MINNEAPOLIS -- Earlier this month, coaches and administrators gathered at a local hotel for the annual Villa 7, a program that was created to help assistants navigate the pipelines that often lead to head-coaching gigs.
Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner, attended the event and took some time to speak with ESPN.com about the league’s basketball product.
How strong is Big Ten basketball right now following last season’s success?
Delany: We had a good year. We’ve got good coaches. We’ve got good players. We’ve developed some players. I don’t think anyone understood how good Trey Burke was going to be or [Victor Oladipo]. Both great athletes who really grew a lot as players. So we had a fun year. I mean, I know that everyone talks about the regular season, but our regular season was fun to watch, stadiums were full, ratings were good and teams were good teams. We’ll have our ups and we’ll have our downs. So it feels better to win than not. I feel good about our basketball.
Both Maryland and Rutgers will join the league soon. What’s the current appetite for additional expansion?
Delany: I think it slowed down a lot. It seems that maybe there’s an opportunity to integrate and to consolidate. I don’t know where anyone got the idea of 16 or 18. We had 11 and that was comfortable for us for 20 years. Then we decided to make a change. There were a lot of changes happening around us. We’re just glad that Maryland and Rutgers, two flagship universities, important markets, contiguous states, both members of the AAU [Association of American Universities], were interested in casting their lot with us. Our job, I think, is to build with them, help them transition and over the long term, make them happy they’re in the Big Ten.
Multiple rule changes were recently proposed for college basketball. Adjusting the shot clock, however, was not one of them. What do you think about the decision to leave it at 35 seconds?
Delany: I think we ought to work with what we have. I think I’m a huge believer in the law of unintended consequences. I also believe in experimentation. So I think it’s important to take one experiment at a time. It’s like any other experiment that you do. You want to control the variable so if something does change, you know what caused it.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee recently recommended the expansion of instant replay. What’s your view on the current use of instant replay in college basketball?
Delany: I like those [recommendations]. I think you want to use technology without interfering with the game. [The Big Ten] experimented ourselves a little bit with holding replay on a 3-point shot until the next dead ball situation. I think that saved some time. I like the NBA procedure where they check who the ball might have gone off of in the last couple minutes. I think that’s good. Put it this way: You can recover from a bad call in the second minute of the game a lot better than you can in the last minute. It’s true, mistakes are made throughout. But if you can correct it with technology without affecting the rhythm of the game, I think that’s a good thing.
Once again, the Big Ten was the strongest basketball brand in the country during the regular season. But the league’s members failed to win a national title. The Big Ten has not earned a national title since Michigan State won the crown in 2000. How important is a national championship to the league’s overall reputation in college basketball?
Delany: I wish we had 11. But I love our programs. I love our coaches and players. We’ve had 10 or 11 teams in the Final Four. They’ve put themselves in a position to win it. I think Coach [Dean] Smith was in six before he won one. I think Coach K was in three or four before he won one. ... You tip your hat to the guys who do win it. You have tremendous respect for them. As long as we can continue to produce a lot of high-quality programs, ours will come over time.
As the league expands, how will additional travel to the East Coast affect athletes in the classroom?
Delany: Really, the additional travel time to the East Coast -- these guys are flying charters -- is probably 30 minutes. If you’re going from Minneapolis to Purdue, it’s probably 50 minutes. And so, I think there is pressure on the student-athlete. I think we ask a lot of them. I also think that they have a lot of support. There’s a lot of academic support. We try to provide a couple days of prep, we try to do the right sequencing. But there’s no doubt: To be a student-athlete in today’s environment, both academically and athletically, is taxing. That’s why they get the academic support. That’s why we try to increase the standard so kids come in ... so that they’re ready to play and go to school.