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Senior College Football Columnist

Big week in college sports gets Jim Delany reflective

Jim Delany said the BCS did a lot of good, but it also became a burden
Jim Delany said the BCS did a lot of good, but it also became a burden. (Getty)

PASADENA, Calif. -- Jim Delany opened with a joke. One of the best kind, a self-effacing one.

Surrounded by two dozen media members in the hallway of the posh Langham Huntington Pasadena hotel for the annual BCS meetings Tuesday afternoon, the Big Ten commissioner's impromptu press conference began when he was asked about the playoff's new official name, which was expected to be the "big" news of Day One of this three-day event.

"I'll be happy with whatever," said a stone-faced Delany. "Obviously, I'm not great with names."

Well played.

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Delany's comment was a nod to his conference's mind-bogglingly, ill-fated choice of divisional names -- Leaders and Legends -- which in the past week has finally been dumped. The 65-year-old proceeded to hold court for about 20 minutes fielding questions and offering up a perspective on the wild world of conference realignment while also eulogizing the old BCS as a new era is set to begin for major college football.

It was time to say goodbye to the beaten down old BCS, whose image cried for a new face, Delany said.

"I think the BCS did a lot of good, but it also became a burden -- a huge, branding burden. The evolution happened. We all did it together. We all came out if it on the right side and people will judge us well for compromising and coming together on it.

"I understand criticism and constructive criticism, but you just can't take something and criticize it unendingly and expect it to be good."

Over the course of the day, in between BCS meetings and an on-site Rose Bowl press conference, Delany, who has been the head of the Big Ten for almost a quarter century, served up his view from the top of the food chain. This all sounded like a victory lap for Delany and the other power brokers of college sports.

At one point later in the day, he even indulged in some legacy talk: "What I'm most proud of is our effort to understand tradition, which is a great friend but also can an enemy to change and innovation -- whether it was expansion, a network or gender equity or bowl tie-ins. Hopefully, we made more right calls than wrong calls and the future will decide that."

Of more immediate importance, as Delany acknowledged earlier in the day, came off the news that ACC's new grant of rights television agreement essentially locked in the league's 15 current and future league members in a long-term revenue sharing agreement, meaning any further Big Ten expansion was unlikely. He reminded the media that all that speculation of a supposed impending move of the power conferences to 16 teams was our version of reality, not his.

"I always thought that (16) was an arbitrary number any way," he said, adding that if all the media reports had been accurate, "we'd be at 29 members right now."

With the exception of NCAA President Mark Emmert, Delany has been seen by many as one of the big villains in the cutthroat world of college sports, where it's no stretch to think greed trumps all, especially when it comes to business of realignment. In its wake, some century-old rivalries and traditions were snuffed out.

"I don't feel like we led the way," Delany said of the realignment wave. "I feel like we pushed away from the table quite a bit. I can't tell you the opportunities we had in the years when we were 11 members. There weren't many outgoing calls. They were all incoming."

He also spoke of "five highly-branded conferences" -- a reminder of sorts that the gap between the "haves" and the "have A LOTs" has grown, and truth be told, Delany's pointing that out felt like spiking the football to some other conferences reps on the other end of the food chain in Pasadena this week.

A former UNC basketball player on teams that twice reached Final Fours, Delany said his reluctance to a playoff always stemmed from the concern over what it might do to the magnitude of the college football regular season and his conference's relationship to the Rose Bowl. And preserving those elements were the only way he was buying in.

"I have a firm belief that if you don't fight for what you believe in and you walk away from it, it won't be there very long," he said later in the day after a press conference touting the 100th Rose Bowl.

"Everybody deserves credit (for making the playoff a reality.) I think Mike (Slive) and John (Swofford) got the ball rolling. I was really proud of the moment when it's 12-0 (vote) --11 commissioners and (Notre Dame AD) Jack (Swarbrick) and the presidents on the access points, on the revenue share, on the structure because there was an opportunity for that not to happen. We've had a lot of criticism in the media, a lot of criticism from Congress and political sources. We didn't have a lot of support from a lot of the coaches on the BCS. I think it really did raise the bar and helped the sport grow but it was time for change. My hope is that people can stay supportive for a while."

Now that the name of the playoff has been announced, the big order of business is figuring out who will serve on the selection committee. Delany didn't have any specific preference, he said.

"I just want balance: great football people with great reputations for integrity," he said. "That's No. 1, and a sense of national awareness and good administrators."

Asked if he was not the commissioner of the Big Ten would he be willing to be on the selection committee, Delany said no, thanks. When he's done with the Big Ten, he'll move on to something else. Exactly when that time is remains to be seen.

"I'm still having fun," he said. "I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last summer. I've got energy. I like what I'm doing. We're building a building. We working hard on the Rutgers and Maryland integration. We've got a big television negotiation two years from now that I want to be around for. Beyond that I don't know.

"I do know this: I won't be here 12 years from now," he said in reference to when the new playoff deal is up. "That'll be somebody else's job."

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