aboard.

I'm glad Delaney's gone because I hate his views on college athletes and sports generally, but he's of a class of shitty guys, not some outlier.

bronxblue

March 5th, 2019 at 5:00 PM ^

It's happened at a bunch of places and in a bunch of sports; I was just listing a couple off the top of my head.  Iowa's S&C coaches put 13 guys in the hospital due to rhabdomyolysis, which absolutely could have killed some guy.  I think Durkin should be shot into the sun in terms of coaching options going forward, but blaming Maryland the institution as part of the Big 10 because of what happened to McNair felt a bit extreme.

Hannibal.

March 6th, 2019 at 2:38 PM ^

I'll give Delany credit for one thing -- the BTN.  That was huge and beneficial.  When I reflect on all of the changes that have happened in college sports over the past 20 years, the BTN is literally the only one that I feel good about because it got a lot of our sports off of ESPN.  Pretty much everything else, I either dislike somewhat or outright hate.

The Delany/Brandon strategy works very well for a while when people who grew up with something like Michigan football are so addicted to it that they will pay virtually any price for it.  You can soak these people for more money, but in the meantime, you aren't creating any future fans for commissioners to soak.  You aren't growing the sport.  You are simply extracting more money from old customers, be they sponsors, ticket holders, or cable subscribers.   Right now, the disposable income in the United States is generally concentrated in the hands of Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers.  In the future, it will be with Millenials and Gen Z folks for whom sports hold no sentimental value.  When I was a kid, there were frequently three generations of the family around the TV when Michigan or an NFL game was on.  As far as I can tell, now, kids don't give a shit.  To them, a sports event holds no sway over them that a roller coaster ride at Disneyworld or a video game can't also do.  Other than my satellite subscription fee, which is pretty substantial, I stopped funding sports in just about every way recently.  I expect that trend to grow and eventually, the sports bubble is going to pop.

The revenue increases going on in all of sports reflects a trend in just about all of modern society -- monetization of the things that people are passionate about.  The entertainment business is very much the same way right now.  Music, video games, and movies are all stuck in the same soulless, creatively bankrupt phase with no end in sight.  It's reaping without planting.  It's harvesting the culture until there is nothing left but a smoking crater of dumbed down sensory stimulation.  Delany's sort of an asshole but he's got lots of company within the people running almost every major institution now.