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Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. (Associated Press)

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. (Associated Press)

Hickey: Delany, NCAA bring back robber barons

Last Modified: Monday, December 03, 2012 6:06 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

The robber barons were the men who helped grow the American economy into the world’s giant. Many of our finest universities bear some of their names — Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt.

They just happened to build it on the backs of underpaid immigrants and the occasional child laborer, which was all fine and dandy until those people started demanding rights. They got them, eventually, and into history went the era of the robber baron.

However, there is one important thing these men taught us which is still relevant: exploitation is a terrific business model. It’s just so darn hard to practice these days.

Fortunately, the commissioners of the NCAA’s major conferences and their compliant university presidents — men like Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany — have found a way to bring robber baronhood back into vogue. It’s called making millions off unpaid student-athletes.

The Rockefeller of the new robber barons is Delany, who saw dollar signs to be made from plowing over the old traditions of college sports and building something new.

For years the Big Ten talked about moving up from its 11-team structure so it could have its very own league championship game. Once the Southeastern Conference became the dominant force in college football with its title game becoming a de facto national semifinal, the time came to push talk into action.

Nebraska, tired of Texas’ shadow in the Big 12, made the jump. Sensing blood in the water, fellow robber baron and protector-of-the-Rose Bowl tradition (while killing all others) Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott came up with a bold plan to further decimate the Big 12 and become a 16-team operation.

Texas AD DeLoss Dodds saved the day by declaring his school’s intention to stay put and keep the league intact after the creation of a sweet new TV network created by ESPN to show nothing but Longhorn sports. Well, that’s not entirely true. It was also originally going to show high school games (later prohibited by the NCAA), which caused rival Texas A&M to throw a major fit.Mike Slive’s SEC was more than willing to take in the Aggies and their access to the Houston and Dallas TV markets, and threw in Missouri as a nice door prize.

From there it became a domino chain of madness that gives us something called the Big East despite Boise State and San Diego State joining the league. For football only, of course. San Diego State will be in the Big West for its other sports. And don’t even get me started on Tulane.

The chain of madness filtered all the way down to Southland, with Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Texas-Arlington making the jump up to the WAC as that league hoped to stay viable before the money-go-round stopped spinning. Like many a now-anonymous small businessmen swallowed during the Gilded Age, it didn’t.

That’s what happens to the smallest fish in a sea of sharks.As counterintuitive as the whole process was, at least we thought it was over heading into this year. We thought incorrectly.

The past week demonstrated just how out of control things have gotten in the “not-for-profit” world of major college athletics.

Delany further decimated the regional tradition that helped make college sports so popular in the first place by adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, starting yet another domino effect as each ensuing league desperately tries to patch its holes with duct tape. Or, Tulane.

On a competitive level, neither Maryland nor Rutgers adds anything to the Big Ten as a football league. Culturally, they add even less.

The Big Ten is the Midwest, plain and simple. It was not meant to have schools from states with a shoreline, unless that shore is along a Great Lake. Crab cakes and pork tenderloin do not mix. Neither does anyone who looks like Snooki and anyone from Iowa.

Indiana will end up playing Rutgers (736 miles away) more often than Illinois (149 miles away) in the new divisional setup.

None of that matters to Delany.All he sees is the $200 million that would be added to the conference coffers by having the Big Ten Network added to cable providers in the Washington, D.C. and New York City metropolitan areas.

That’s chump change compared to what ESPN is throwing around. The network recently signed a $5.64 billion deal to televise the BCS bowls and new four-team playoff from 2014-2026.

College football can even pay you big money for doing nothing at all. Fired Auburn coach Gene Chizik will make $208,334 per month for the next 36 months as a reward for getting clowned in eight consecutive SEC games this season.

Heck, I’d be willing to do just as lousy of a job for a quarter of the cost.

I suppose I shouldn’t have an issue with all this splurging. We live in a free-market society, right? Gotta seize it if it’s there.

Only there’s one small problem. The ones creating all this profit, the athletes, aren’t getting a dime out of it. Sure, most are on scholarship. And in the old model of college sports, being on full scholarship was a just reward. It still is at schools in the lesser leagues getting left behind by the largesse at the top.

However, Delany and his cronies are throwing out the old model of college sports. What’s happening now is exploitation. It’s not about tradition or regional rivalries; it’s about profit.

What sense does it make to send kids from Maryland to Nebraska for a midweek, regular-season volleyball match? How is that fair to student-athletes, or to parents who probably assumed most of their games would be somewhere within driving distance?

Dollar signs have a funny way of trumping logic and legitimate concerns. And the beauty for Delany and his brethren is they won’t have to share any of the growing pie with the kids they are sending all over the country.

Make no mistake, the robber barons have returned. Only now instead of having colleges named after them, they’re the ones running them.

•••

Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at ahickey@americanpress.com

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