Big Ten’s Delany talks TV deals, FCS foes, night games

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany speaks at the Big Ten football media day in Chicago on Monday.

Chicago – Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany confirmed on Monday what had been known for months – that the conference has new deals with Fox, ABC/ESPN and CBS.

The Fox and ABC/ESPN football deals are for six years, and the basketball agreement with CBS also is for six years. The Big Ten Network contract with Fox has been extended through 2032.

“College football has never been healthier,” Delany said during the first day of Big Ten football media days. “It’s also never been more fragile.”

What’s fragile may be the Big Ten’s move to schedule some Friday night games. Michigan and Penn State immediately came out and said they will refuse to play on a night that typically has been reserved for high school football.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s been pushback,” Delany said. “It led us to open up even more communication with the high school directors. We do have some, what I would describe as non-Labor Day Fridays. We have two of them. We’ve been doing Labor Day Friday for a number of years, probably since the middle of the decade. That never really created a lot of controversy.

“And we actually thought that with, I think, eight of the 10 FBS conferences telecasting a little bit on Friday that that would be OK. But we did get pushback.”

Delany addressed several other topics.

Whether Big Ten teams can schedule FCS teams when there are four conference home games: 

“As you know, we had adopted a policy of no FCS for a variety of reasons, including to enhance television and to strengthen packages for season-ticket holders and also to enhance television product, and also to impress the College Football Playoff committee. So we had really four reasons.

“Now after watching things play out over the last three years, we noted that we were the only conference to go totally in that direction. We have never really gotten there because we had long existing contracts. When we went to nine games, we did not anticipate the problems that some of our schools would have in years that they only had four conference home games – it was very difficult for them to get three FBS opponents on to their schedules if they were looking for seven home games.

So we have modified it. And what we will do is allow our schools at least the opportunity to schedule an FCS game in years where they have four conference games. So we won't have more than seven – a number of schools indicated they won't be taking advantage of that opportunity. But I expect we'll have three or four.”

Does he expect to see more night games?

“We've made what I would describe as progress on prime time over the years. If you go back to the 1980s we might have just had a couple. In previous years, we probably have that number up to maybe the high teens. I expect that number to probably be in the low 20s.

“As we prepared for this negotiation, we not only did a lot of research but we spent a lot of time with our institutions to identify what they thought they could do in this area, because we weren't about to sell something that we didn't think we could do. So in concert with athletic directors and university presidents, each school sort of identified what they thought they could do.

“And from that we were able to identify what we were going to be able to do with our partners. So I expect there to be more prime time.”

Will there be a conference-wide policy on banning athletes with histories of sexual assault or domestic violence? Indiana instituted a policy earlier this year:

“Prior to Indiana's announced policy, we have had several discussions over the years. We recognize that some conferences have adopted policies, adjusted policies, and I think our presidents as well as our athletic directors and faculty just feel like facts and circumstances are different in different cases and that our institutions are really best positioned to both make those determinations and make those decisions about whether or not somebody's prior conduct qualifies for disqualification or some other penalty associated with admissions.”

His impressions of the Big Ten’s depth:

“I think we have good depth, good coaches, great players, and each year is hard to predict, each year writes its own story. So I'm always reluctant to be overconfident, but I think what we have in place in terms of coach leaders and players, venues, television, all conspire together to give us a great offering to college sports.

“College football has never been healthier, but it's also never been more fragile. We have health and safety issues. We have litigation issues. So I'm not wanting to say we don't have challenges, because we certainly do.

“But if you just look at Big Ten football, its reach, the followership, the leadership, the quality of the student playing college football, it's a pretty outstanding collection of abilities and positives. So I think we're good. And we really look forward to the 2017 season with great anticipation.”