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Big Ten bitterness

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

In a statement more loaded than Florida's recruiting class, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany this week claimed that when it comes to procuring football players his league is more ethical and academically minded than the Southeastern Conference.

Here's what it sounded like he was saying: His league won't compromise its supposed high academic standards to sign a bunch of fast, dumb guys, especially at a position that in the SEC is overwhelmingly played by blacks.

That, apparently, is one reason the SEC signed seven of the top 10 classes nationally according to Rivals.com, the Big Ten got none and Delany lost his mind.

"I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics," wrote Delany on the Big Ten website.

Forty-two of the 48 defensive linemen who started in the final week of SEC play were African-American. Of the 61 defensive line recruits the SEC signed last week, 51 were African-American. Just 23 of 43 Big Ten starters at those positions were black.

So of all the inane Internet message board postings associated with national signing day, the Big Ten commissioner managed the dumbest of them all in an outrageous bit of arrogance that belies his own league's history of rampant cheating and historic scandal.

This wasn't some slip of the tongue in a fast-paced media interview. It was written in an "open letter" on the league website. And this isn't some random ex-NBA ball player. Delany is an attorney who many believe is the most powerful person in all of college athletics.

He was fired up by media coverage pointing out the failures of Big Ten recruiting and the need for the league to get more speed. So he decided to attack the ethics of the ever renegade SEC – "Surely Everybody's Cheating" – which is generally such an easy foil that you don't need to play on stereotypes to mock it.

"I wish we had (seven) teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process," Delany wrote.

"Not every athlete fits athletically, academically or socially at every university. Fortunately, we have been able to balance our athletic and academic mission so that we can compete successfully and keep faith with our academic standards."

This is bizarre on so many levels, even outside Delany equating high speed with low academic performance. Delany was not made available for clarification.

First, when did conference commissioners decide to start slamming other leagues? (SEC commissioner Mike Slive responded with a class email pointing out his league's recent success.) And blaming losses on academic standards? Sure, Delany wants Notre Dame in the Big Ten, but did he have to steal its act?

Finally, where did he get the idea that his league is some bastion of morality and academic purity?

Since Delany took over as commissioner in 1989, the NCAA has hit Big Ten schools 17 separate times for major rule violations, a humiliating average of nearly one cheat per year.

That total doesn't even include two separate point-shaving scandals at Northwestern.

However, it does feature a couple for the record books – Michigan basketball featured the largest monetary amount (an estimated $600,000) and Minnesota basketball produced arguably the worst academic fraud case where a tutor (she must have been a very slow athlete) wrote 400 papers for the players.

Then, of course, there was Maurice Clarett, who if Delany is correct about intelligence and speed, is a shoo-in for gold at the 2008 Olympics – if he can get furloughed, of course.

According to the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, the SEC's average football score (941.7) is notably better than the Big Ten (931.2). The national average is 929, a number that the majority of the Big Ten (six teams) scored below. Only three of SEC's teams were under.

Look, both leagues are filled with great schools. But this is college football and fans care about winning first, winning second and then, perhaps, winning with players who are good students.

A coach who graduates 90 percent of his players and wins 40 percent of his games will be fired. A coach who graduates 40 percent of his players and wins 90 percent of his games will have the stadium named after him. If a player can deliver a national title, most fans don't care if he can spell "C-A-T" two out of three times.

It's that way in the SEC. It's that way in the Big Ten. It's that way just about everywhere and you'd have to be Carl Lewis fast to be so dumb to pretend otherwise like Delany.

Not that Delany was picking a fight with the Patriot League. The SEC has been caught a record 21 times for major violations since 1989 and had LSU coach Les Miles claim this year "the breaking of rules was much more rampant" (although he could have meant non-SEC schools).

Meanwhile, Big Ten coaches (not Notre Dame) spent the last six months whispering about the recruiting practices of Illinois' Ron Zook.

For his part, Slive has committed the SEC to being "probation free" by 2008. We're sure Delany would like to say the same, but although Iowa gets off that year, Ohio State is on the hook until 2009.

In the meantime, we can't wait to see what gets printed next on the Big Ten website. Will Delany again make blanket statements that disparage hundreds of high school recruits? Or will he complain about how blanket statements that disparage Zook are awful and unfair?

Or maybe he will share a case study on how a high number of fast-twitch muscles prohibit defensive linemen from learning trigonometry? Or reveal, as one blogger put it, "some of his best friends are fast."

Then again, he may just be too busy at another NCAA infractions hearing to post anything.