"Delany built a reputation with the Ohio Valley as a stickler for rules and a skillful television negotiator."
-Rochester Sentinel; April 3, 1989
As the story goes, then Ohio Valley Commissioner and NCAA Tournament Chairman James E. Delany walks up to the microphone in Seattle - the site of the Final Four that year - and laughs off a few questions about the news leaking that he will succeed Wayne Duke as the Big Ten's next Commissioner. In what would become typical Delany secrecy, he quipped, "When you said congratulations, I thought you were referring to the great tournament we were having." Mostly because, of course that's what he would say. Still, for most people, the cat was out of the bag and people began to wonder about the new man for the Big Ten. Would this 41 year old hot shot from the Ohio Valley Conference be what the Big Ten needed? Could he deal with the burden of following Duke's tenure that was filled with the growth from $2.5 Million shared revenue to roughly $35 Million? Was he able to balance tradition, burgeoning growth in television rights, rules for men and women's sports, the idea of amateurism, and the huge microscope the Big Ten presidents would put on him? Nobody would know the answers to this for sure, but time would prove he was up to the task.
On July 1st, Jim Delany will have served 25 years as the Big Ten's Commissioner, a run that has seen the historic conference grow from 10 to 14 teams, build its own television network that spans more than 52 million homes, see the addition of more women's sports than could have ever been imagined, and seen the CIC - the academic arm of the conference - increase its federal research pool to over $9.3 Billion. This also overlooks the fact that the revenue streams coming in have gone from the aforementioned $35 Millions to roughly $284 Million with room for that to grow as new contracts are written and more TV sets turn on the BTN. The bottom line? The Big Ten has turned into a money printing machine under Delany, and while you might not love the guy, he has certainly been successful.
With that in mind, I thought it would be good to take a step back and unpack some of the things that makes our Commissioner who he is. On the surface, many see him as a curmudgeon or as simply old fashioned. On the other hand, many just see him a shrewd businessman and an excellent judge of where the NCAA is headed. If there is one truth about Delany, it's that these two sides are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, Jim Delany is probably one of the more complex individuals in the NCAA. He is well educated, experienced in multiple facets of the Student-athlete life, and well adept at straddling that fine line between tradition and old-fashioned.
Over the next few weeks or so, I will be diving into the history of Commissioner Delany. To start, we will look at his early career in law, the Ohio Valley, and other things that happened before the Big Ten. From there, we will focus on his accomplishments in putting the conference first, even when others saw that as incredibly backwards. In everything from established rules in increasing fairness between men and women's sports to major shifts in rules, we will see Delany always sought to make the Big Ten a leader within the greater landscape. Finally, we will focus primarily on his role in expansion, the BCS, Bowls, and the CFP.
Looking at these various aspects should give you a better understanding of who Delany is, and just how crazy his accomplishments have been the last 25 years. He has certainly not been perfect, but it seems like there couldn't have been a better person for the job. Hopefully when we are all done here, you'll see that a little bit more clearly. And hey, even if you don't agree, I hope that at least you have fun diving into the things that have happened to the Big Ten over the past quarter-century. It's been quite the phase for the conference, and the man in charge has been there the whole time. I look forward to walking down memory lane with you all.