Big Ten Firing Authority Proposal Gets Big Pushback

Paul Steinbach Headshot

Word that Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany was angling for the authority to fire coaches of member institutions who damage the league's reputation seemed like something more befitting the satirical pages of The Onion than the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education, where the actual news item was reported Thursday.

Brad Wolverton writes, "The proposal, part of a plan being circulated among Big Ten leaders, would give James E. Delany, who has overseen the league since 1989, and a powerful committee of conference presidents the ability to penalize individual members of an institution, should their actions significantly harm the league's reputation.

"The sanctions, spelled out in a document obtained by The Chronicle, could include financial penalties, suspension, or termination of employment.

"The proposal, which has not been approved, is part of an 18-page plan prompted by problems at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach repeatedly molested children on campus property while university leaders turned a blind eye.

"The ideas are designed in part to root out problems that could include coaches or athletic officials who interfere with normal admissions, compliance, hiring, or disciplinary processes, the document says."

The pushback from coaches in the theoretical crosshairs wasn't long in coming. CBS Sports college basketball insider Gary Parish spoke to five Big Ten basketball head coaches and assistants attending Thursday's Nike Peach Jam in South Augusta, N.C. After Parish explained the proposal to them, responses ranged from "Are you f*cking kidding me?" to "How do people even come up with this sh*t?"

Said one coach, "Penn State had an awful scandal because it had one man who had too much power. Is that right? So the way to fix that is to give another man too much power? Does that make any sense? It takes some kind of arrogance to even suggest that."

Added another, "The head coaches should fire the assistant coaches, the athletic directors should fire the head coaches, the presidents should fire the athletic directors, and the boards should fire the presidents."

One coach from outside the conference went on record to say much the same thing. "Isn't that why we have presidents?" West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins told USA Today. "Aren't these the same people [commissioners] who say the presidents need to take more control [at their universities]? Right? I would think that's a presidential job. Nothing surprises me anymore."

The ultimate pushback came Friday, when the Big Ten Conference released a statement reading in part that "giving emergency powers to the commissioner to fire personnel is not under consideration" by the league's 12 presidents and chancellors. The conference further stated that the 18-page document obtained by The Chronicle was "an early draft put together by the Big Ten staff in order to surface all of the options available."

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