New media package dominates Big Ten meeting

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Rosemont, Ill. — There was plenty on the docket over the last few days at the Big Ten’s spring meetings, and no, one of them was not expansion.

Commissioner Jim Delany briefed the media Wednesday from the conference’s headquarters near Chicago on the nearly three days of meetings that included all 14 athletic directors, men’s basketball coaches and faculty and student representatives.

Some items were bigger than others, but the idea of transfers in basketball, which Michigan State’s Tom Izzo called an “epidemic,” as well as time demands on student-athletes and the outcome of the Big Ten’s current negotiations for a new media rights package took up most of the time.

Delany devoted plenty of time Wednesday on the issue of the new media deal, with the 10-year deal with ESPN worth $1 billion set to expire next spring.

Some media already have reported the Big Ten and Fox, which owns 51 percent of the Big Ten Network, have agreed on a deal for the first half. The Sports Business Journal said the deal would pay the Big Ten $250 million annually for the first six years.

“We’ve spent three, four years preparing for that, so obviously we’re prepared,” Delany said. “We’re cohesive in our approach. The athletic directors and presidents have been intimately involved in the development of what we’re trying to achieve.

“I hope to have a series of announcements on that later this summer. I don’t think we’ll have anything in the short-term. There have been media reports and they don’t emanate from us nor will we confirm them, but we’re deeply involved in those negotiations and feel good today. I think we’re in a good place and we’re united as a group.”

The biggest change — other than the large influx of cash — is the fact the Big Ten would be moving away from ESPN if the reports prove true.

Most athletic directors asked over the last two days have said little about whether that potential break with ESPN would be good or bad for the conference.

“The Big Ten Conference will ultimately do what’s best for the Big Ten Conference and ESPN has to take that same position,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. “They’ve been wonderful partners. But we’re at a different place and they’re at a different place in 2016 than we were in the last round. That doesn’t mean we can’t get to the altar together and get married again. But, you know, we’re at the dating stage right now.”

Delany didn’t want to speculate on a potential break from ESPN, either.

“We’re interested in having great partners that have great platforms that are interested in marketing and promotion,” Delany said. “The market will decide what happens. ESPN has been a great partner, as CBS has, as BTN has, as Fox has.

“It’s a new day. We’ve approached it that way. We’ll see what we shall see. But I wouldn’t talk about walking away from anybody in middle of any negotiation. You can be sure that those with great content will always — relatively speaking — be well served.”

One of the bigger topics for Delany, aside from the media deal, is the issue of time demands for student-athletes. He believes it will be one of the primary discussion points in January when the Power Five conference has its annual conference.

Specifics are being worked out, but Delany believes there are basic ideas to any proposal — creating specific down time from the end of the season to the beginning of training for the next season, a day off in season and a series of days off that can be scattered through the year.

“The devil is in the details,” Delany said. “I’m talking conceptually. You have to have something that makes sense from an enforcement perspective, but you don’t want to make it too restrictive.

“Students have to have a voice on this. There has to be a plan that provides recovery, some rest and recuperation, some social life and yet kids love what they do. Sometimes it’s not easy. If you gave me a day off from practice, I’d be just as likely to be down playing with my friends as be at the library. It’s just the way kids feel.”

As for the realignment talk that has started again with the Big 12 considering expansion, Delany was clear.

‘No, we’re pretty much laser focused on the reforms,” he said.