The Big Ten: It’s a TV entity with associated schools and sports now

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The Big Ten: It’s a TV entity with associated schools and sports now

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NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: A general view of atmosphere at The Big Ten Network Kick Off Party at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 26, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Wink Public Relations)

Ten years ago, the Big Ten created a television network so more people could watch the league’s athletes play sports.

(In the short term, this resulted in fewer people being able to see some of its most prominent athletes play sports, but that’s another story.)

The league, then and now led by commissioner Jim Delany, wanted more control over how those games were broadcast, too.

For football games, there was also an important question of when they would be played. (The league preferred Saturdays while ESPN had other ideas.) 

Since then – from Michigan’s stunning loss to Appalachian State in the 2007 season-opener to Penn State’s comeback win over Wisconsin in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game on Fox – a few things have changed.

There are not only more Big Ten sports available on TV, there are more Big Ten teams.

For better or for worse, the league has expanded both west and east since creating the Big Ten Network, explaining (or blaming, if you prefer) the addition of Rutgers and Maryland in part because it needed new markets for said network.

There’s a conference championship game that can offset results from the regular season and divisional standings with thrilling tiebreakers to determine which teams get to go to that game.

In an ironic twist, the league is even running out of nights to play football, necessitating (they say) playing more games on Friday nights this fall.

That change is interesting if you were around for the beginning of the BTN, as was the admission by Delany on Monday the league was surprised Friday night college football in the Midwest wasn’t such a popular idea.

But maybe the schedule of events Monday explains why they were caught off guard by that reaction.

As long as I have been aware of them, Big Ten Football Media Days generally have begun with football coaches talking about football. While that was not always riveting stuff, it was, you know, football.

This time around, the two-day extravaganza started with the president of the Big Ten Network talking about the league’s new shows and alumni who will be on its air this fall. Cord-cutting and streaming were also on the docket because you can’t talk about television these days without talking about those things.

If you want to know how disconnected Mark Silverman is from the sports themselves, consider he passed on a question about how night games are divvied up by the networks — even though night football games are among his network’s most important programs.

If you want to know how disconnected Delany is from the people who consume his network’s products, consider he spent half his annual media days appearance talking about new television contracts with Fox and ESPN.

Not that I am looking for Delany’s thoughts on the rise of the spread offense or the quarters defense, I just found it surprising off-the-field stuff was (intentionally) the lead topic of the day remembering he used to take his turn to speak after the coaches had their say.

Much of the rest of Delany’s time was devoted to his perspective on the various lawsuits the NCAA and partners have faced in the past few years, an interesting duo if I have ever seen one.

One needn’t be very perceptive to know the increased cash flow from the television deals of the last 10 years was no small motivating factor in many of the recent attacks on the NCAA. 

There are plenty of worthwhile defenses to the current system (especially with a few important adjustments), but the organization’s lawyers don’t often make them.

In the most notable case to date (a class action suit headlined by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon), lawyers for the NCAA cooked up a defense of amateurism that amounted to little more than, “The unknown alternative could be worse.”

Delany’s conclusion in regards to that case (which O’Bannon won) and several others of lesser notoriety seemed to be, “We won some, we lost some, but hey, it could have been worse.”

The priorities on display Monday seemed to indicate future results probably will be.

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