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Updated: August 22nd, 2013 6:27pm
Big Ten's Jim Delany says 'U' football program is in 'very good hands'

Big Ten's Jim Delany says 'U' football program is in 'very good hands'

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twenty-five years after his first stop at the University of Minnesota shortly after becoming commissioner of the Big Ten Jim Delany was back on the campus Thursday as part of his recent tour around the conference.

Hours after meeting with the Iowa Hawkeyes football program, Delany made stop No. 11 on his tour by arriving for the closing half of the Gophers' Thursday practice.

While the Gophers are still trying to make drastic improvements to many of their aging athletic facilities, Delany noted the changes that have been made since his first visit when John Gutekunst was still at the helm of the football program.

"Certainly a lot has changed, no dome and the facilities at all the places (in the Big Ten) have been rebuilt, refurbished, enhanced or are new, like here (TCF Bank Stadium)," Delany said during a 15-minute session with a small gathering of media. "I know that was a long-time dream of the coaches and athletic directors here. That's gotten up and going."

Delany later spoke with the Gophers players after practice wrapped up, delivering what coach Jerry Kill said was a "really good message" about their role in the Big Ten.

'U' athletics director Norwood Teague and several other members of his front office staff were on hand to present Delany with a football helmet with the No. 25 on it in honor of his anniversary with the Big Ten.

Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia, whose team is now a part of the newly established Big Ten hockey conference, also gave a Delany a personalized hockey jersey.

In his time with the Big Ten, Delany has seen five coaches head up the Gophers football program. Three years into Kill's tenure, Delany is pleased with the direction he sees the program taking.

"I saw him at Southern Illinois and I saw him at Northern Illinois. He's a program builder, you look at his resume in places that he's been," Delany said. "You don't really get a chance to build a program unless you're here four or five years, but a lot of progress has been made, better recruiting, better players. I think the program is in very good hands."

In his discussion with the media, Delany gave an overview of the current state of the Big Ten, addressing issues about expansion and where he sees the conference headed.

Here are excerpts from his media session:

On Norwood Teague, who is in his second year in charge of the Gophers athletic program ...

I know Norwood. Norwood is a North Carolina guy. We talk about that every now and then. He's good. He's an experienced guy. He's got director's experience at VCU. He has a lot of marketing experience at North Carolina, so he has seen different programs ... He's come up here and brought some of his team together. He's hired a basketball coach. I think it's really important to have strong internal skills, but also external skills, because you have to be able to drive revenue, build, promote and market. And this is a crowded marketplace. There's a lot of choices and a lot of options, so I think it's very important that Minnesota is positioned in a competitive way and I think he's the person with those kinds of skill sets.

On the development of the Big Ten in the last decade ...

If you don't like change, you wouldn't like this job, because change is a constant. It's always been a constant, but there's even more today. There's been a change in technology, which we're all aware of, from the impact on political campaigns to revolution around the world to the entertainment industry to Instagram, YouTube, Twitter. We're all in a wholly different environment than we were even 10 years ago.

We deregulated college football TV in 1985, which really put schools and institutions in a position where it wasn't the NCAA marketing television-wise, it was the Big Ten. Somebody asked me this morning, 'Do you expect television rights to continue to grow?' I said I do, at least until we have an opportunity to get into the marketplace.

But there has been good growth in television in the last decade, but people forget that when television was deregulated in '85, money dropped out. The number of games went up and the value of the games went down. There was really no growth from '85 to '92, '93, '94. But since then college football has really separated itself. It's a better game than it has ever been. It's played the length of the field, the width of the field. It seems like the coaches on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball keep getting better. The athletes are better.

So college football has clearly separated itself. The NFL is up here (motions upwards), college football is here (one step down) as far as popularity among the fan base. And then college basketball, pro basketball, hockey and baseball really compete, depending on the year, for popularity. So we have an incredibly popular game. At the same time, that's the good news. The bad news is that we're under scrutiny, and a lot of the regulatory systems that are in effect today were in effect in 1975, and some of us have more resources that we would like to do more.

We still think we're in the college sports and education business. We're not in the professional business, but a lot of us feel we could do more for the athlete than we do. We think we should be more sensitive on time demands. These are full-time students, as well as full-time athletes, so we think we need to be really mindful of that. And I also think we can make a stronger commitment than we have made.

I think we can make a lifetime commitment. In terms of somebody who doesn't get their education finished in four years, why can't they come back? Why can't we stand behind them? I think that is financially doable for us if we make it a priority for us. The last thing in regards to at-risk students, we want to keep access open and opportunity open, but we don't want to exploit, which means you can't take an at-risk student and put them into some of the training regimens and expect the academics to follow along smoothly. I think on the at-risk side we need to look carefully at time demands and if the person has time to do both.

On whether or not the Big Ten has plans for further expansion ...

It's done for now. We're 100 percent working with Rutgers and Maryland to integrate building schedules. You don't know what is going to happen. I thought we were done at 11. We were there for 20 years. We weren't triggering change. We did with Penn State and we sat comfortably with 11, not that 11 is a great number to schedule with, but we did. Then the world changed a little bit. Most people went to 12 (teams). There was some instability around us, so that led to Nebraska. Then we settled in again. We tried to work out some things with the Big 12 on a collaboration. We thought you could expand without expanding by working together with them. It didn't work. Expansion continued, Missouri, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Syracuse. So we thought it was important for us to be in two regions. We were partially in the east with Penn State. And with the opportunities that Maryland and Rutgers provided us, we thought it was a good thing to do.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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