Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany

Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports

DiCaro: Big Ten Has A Big Problem

In the wake of another scandal, conference leadership remains silent.

Julie DiCaro
November 01, 2018 - 12:35 pm

(670 The Score) This week, yet another Big Ten scandal played out on a national stage. This time it occurred at the University of Maryland, where the school's Board of Regents inexplicably recommended that football coach D.J. Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans be reinstated in their respective positions.

Both Durkin and Evans were suspended following the death of 19-year old offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke in June. After releasing the second of two reports commissioned by the school investigating McNair’s death, the board reached perhaps the height of intellectual dishonesty. The board found that players were forced to overeat until they vomited, emotionally abused by the coaching staff, verbally abused by the coaching staff and shown videos of serial killers and drills entering eyeballs while they ate -- but that the program was not, "by definition," a "toxic culture."

Within hours, the backlash on social media and at the university itself had begun. Three players walked out of a meeting in which the football team was informed Durkin would return, Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic reported. Students planned a day of protest. Even Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called on the board to reconsider its decision.

The inevitable news came Wednesday late afternoon. Just 26 hours after Durkin had been reinstated, he was fired.

Watching Maryland’s mishandling of McNair’s death, from start to finish, was akin to watching a slow motion car wreck, one everyone knew was coming but the driver. Unfortunately, it was only the latest Big Ten scandal in which students have paid the price for a noxious sports environment.

In 2011, news broke that Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been sexually abusing young boys over a period of at least 15 years. In the days and weeks that followed, evidence came to light suggesting that several other coaches and university officials, including legendary head coach Joe Paterno, were aware of the allegations against Sandusky but failed to act.

Four years later in 2015, Michigan State fired Dr. Larry Nassar after allegations that he had sexually abused a number of female athletes, eventually numbering more than 200, during his time working with the school's gymnastics team and USA Gymnastics. Earlier this year, Spartans men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mike D’Antonio were both forced to defend their handling of sexual assault allegations against players after the athletic department was accused of derailing investigations into student-athletes accused of violence against women.

Then we have Ohio State, where more than 100 athletes have come forward to allege sexual abuse by wrestling team doctor Richard Strauss. The former wrestlers have filed a class action lawsuit against Ohio State, alleging school officials knew of multiple allegations against Strauss but failed to take any action to protect students. And don’t forget the public trainwreck that was football coach Urban Meyer’s handling of domestic violence allegations against assistant coach Zach Smith, who was terminated by Meyer only after police reports of Smith violating a previously issued order of protection became public.

At Minnesota, football coach Tracy Claeys was fired in 2017 after he supported his players in a threatened boycott, after a Title IV investigation found it was "more likely that not" that at least 10 players took part in the sexual assault of a female student. That same year, men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino had to explain why star player Reggie Lynch wasn’t disciplined following the second allegation of sexual assault against him in as many years. All of this, of course, came only three years after Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague was forced to resign amid reports that he sexually harassed multiple women.

At both Indiana and Illinois, football coaches were forced out for mistreating athletes and forcing them to play while injured. It’s telling when the mere physical abuse of student-athletes pales in comparison to the horrific acts taking place elsewhere in the conference.

Of course, schools in other conferences have had similar problems, but is there another conference with as many major scandals in the last 10 years as the Big Ten? I’ll save you some time. There isn’t.

By now, we’re used to rolling our eyes and bemoaning the NCAA’s penchant for caring more about cash payments to basketball players than about the sexual assault of pre-pubescent boys in university locker rooms. Yet another question remains: Where's the Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delany in all of this?

During Big Ten Media Days in mid-October, Delany complained about a "cloud" hanging over college athletics, referencing the federal trial in New York City over shoe companies' payments to college basketball players, a "scandal" in which no one was actually harmed and no actual laws were broken. Yet a much larger and more foreboding cloud hangs over the conference that he oversees, one in which students and athletes are fodder for sexual predators and abusive coaches and one in which school officials are loathe to hold anyone responsible until forced to do so by the media and general public.

Make no mistake, if Delany, named one of the most influential sports executives in America in 2017, wanted Durkin out, the Maryland Board of Regents never would have considered reinstating him. If Delany ordered Big Ten schools to clean up their acts, you can bet schools would be a lot more careful in handling allegations of violence and abuse. If Delany was unhappy with the way everything was going in the Big Ten, heads would roll.

Instead, Delany has been mostly silent when it comes to addressing the veritable cornucopia of scandals that followed the sex abuse case at Penn State, only speaking on the topic to issue vague platitudes and half-hearted defenses of Big Ten schools in a self-serving interview with CBS Sports. In that interview, Delany urges schools to take allegations of sexual and physical abuse seriously but complained about ESPN’s coverage of the events at Michigan State, calling it "scandalous." 

Delany went on to weigh in on high-profile coaches such as Durkin and Meyer.

"These are high-wire acts" Delany said. "Lots of responsibility. Lots of exposure. Lots of authority. But they're all accountable to the institution."

And therein lies the problem. Delany is more than happy to delegate the responsibility for controlling individuals like Nasser and Strauss, Meyer and Durkin, Kevin Wilson and Tim Beckman, to their individual schools -- which have a vested interest in keeping their dirty laundry in-house. Time and time again, the schools of the Big Ten have shown they're incapable of making the right decision.

If Maryland’s Board of Regents is willing to bend over backward to keep an 11-15 coach like Durkin and Michigan State officials keep allegations against a relatively unknown team doctor like Nassar on the down-low, what steps are schools willing to take to protect superstar head coaches?

It’s long past time for the Big Ten to stop delegating its responsibility to the NCAA and its member schools and for Delany to accept a role in cleaning up this cesspool of college athletics. Once he gets the sexual assault, physical abuse and protection of violent offenders under control, we can talk about cash payments to basketball players.

Julie DiCaro is the co-host of the "Julie & Maggie Show," which can be heard Saturdays on 670 The Score. Follow her on Twitter @JulieDiCaro.​​