Birk's Eye View: Jim Delany admits SEC is kicking Big Ten's butt, promises better days are ahead
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany also stuck around for the post-dinner question-and-answer session with fans, and Delany was fairly candid when asked about the Big Ten’s poor showing against other BCS conference teams in national games.
First, the spin:
“Over the last decade we’re .500 against the SEC,” Delany said. “Those games aren’t played in Detroit and they’re not played in Columbus and they’re not played in Madison. They’re played in Orlando and they’re played in Tampa and they’re played in New Orleans, OK? So I don’t have a problem with that. We don’t play the Pac-10 in Detroit, in Wisconsin. We play them in Pasadena, a lot of times UCLA and Southern Cal. We win half of those games over time.”
Then, the truth:
“In any particular time frame, could be three years, could be five years, could be two years, you could get your ass kicked, OK?” Delany continued. “It can happen. We’re not playing Little Sisters of the Poor. We’re playing the best football teams in their region.
“So were we 1-6 (in bowl games) last year? Yeah. Were we 0-6 in the BCS in the last (three years)? We were. Those are the facts. But take me from 2000 or 1997 to 2005; I remember when Michigan played Ohio State. We were the toast of the town, one versus two, game of the century.”
Finally, the promise:
“This is a little cyclical,” Delany said. “It stands out like a sore thumb because we’re not playing Little Sisters of the Poor, we’re playing the best of the best in their backyard. And I’m convinced that our programs, with the coaching we have, the resources we have, the population base we have and the networks that we have, that we’ll be there.
“Now, are we going to dominate every year? We’re not going to dominate every year. Don’t kid yourself. This is a competitive environment that’s national in scope. We have our strengths, we have our limitations. They have their strengths and they have their limitations. So I’m itching to go. I think we’ve got great coaches, great quarterbacks and I want to play them. Would we be .500 if these games were played in our backyard? I don’t think we would be .500 at all. I think we would be a different number. It’d probably start with a six.”
I can’t quibble with everything Delany said, though I find the playing-in-their-backyard argument a bit ingenuous coming from someone who supports the bowl system. (You want Florida to come to Detroit in December, endorse a 16-team playoff with games at local bowl sites.)
That said, following Big Ten football from a distance the last few years, I think this is more than your normal cycle. The SEC is the “it” league right now, and with an abundance of premier programs (Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia), powerful coaches (Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin), a fertile talent base and the unwavering support of ESPN (the new 15-year agreement), I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
The Big Ten, with its large alumni bases and Midwestern roots, will never be too far from the top. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State can equal their SEC brethren (and USC, Texas, Oklahoma and a few others) in terms of prestige. But Michigan is down right now for who knows how long, and Ohio State and Penn State have been exposed athletically in recent BCS games.
Until that changes, until the Big Ten’s big boys begin to hold their own on the national stage, Delany will face the same searing questions and offer up the same unfulfilling answers.