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By Randy York
Whenever anyone asks me what I like most about the Big Ten Conference, I have a patented answer. “What I like most is the Big Ten almost always seems to be on the same page,” I say, and today I offer six reasons to explain why that’s true: 1) The Big Ten movers and shakers get together often and tackle the most challenging problems and business issues; 2) Whenever they meet, they commit themselves to growth, development and success; 3) The decision-makers offer those with a stake in the outcome the chance to collaborate; 4) When the Big Ten assembles its athletic directors, coaches or any other relevant group in Chicago or elsewhere, those involved set aside their differences, cooperate like few others and discuss every conceivable angle of the most minute issue; 5) Then and only then do subject-matter experts begin to build consensus; and 6) After the Big Ten achieves consensus, it communicates what everyone has agreed on and explains the strategic rationale behind each major decision.
Take the current Big Ten Athletic Directors Meeting in Chicago and a Chicago Tribune headline that emerged from that meeting: Big Ten on board for 4-team football playoff followed by a succinct sub-headline: ADs want rotating bowl sites, including Rose, to host semis beginning in 2013. It just so happens that Tom Osborne is the man in the photo beneath those two headlines, holding up two fingers while he makes a double-pronged point in front of two logos – the Big Ten’s and Nebraska’s. Who could be a better pitch man for that story than a Hall-of-Fame coach who’s won three national championships and never had the luxury of playing the Florida schools in a big game when it’s 5 degrees outside and Memorial Stadium’s “tundra” looks like a horizontal snow cone? If anyone deserves an automatic touchdown advantage, you’d think Osborne’s the man, especially after his teams played so many games in the sauna-like humidity that Miami and Florida State players are so accustomed to playing in.
You can scratch, however, any thoughts the Big Ten might have had about hosting national semifinal games in America’s biggest football stadiums. That would overhaul the transmission of every big bowl game, so the Big Ten consented, behind closed doors, not to do that. Hence this quote from Osborne: “The bowls have been good to us. If you took them out of the playoff, it would pretty much destroy the bowl system.” The Big Ten was willing to give up something that would have benefitted the conference for something it considers more important – the opportunity to promote the idea of a four-team playoff system. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, perhaps the master collaborator/consensus builder in all of college football, favors a hybrid model of the three highest-rated conference champions and a “wild card” from any other league or Independent. Osborne suggested a selection committee could be put together to supplant polls and computers and become the final decision-maker about who’s in the Final Four and who isn’t. Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein said Osborne believes selection committee members could include ex-coaches, ex-AD’s and conference commissioners or, Osborne said: “You can just go with conference commissioners” because “You get people who are somewhat dispassionate, well respected and understand the nuances. In the end, you might have to explain your decision.”
We now switch to another angle on this issue. In his blog on ESPN.com, Adam Rittenberg asked an interesting question: Did the Big Ten give up too easily on the issue of campus sites? Here again, we see a well-calculated answer provided by another Big Ten athletic director, Ohio State’s Gene Smith, who had been planted rather firmly in the campus-sites camp before admitting Tuesday that he no longer favors having national playoff semifinals on the campuses of higher-seeded teams. “We’ve shifted,” Smith said. “I was originally for campus sites, and I still go back there mentally every now and then as discussions occur, but the bowls have a really good system set up to host.” Bowl sites are the winners in surveys with university presidents, athletic directors, coaches and even players, and the Big Ten is now on record, representing exactly what they agreed on and decided. Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis was an equally convincing and eloquent spokesman for the Big Ten Tuesday, and there probably will be more Big Ten AD’s elaborating today on what they decided together as a group. Say this for the Big Ten: Delany is, without question, the chief catalyst for change because he knows when to be the one out front and when to be the one standing behind. It’s a system that works well and shows time after time why the Big Ten truly is so consistently on the same page.
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Voices from Husker Nation
After reading so many stories about playoffs no-matter-what, it’s refreshing to hear someone explain why a conference with the most clout in the country makes decisions based on the interests of its members and student-athletes more than anything else. Good piece. Steve Hansen, Scottsdale, Arizona
In Tom Osborne we trust, and the more I read about Jim Delany, the more inclined I am to put him in Dr. Tom’s category. Delany knows what he’s doing, when to go full bore and when to compromise. This is one situation that begged for compromise. Gary Johnson, Omaha, Nebraska
The Big Ten will be sorry if they pass on the opportunity to host as many playoff games as possible. Trust me on this one. I’m a Nebraska native who’s been following the success of the Montana Grizzlies in the playoffs going on 20 years, and their (and Montana State’s) relative lack of success once home field advantage runs out. That’s just crazy. Charlie Adams, Helena, Montana