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The train rolls out of New York City on Tuesday morning and begins barreling toward Washington, D.C., where Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany will announce he's moving his men's basketball tournament in 2017.
He's made this trip before, and he'll do it plenty more in the future. Now that Rutgers and Maryland are weeks away from becoming official conference members. Now that the Big Ten is making its big push east -- planning to place its men's basketball tournament on the East Coast when it can, partnering with Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl and even opening offices in Manhattan. Now that Delany wants to live in -- not just visit, he likes to say -- his league's second territory.
As the New Jersey countryside blurs by, the conversation turns from what's immediately ahead -- the Washington announcement -- to what's ahead for college sports. Over the course of a 90-minute conversation, Delany, one of the most influential people in college athletics, discusses NCAA restructuring, the state of the College Football Playoff, football scheduling and even the Big Ten divisional imbalance.
Q: There are no plans to move the football championship game east, right?
A: I think we're going to keep it central. In basketball, you have 14 fan bases. With football, you have two fan bases involved in the championship game.
Q: What might you project would be a next move for the Big Ten?
A: I think the next frontier, really, is the restructuring of the NCAA and getting our house in order. There are some things we haven't been able to do that we need to do. It's not about expansion. It's about creating more balance for the student-athlete in his/her collegiate experience. In my view, that means getting cost of education legislation through, getting some improvements in time demands -- it's pretty clear to me that the 20-hour rule has not worked. ... We need to get the best medical information. There are things I'm hoping over the next 18 months that we can get done, that are legislative in nature, policy in nature.
The court cases are court cases. They will play out in due course. I suspect that the real challenges will go all the way to the Supreme Court. I don't think we'd accept a loss without an appeal. I don't think the other side would accept a loss without some sort of an appeal. I'm thinking they'll go all the way.
Q: How do you feel about where restructuring stands right now?
A: I feel good in some ways and concerned in other areas. The area I feel good about is I think there's a general recognition that there are some areas -- student-athlete welfare, in particular -- where there needs to be some flexibility, some autonomy in rule-making. I think there's a general recognition that that's the case. What I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about, but we're still working on, is the definition of majoritarian/super-majoritarian bar for passage. All of these rules were put into effect by a simple majority of 350 schools.
Now people are suggesting if you want to undo them through autonomy, you need two-third of all votes from the autonomous group and four of five conferences. I call those constitutional majorities. You don't do basic business with those kinds of majorities. We suggested two standards: 1. If there were simple majorities in four of the five conferences, you should be able to pass something with a simple majority of all votes. If there's a simple majority in three of the five conferences, you should need 60% of the votes. They were suggesting two-third of the votes and four of the five conferences.
The other thing is, I want to make it very clear that we want student-athletes to have voices and votes in the system. This is just not about universities. It's about empowering athletes and empowering their point of view, both with their voice and vote. That's been central to the vision we've crafted over the last year.
The last thing is, in implementing these rules, if we get the autonomy, if we get them passed, we want to have the authority to interpret them and to waive them and to enforce. We don't want to turn it over to NCAA staff. We all have professional people in our offices who are more than prepared, more sufficiently experienced to interpret these rules and to waive them if necessary. We don't want to turn that over to someone else. Through interpretation, you can gut the intent of a rule. Sometimes, common sense requires that the rule not be applied. We want to be able to control that.
Q: On a conference level? School level?
A: Group of five level.