CHICAGO — Jim Delany may be closing in on retirement, but he’s sticking to his guns while he does it.
The Big Ten Conference commissioner just wishes the College Football Playoff selection committee would stick to its guns.
Speaking at the Big Ten media days for the 31st time Thursday, Delany, who will retire Jan. 1, said a big part of the reason the Big Ten has been shut out of college football’s final four the last two seasons is because the selection committee has lost its way.
Echoing comments made last year by University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who was on the original selection committee, Delany said the group hasn’t followed the selection criteria set down by the conference commissioners. He indicated the constant turnover on the committee has led to a reduction in the weight it places on strength of schedule and conference championships, effectively penalizing teams that play tougher schedules, something the four-team playoff was supposed to encourage.
A few years ago, Delany ordered Big Ten teams to stop scheduling FCS opponents. He later softened that stance, but the Big Ten plays far fewer non-FBS opponents than the SEC and ACC, conferences that have dominated the selections in the CFP’s first five years.
The Big Ten also went from an eight- to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016, which was designed to increase each team’s strength of schedule by adding another Power 5 conference opponent. Instead, the move backfired on the Big Ten (and the Big 12 and Pac-12) by creating an uneven playing field with SEC and ACC teams, which play only eight conference games.
Last week, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he would like to see every team play 10 Power 5 opponents to qualify for the CFP, a notion Delany seconded.
“The best I can hope for is that the College Football Playoff committee ... pays more attention to the founders’ effort to value strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships. The actual language in the founding document says the committee, ‘when comparing teams with similar records and similar resumes, should look at strength of schedule as well as winning conference championships.’ I’ll leave it to each individual to see whether or not you believe they have. Clearly Alabama and Clemson have separated themselves, and they have deserved everything that they’ve earned in the last couple years. But I’m not sure that the strength of schedule or the conference championship has been adequately rewarded, in my personal view.”
Delany’s personal view carries weight in college football, in part due to his forward-thinking nature, in part due to the reach and economic power of the Big Ten. It’s hard to say what incoming commissioner Kevin Warren will think of all this, but Delany indicated the Big Ten’s nine-game conference schedule is here to stay.
While doing so, however, Delany took some veiled shots at the ACC and especially the SEC for their flimsy schedules. Alabama, which slipped into the playoffs ahead of Ohio State in 2017 despite finishing second in the SEC West Division, plays two mid-major teams and one FCS team every season. Last year, the committee placed 11-2 Georgia fifth and 12-1 Ohio State sixth in its rankings even though the Bulldogs played Austin Peay of the FCS and mid-majors UMass and Middle Tennessee State while the Buckeyes played 12 of their 13 games against Power 5 opponents.
“We’re not going to change,” Delany said. “There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders. If you look around the country, there’s more and more discussion on it, not necessarily about nine games but about playing better games. And clearly winning games against FCS (opponents) is easier. I think two conferences, the ACC and the SEC, since the beginning of the playoffs, they’re something like 84-2 (against FCS teams). We’ve played like maybe 20 in the five years. You’re going to win 95 percent of those games. It amplifies your record.”
Some believe the committee should become more transparent, even revealing how its members voted, but Delany said that would stifle discussion. He did say that reducing the constant churn on the committee would help.
“I totally support the idea that we should be playing comparable schedules,” Delany said. “And if we’re not playing comparable schedules, there should be some way to differentiate that.”
Regardless, Delany remains bullish on Big Ten football and the playoff system.
“I think we’re really built to win championships,” he said. “When you look at what it takes, we recruit nationally, we have national television second to none, we have resources, we’ve reinvented our stadiums, we have national class coaches who have demonstrated success before they ever came here. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see more of a dominating presence for Big Ten football over the next half decade to decade.”
Short of an eight-team playoff, it’s hard to see that happening because, as the committee has shown, maintaining a level playing field is hard to do. Unfortunately, Delany stopped short of calling for playoff expansion.