Whenever someone gets around to making a list of the "Most Powerful People in College Sports," they inevitably settle on Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany – gatekeeper, media mogul, guardian of the Rose Bowl, patriotic muppet – somewhere near the top. Even after two decades in the big chair, though, one power Delany most certainly does not have is the authority to personally terminate coaches or other individual employees of Big Ten schools. It's just not done, you see.
At least, not yet, it's not. But according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the league may be on the verge of crossing that Rubicon:
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.
Fines and suspensions for bad behavior are nothing new, as Bobby Knight can attest; there is no precedent, however, for termination of employment from the conference level, which will require some intense lawyering considering that coaches and other officials at 11 of 12 Big Ten schools (save Northwestern) are public-sector employees of state governments. Unfortunately for fans condemned to suffer under the next generation of Tim Brewsters and Ron Zooks, it will take more than mere losing to rouse the conference's scorn.
Such extreme measures are on the table in response to the extreme scandal at Penn State, where late coach Joe Paterno and a small handful of university administrators repeatedly turned a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse by longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky over more than a decade. (Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing children last month.) According to the Chronicle, an 18-page proposal currently under consideration by Big Ten members is designed to target coaches and other officials who "interfere with normal admissions, compliance, hiring, or disciplinary processes," and calls for university presidents and athletic directors to have policies in place for resisting inappropriate meddling by boosters and trustees.
Part of that discussion will involve whether to allow Penn State to remain in the conference at all. PSU is already facing crippling judgments from the NCAA and the Department of Education, including the possibility that the football program will be shut down under the "Death Penalty." Current language in the 2011-12 Big Ten handbook requires any member that fails to show complete and accurate information during an investigation to "show cause why its membership in the conference should not be suspended or terminated." At the final stage, expulsion would require a vote of at least 70 percent, or eight of twelve member schools.
At this point, that's all preliminary: Penn State's fate is far from being determined, within the Big Ten or from without, and presidents still have to decide whether they're willing to hand off the ultimate authority over internal personnel decisions to Delany (not to mention whoever follows Delany as el presidente) and their colleagues. But take it as more proof that we're still only beginning to get a glimpse of the extent of the shock wave that Jerry Sandusky and his enablers have sent rippling through college sports.