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Jim Delany Wants the Power to Fire Coaches

The Big Ten is mulling a proposal that would give its commissioner, already one of the most powerful men in college sports, the authority to fire coaches himself, The Chronicle reports today.

The proposal, part of a plan being circulated among Big Ten leaders, would give James E. Delany, who has overseen the league since 1989, and a powerful committee of conference presidents the ability to penalize individual members of an institution, should their actions significantly harm the league’s reputation.

The sanctions, spelled out in a document obtained by The Chronicle, could include financial penalties, suspension, or termination of employment.

The proposal, which has not been approved, is part of an 18-page plan prompted by problems at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach repeatedly molested children on campus property while university leaders turned a blind eye.

The ideas are designed in part to root out problems that could include coaches or athletic officials who interfere with normal admissions, compliance, hiring, or disciplinary processes, the document says.

The plan calls for Big Ten universities to empower presidents and athletic directors and have policies to dissuade rogue boosters and trustees with inappropriate involvement in programs from trying to influence university leaders’ decisions.

Big Ten officials are still in the early stages of debating how to handle fallout from the scandal. Among other ideas, the league’s presidents and chancellors could consider removing Penn State from the conference, one Big Ten leader told The Chronicle.

The Big Ten Conference Handbook, which governs the league’s operations, does not contain language addressing a situation as egregious as what happened at Penn State.

But the conference’s bylaws prescribe potentially severe penalties for member institutions that break lesser rules. Any Big Ten university that employs or retains workers who intentionally falsify or deliberately fail to provide complete and accurate information during an investigation may be required to “show cause why its membership in the conference should not be suspended or terminated,” the Big Ten’s 2011-12 handbook says.

At least four top Penn State officials—including Graham B. Spanier, the former president, and Timothy M. Curley, the athletic director on administrative leave—failed to paint an accurate picture of how much they knew about Jerry Sandusky, the former coach convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse, according to an  independent report released last week. Both Spanier and Curley were part of a culture that tried to “actively conceal” abuse by the former coach, the report said.

The Big Ten’s 12-member Council of Presidents and Chancellors must approve any decision to suspend, expel, or place on probation any member of the conference. According to the conference handbook, expulsion requires a vote of not less than 60 percent of the full council (a Big Ten spokesman said that figure is actually 70 percent, or eight members, which will be reflected in the 2012-13 handbook).

The Big Ten does not have a contingency scheduling plan should Penn State’s football team be banned from playing this or any season, a senior league official told The Chronicle. But fallout from the scandal has many Big Ten leaders on edge.

“This whole situation is unprecedented,” said Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa and chair of the Council of Presidents and Chancellors. “It’s sports-related, but there were very significant moral, legal, and institutional failures.”

She and her colleagues plan to discuss those problems in coming weeks, but she has no early sign of what they may decide. “Until all of our presidents and chancellors sit down and talk in depth,” she said, “I have no idea of what the outcome is likely to be, and I wouldn’t want to predict.”

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