The Big Ten is having a public relations nightmare with its inability to sell its television network and to convince critics that it is the bastion of academics. Conference commissioner Jim Delaney can't understand why everyone doesn't see the big picture as clearly as he does.
But Delaney has done something right. Guess what I discovered while switching from channel to channel on Friday night, trying to find something interesting to watch? My RCN cable company picked up the Big Ten Network. But my Comcast friends in the city still can't see Illinois/Penn State.
But Delaney isn't doing everything right.
Several months ago, Delaney took time to write me a critical note after I wrote that one reason why the Big Ten had ceased to be the most dominant football conference in the country was because of its high academic standards as opposed to other conferences such as the SEC that had lower requirements.
It was a compliment. But Delaney took it as a kick to the groin. I was daring to insinuate that the Big Ten no longer was No. 1. What sports pages has he been reading lately? What bowl games has he been watching?
This is the same man who asked a well-known recruiting analyst to appear on the Big Ten Network, then opted not to hire him because the analyst wouldn't agree to sugarcoat everything about Big Ten recruiting. Delaney wanted a "yes" man and Tom Lemming refused to be his puppet.
Then there is the case of former Michigan quarterback and current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was criticized harshly after he was quoted in a San Francisco newspaper that Michigan admitted athletes who were border-line academically, then steered them into less-challenging courses to keep them eligible.
Everybody does it. Everybody brings in marginal athletes, even Stanford. But I recall catching flak from Michigan folks when I wrote years ago that one of the nation's top-rated basketball players, Antoine Joubert, was taking a course called "Introduction to Badminton."
Check the courses that many athletes are taking and explain to me what they are all about. What do "Workforce Training" and "General Curriculum" and "Outdoor Recreation" and "Justice Administration" and "General Recreation" have to do with preparing student-athletes for life after college?
I still recall one course that was offered by one of the nation's leading universities--"Safety with Hand-Powered Tools."
"The Big Ten has the best academics of all six major conferences when it comes to football players," Lemming said. "The majority of the Big Ten will abide by NCAA rules and won't take as many Proposition 48 kids and set them up in prep schools as other conferences do. For example, the SEC can't take kids who don't meet minimum requirements. But they can take a kid, set him up in a prep school and enroll him in their program in six months."
And maintain a straight face while doing it.