Editor's note: This is the last in a series of 10 N-Sider columns that count down Nebraska's journey to become an official member of the Big Ten Conference on July 1, 2011. This column focuses on Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany.
Randy York's N-Sider
To "Respond to Randy" click the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest". Please include your name and where you live and comment on this column. Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider
Q: Inquiring minds want to know. Where will Jim Delany, conference commissioner and matchmaker extraordinaire, be on July 1 when Nebraska officially joins the Big Ten Conference, and what will you do to celebrate that milestone on a personal level.
A: When the hay is in the barn, as they say, I will be at home. My older brother is visiting us, and I will tip a glass of grapefruit juice. Friday night, we will have a little toast at a little restaurant in Chicago.
Q: It's been more than a year, and still no one knows where you and Harvey Perlman and Tom Osborne convened to get Nebraska in play for the Big Ten. With the hay in the barn, you still don't want to share where you met?
A: I think a little bit of mystery is good for everybody, especially in the world that we live where everyone has to know everything all the time. That meeting place comes out of the process that we created. To be honest, upfront and transparent, we had been looking at an expansion the December before last June. We had done a lot of research before that in terms of looking at institutions. We signed confidentiality statements in order to protect those institutions, and they signed in order to protect us. Those statements covered the conversations, people and places. So it captures people's imaginations that we were all under a lot of scrutiny at that time. It isn't as important now, but it's never been out there, and I don't think there's any harm in not knowing. It was all part of the process that we intended to be thorough, respectful, and confidential for all the institutions involved.
Q: Can you tell us why the Big Ten would ask for Nebraska's hand after such a quick courtship and why the two seem to fit like a glove?
A: When we started the process, which was months and months before that December (2009) statement, we had looked at lot of institutions and had done a lot of background work, so we knew a lot about each institution under consideration. We weren't sure if any would have interest in us or what the ramifications might be. There was a pretty short time frame within our meetings and application to the Big Ten. The amount of preparation that we put into the in-person meetings was very detailed on a variety of issues, including values, culture, finance and integration. We felt like we knew the institution based on the research and then when Harvey called after our meetings indicating that they were going to have to make some decision, I told him I felt really good about the meetings and encouraged them to apply. That time frame from our meeting in May to when the application came and the recommendation was made to his board was a fairly short time frame. But I never felt like it was too quick because we were fully prepared to move expeditiously, based on our research, Nebraska's needs and our needs.
Q: So as a one-time point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina, you never felt like you were looking at a full-court press with the clock ticking down faster than you'd normally like to see?
A: I felt the time was sufficient for me to be comfortable in making a recommendation to our board. If Harvey had come to me 30 days earlier, I probably couldn't have made that same recommendation because we couldn't have had all the contractual discussions. In a perfect world, I think I would have had that done and would have required several more months, but I think we knew it would be successful integration. The other thing that we didn't know was that Tom had indicated he wanted a very short period of time between the acceptance and our vote on Nebraska's application and participation. I asked my staff how quickly we could do this and if we could do it within the next year. They told me it would be difficult, but they thought we could. Then I asked how difficult it would be because we have all these schedules that allow two more years and everybody has sold tickets, made travel plans and reserved hotels. I asked: How difficult would it be? On a 10-point scale, they said it was an eight. I said: "We do eights all the time" so we told Nebraska we could accommodate their interest in coming into the league in 2011-2012.
Q: The first divisional structure in Big Ten history seemed to fall quickly into place once Nebraska was invited to join the Big Ten. How difficult was that process?
A: I thought we did a good job with our divisions because we had thought very seriously before inviting Nebraska what principles we would use to divide the conference, and we all agreed that the No. 1 issue would be the quality of competitive balance, and the second issue would be maintenance of historic relationships and rivalry games to every extent possible. The third issue would be geography. Then we looked at different configurations and different institutions, and we went through mock efforts for athletic directors, so they were aware of when you got pushed here, you got pulled back there. They knew at our kickoff luncheon last year what the process would be and how it would work. We did a lot of mock television schedules, and we looked at what the challenges would be in terms of analyzing schools, looking at integration issues, what we had done well, what we had not done so well and what others had done well enough and not so well. We really tried to look at the history of our own expansion over the last 20 years and tried to learn from what others had done as well. I would tell you that while the window of consideration between the in-person visits of Nebraska and the application and action by our board was relatively short, it was all only possible because of the time, the effort and the research that we had put into it. What was very crucial and successful was building this information and sharing it with Tom, Harvey and a few others. We felt like there was a bridge there. There was trust because we were very diligent and so was Nebraska.
Q: You once said you've had your eye on Nebraska for 21 years. For a power broker like you, how long has expansion been on your mind?
A: Expansion has become a really important part of what a conference commissioner thinks about. Like a television agreement, you don't work on expansion in a vacuum; you do it over time. You give it lots and lots of thought and look at population, brand, cultural fit and what it all looks like when you're done. There are the yings and yangs, so I really use my staff because we have a lot of experienced people. We really looked at other modules and why some were successful and some not so successful. We looked at some mistakes, at some positives, and to be honest with you, I did not know when we started the process where we would end up. When we ended up where we did, it was truly remarkable in the amount of consensus and support we received in our "a-HA" moment. I've been around people who have been very, very good teachers in preparation. Dean Smith is probably the first one. I also saw people like Walter Byers work ...Vic Bubas, Dave Gavitt ... my strength is probably more conceptual than it is in the weeds of the detail, but on big projects where you are envisioning and trying to think about larger ideas and larger concepts, I do think it is incredibly critical to really understand the nuances and the details, so when you get into one of these larger challenges, you have to master both by the time you get through it. When we got through it with Nebraska, it was a little like: "Okay, let's look at the games; let's look at the divisions; let's look at the people; and let's look at the way this can be successful." It just all made so much sense. I think it really resonated not only with the public and our schools, but with everyone associated with the Big Ten. I don't think we would have ever been nearly that comfortable if we hadn't developed the internal confidence in the process. Of course, we also had Nebraska come into it with a "This makes sense for us, too" mindset. It really does take two to become one, and I think that is reflected in the athletic directors, the coaches, our presidents, our chancellors ... it all came together that way. We knew what we were doing and what we were trying to achieve and then we were able to get Nebraska, a great institution, to partner with us long term.
Q: Can you please share the ways that you see Nebraska strengthening the oldest conference in intercollegiate athletics?
A: A number of things stand out. The geographic and culture continuity factor makes it easier for both of us. Nebraska knows who we are, and we know who they are. Their program and commitment to student-athlete welfare is reflective of who we are. Not only are we the oldest conference, but other than the Ivy League, we have the most broadly sponsored sports and students. With Nebraska, we have 300 intercollegiate teams and more than 9,500 athletes. That would be 50 percent more than any of the other 12 big-team leagues. Nebraska is a broad-based institution and has academic and athletic quality and a culture that exemplifies Nebraska traditions. They focus on sportsmanship, competition and respect for the opponent. We don't always get there, but we aspire to get there. We have a lot that we are proud of, and we do honor our past, just like Nebraska. We do aspire to teach leadership and believe leadership is not as much about being a leader as it is about how you respond to various circumstances in life. Anyone can lead in good times. The question is: Can you tell when young people understand the challenges in life and the need to be resilient? Is Nebraska a legend or a leader? Nebraska is both. All of our schools have great traditions and great pasts, and all aspire to work with young people to breathe the characteristics that will help them lead not only their teams, but their communities and society in general. So whether it is an Ohio State challenge this year or someone else's individual challenge off the field next year, you are hoping to create an environment inside the intercollegiate experience that prepares people to be leaders. For the Big Ten, it is honoring legends and building leaders. It's not about being 100 percent successful on or off the field, but about those timeless values that are American - values that relate to a proud past and a bright future. It's about the essence of what parents and coaches and teachers want - they want young people to step into the roles of future leaders.
Q: Is Nebraska the only school you know that actually applauds the visiting team when the opponent gives great effort against the home-town team?
A: I'm not sure the Big Ten has an example of applauding the well performing or winning teams. I always hear the story about the way Nebraska applauded (Heisman Trophy winner) Ricky Williams when Texas beat them in Lincoln. I don't think you export that act per say. I do know the conference honors men and women who are the leaders in the sportsmanship category. I also know one of the responsibilities that we have when people act in a un-sportsmanship-like way. Coaches and all players challenge them on it, and we challenge them on it publicly sometimes. We know you will find out that each institution you visit will be throwing out the red carpet and recognizing Nebraska as a new member of our conference. Some of our coaches haven't always been the best sports themselves, but you'll notice their athletes toe the line on the field and when they don't do that, their coach and the conference will have reactions to that. So I think the Nebraska story fits with what they think is important and with what we think is important. I don't think anyone needs to exploit their traditions, but I do think the tradition that Nebraska has is one that we have tremendous respect for.
Q: What do you think is the root of Nebraska's tradition that has enabled more than 300 consecutive sellouts?
A: Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, two of the nation's all-time winningest football coaches and the way they chose to enjoy those experiences and connect them with their fans. Nebraska has won five national championships, takes great pride in it and makes sure the fans will be there to continue the tradition. In the world we live in today, cynicism dominates, and the opponent is the enemy and in many cases, people stoke that. I think what Nebraska does is terrific. I remember that North Carolina cheers and respects its basketball opponent. When Tom McMillin was the No. 1 player in the country, he committed to North Carolina and then changed his mind and went to Maryland. When he came to North Carolina, he was expecting to be booed upon his introduction, and the students gave him a standing ovation. The Big Ten has strong rivalries, whether it's Minnesota-Wisconsin, Michigan-Michigan State, Indiana-Purdue. Those kinds of tradition-laden rivalry games command mutual respect and will continue to do so.
Q: What will the Big Ten bring to the table that will enhance Nebraska?
A: I don't mean any disrespect to any other conference, but the Big Ten is the most historic conference and the most broad-based conference as I mentioned earlier. We are also the largest athletically-academically integrated conference. Whether it's the athletic competition or the CIC, our efforts are to benchmark each other, and that's more attractive to students and faculty. While everyone is in a difficult place financially and this is a difficult climate as far as getting additional resources, the Big Ten is the best path Nebraska could have in being associated with other like-minded institutions.
Q: This is a two-pronged question about Ohio State. Since that will be Nebraska's first home game as a Big Ten Conference member, will you be in Lincoln for that game, and are the Buckeyes fixing to prove that tough times never last, but tough people do?
A: I will be there for that game. I was invited and planned to be there anyway. But Jo Potuto has asked me to speak to her law school students and have dinner with them that Friday night. Ohio State is a premier school in our league. They have quality people, including students, players and coaches. There was a fundamental mistake made in handling information related to NCAA violations. I think some athletes did some things they had to pay consequences for. I have an incredible amount of confidence in the commitment of our schools to do it the right way, and I think that is going to come out in spades. I think that tough times don't last, but tough people do. This is a matter of resilience, a matter of getting off the floor and getting it right. Anyone can look good when you're winning. The question is how good can you look when you get knocked down? Ohio State has some self-inflicted issues, and I have full confidence they will deal with them. We've talked about building tough leaders in tough times, and they have no one else to blame. It's not the NCAA's problem. It's not anyone's problem but theirs. They have the instincts for reform, for getting it right, for being accountable. I think they've already switched in and are getting back on the right track. We live in a world where systems are weak, and sometimes people are weak. We are in a highly regulated area, and when you are in that area you must take the consequences. You must do everything you can to prevent it from happening again. When you have a failing, you stand up to it, and I think they have. I think they have regretted some of their early action in terms of handling the situation, but history will record that they took their medicine, that they stood up to the moment, and that the program and the institution are vibrant and resilient and will move on.
Q: Will you come to Lincoln to see Nebraska host four-time defending national champion Penn State in its first-ever Big Ten Conference home volleyball match?
A: I don't know about that. My schedule only has four holds on it right now. One is Ohio State at Miami. One is Nebraska at Wisconsin. One is Ohio State at Nebraska, and one is Notre Dame at Michigan.
Q: What has surprised you most about Nebraska?
A: The people have been open, friendly and enthusiastic. I don't know how many times people have mentioned me on the insider columns. There is so little push back. In today's world, every time you make a big decision there is always an argument or discussion or a dissection of the pros and cons. Yet, I will tell you that in meeting with various publics around Nebraska, there has been such strong support. That is the case around the Big Ten, too. Everyone is looking forward to having Nebraska in this league. We were fortunate that we did well, and we think Nebraska did well. Our objective is to make Nebraska feel welcomed. We've done everything we can at the presidents' level, the AD level, the coaches' level and the faculty level. We really want the integration to be successful and ramped up as soon as possible.
Q: We have fans that wonder who came up with Nebraska's first-season schedule in the Big Ten?
A: I know when Tom saw it, he said: "Whoooaaaaa." Nebraska is in a division, and every year you are going to play the same five opponents - Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa, so get used to that. Then every year you are going to play one across and that is Penn State, so get used to that, too. Then, you are going to have two additional games, and they will have to rotate through the other five teams, which means you are going to play the five across from you four times each in a 10-year period. You will never play more than two home games in a row or more than two away games in a row. It is a challenging schedule. A lot of people in the Big Ten helped make this happen and had to return games. Penn State is playing Nebraska and Ohio State back-to-back to get this done. A lot of people made a lot of sacrifices to get this done because we already had schedules. Some needed the same home and away schedules. They did not need the same teams but needed the same dates. We had four games that had been scheduled in slots with nonconference opponents that had to be accommodated, and all of our scheduling principles had to be accommodated. So I regret that it is one of the tougher schedules. I don't know that it is the toughest schedule, but all schedules are going to be difficult. We have this level of health in the Big Ten. We have teams at the top, in the middle, at the bottom. I wouldn't be counting the jerseys and color. I would just be taking one game at a time. Don't worry too much about the power ranking of your schedule. It will rotate over a 10-year period except for the five in your division and Penn State. You'll have six games you are going to know about every year and the other two will move across the galaxy of five in an equal and balanced way.
Q: When in your life did Nebraska capture your respect and imagination?
A: I became aware of Nebraska on a personal level growing up in the East where college football is not nearly the institution it is in the Midwest and the South. Nebraska was known, whether it was Devaney or Osborne or Heisman Trophy winners or the fan base, it was the Big Red, and it was a national brand because they were always on TV. I don't think I was ever thinking of it that way 20 years ago, but I certainly knew about Johnny Rodgers, and I certainly knew about the Nebraska-Oklahoma games. I knew how important football was in the state of Nebraska and in the Midwest generally. I also watched the Big Eight and the Southwest Conference. I saw that as a transition and how it was critiqued by a lot of people both inside and outside of Nebraska. I've seen Nebraska on their best day win three national championships in five years, and I've seen them down and come back. There's a quality to their program which is timeless in the sense of support you have. I guess as long as I have watched college football which probably started in the '60s, I have been aware of and familiar with Nebraska. I lived in Kansas City in the mid-'70s, ('75-'79 when Delany worked for the NCAA in law enforcement). I watched college football. I watched the Big Eight. I watched the Southwest Conference. I watched the Big Ten. I was pretty close to the nerve center there.
Q: It's obvious you see Nebraska as something unique in college football. You've even referred to them metaphorically as the college version of the Green Bay Packers. Can you please elaborate on that?
A: I've never lived in either place, but Lincoln fans and Green Bay fans seem similar to me because both are unbelievably loyal. Some of that analogy is probably related to the controlled TV and the proportionality that Nebraska and Oklahoma enjoyed in the '60s and '70s and the controlled television environment and having had the mega stars. Nebraska and Oklahoma were on when Michigan and Ohio State were on. Now, with more bowl opportunities and fewer scholarships, Nebraska is more than just a football team. When you start thinking small market, you can have teams in a small market that can draw from large fan bases nationally. It's interesting how strong national brands can emerge from small markets with equal grades of success. Even though Nebraska will be the third largest city in the Big Ten, it's located in a state with only 1.8 million people. Yet it has everyone behind the program and has picked up a following all over the country because of the way they play and what they stand for. We are honored to have Nebraska as the official 12th member of the Big Ten Conference. July 1 is an historic day for Nebraska, and an historic day for our entire league. So from the Conference Office, representing every university in this league, welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska! We're looking forward to a long and productive relationship together.
Respond to Randy
Voices from Husker Nation
How refreshing it is to have a conference commissioner that sees the inherent good in Nebraska and everything that we bring to the table. Justice has been served, and I can't wait for Nebraska to compete in a league where everyone is considered equal, and there are no axes to grind. All Nebraska ever wanted was fairness and respect, and in the Big Ten, that comes in spades for all 12 members. Tom Taylor, Wichita, Kansas
Reading the depth of these answers, I understand why Jim Delany seems to be at least one step ahead of everyone else. I appreciate him taking the time to go into great detail to explain what he was thinking and why he did what he did. Here's to a long and exciting relationship between Nebraska and the Big Ten Conference! Steve Anderson, Lincoln, Nebraska