We're not even to May yet, and this offseason is already setting itself up to be the #SummerOfJim. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has a lot of ideas, and he hasn't been shy about offering them to the world, even when they are controversial or universally panned. And he's showing no signs of stopping.
Back in February, Delany floated the idea that perhaps freshman in football and men's basketball should be ineligible, like they used to be, to help with their academic readiness. Almost everybody said this was a terrible idea, and multiple Big Ten coaches, including Ohio State's Thad Matta, said it was hurting them on the recruiting trail (even though the Big Ten wasn't the only conference to have conversations about this idea).
Rather than letting the idea drop after a news cycle or two, Delany decided to double down, sending out a huge paper to media members, where he suggested it again. We analyzed that paper and found that while Delany is right about the need for academic reform, his solutions mostly missed the point, and he's hardly a credible messenger anyway. We were not alone in this thinking.
But he hasn't stopped there. Yesterday, he decided to wade into the battle over 'satellite camps' for recruiting, and decided to turn everything up a few notches by going after the whole dad-gum recruiting process:
"I don't think [satellite camps] are objectionable," Delany told reporters here covering the College Football Playoff's annual meetings. "I think there are some things out there that are practices that are legal that are probably far more objectionable."
Specifically, Delany mentioned oversigning, grayshirting, "flipping" committed players and 7-on-7 camps -- all practices, not coincidentally, widely associated with the SEC -- as examples of "things that people object to but are permissible. Coaches coaching at camps doesn't strike me as a bad practice."
Okay. These sorts of comments wouldn't be out of place on just about any message board or blog for a Big Ten team, but another clear broadside at the SEC from the man in charge feels a little strange, especially given the timing. It's one thing for the Big Ten to want to engage in public relations guerrilla tactics when they're getting pounded in the major sports, like they were recently. If you can't beat 'em on the field, grab that moral high ground.
But the Big Ten is arguably in their best athletic position in several years. Big Ten baseball has undergone a resurgence, with games being played this weekend that have legitimate national significance. Wisconsin nearly won a national championship in basketball. Ohio State did win a title in football, knocking off the SEC. Now that you're on top of the mountain, now seems like a very strange time to advocate for blowing up the whole system (with freshman ineligibility) or take potshots.
Plus, you know, Ohio State won a title in part thanks to their aggressive "flipping" of committed players, and they oversigned last year. We previously wrote that maybe Ohio State's huge class wasn't as big of a deal, given the higher-than-usual amount of voluntary roster turnover and injuries, but there's a lot of smoke that not every single transaction was 100% voluntary.
But even if you take Ohio State out of the picture here, several of the Big Ten's bigger name coaches, like Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin, have been relentless in trying to "flip" prospects as well. It's sort of tough to paint this as lawless SEC thing when it's very much part of the DNA of successful Big Ten programs too. How can you push for change when your biggest coaches, and likely your biggest athletic directors, aren't likely to support you?
Finally, Delany appears to be advocating for a more activist NCAA, either in academics or in recruiting regulation, at a time when that couldn't be less popular. Between the disastrous fallout from the NCAA's dealings with USC, Penn State and Miami, plus departures from the enforcement staff, and energy sapped from lawsuits, confidence in the NCAA's ability to monitor and punish may be at an all time low. The general trend seems to be towards less regulation and oversight, not more, and just about any of these proposals would indicate a pretty significant departure.
So, what's the game plan here? There are a few possible ideas
Jim Delany cares more about being a 'thought leader'
It's probable that Delany knows that his ideas aren't likely to produce any kind of policy changes. He's said multiple times that he wants to be a part of a "national discussion", whether that's about the recruiting process, protecting academics, or anything else, and he may mean just that -- he wants to be the first guy throwing out ideas, getting people to think about an issue, and hoping that it stems conversations and policy from there. A "thought leader", if you will.
On some level, he's been effective at that. Us bloggers or media types are less likely to write long articles about the academic side of things unless a powerful person in college sports is launching ideas, and now that we're in the throes of the offseason, he does have close to our undivided attention. Granted, that media coverage hasn't been especially positive, but if it spurs action among his peers, maybe that doesn't matter.
This strategy is going to be awesome for Delany's page on Medium.com. Whether is will lead to policy outcomes he cares about, well...
Jim Delany is deliberately throwing out ideas to use as bargaining chips
Politicians do this sort of thing all the time, leaking a more extreme policy position as a public negotiating ploy, in order to throw it away in exchange for concessions later. The idea of actually trying to get the NCAA to enforce a verbal recruiting commitment seems crazy, but perhaps that's just the opening salvo for something else. Not hedging on say, recruiting camps, which many people think don't even have that much impact, could perhaps allow him to trade that for something he may actually want, like a stricter policy on oversigning.
Delany has done something like this before, floating the idea that the Big Ten could drop to Division 3 if they had to pay players, which didn't work because that claim was so ridiculous everybody knew he was bluffing. It's possible some of his ploys could work this time, but it's unclear what exactly he really wants, and if he can pull anything off without hurting coaches in the conference.
Jim Delany is way smarter than all of us, and has something else up his sleeve
While we're all out here trying to decipher and make sense of his sometimes quizzical attacks or off-kilter ideas, Delany has another big master plan that we're all just not seeing. We're out here playing checkers, and Delany just turned on his Xbox to play Mass Effect. He just brokered peace between the Geth and the Quarians, and convinced Notre Dame and North Carolina to join the Big Ten.
Jim Delany doesn't know what he's doing either
We're both out here playing checkers, and we're kicking Delany's ass because he thinks that double jumping is a sign of some sort of moral degeneracy, and he started the game with six fewer pieces, yelling at us for oversigning.
Or maybe it's something else entirely. One way or another, I suspect this won't be the last time I write about something he says this offseason.