Only the Big Ten’s fifth commissioner since its founding in 1896, James E. Delany is in his 29th year with the conference. He has led the Big Ten through significant periods of growth that have helped the conference maintain its preeminent position as one of the nation’s leaders in providing quality academic and athletic experiences for young men and women.
The Big Ten has grown to 14 member institutions during Delany’s tenure, including the additions of Penn State in 1991, Nebraska in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. With the conference’s footprint now stretching from the Colorado border to the Atlantic Ocean and more than five million alumni across the country, Delany continues to work toward strengthening traditional relationships while building a presence in a new region.
The Big Ten maintains offices in Rosemont, Ill., and New York City, with satellite office space in Washington, D.C. Big Ten events are scheduled to be held throughout the country, with the football championship game in Indianapolis and basketball tournaments held in Chicago, Indianapolis, New York City and Washington, D.C. The baseball tournament returns to Omaha, Neb. in 2018, while hockey tournaments have been held in Saint Paul, Minn., and Detroit, Mich. In addition, the Big Ten features the largest and most diverse postseason football lineup in conference history, with 16 potential bowl destinations spread across the nation.
Under Delany’s guidance, the Big Ten has been a national leader in providing opportunities for students to earn a degree while competing in intercollegiate athletics, maintaining broad-based programming, supporting gender equity and continued innovation. The Big Ten will administer over $200 million in direct financial support to more than 9,600 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on more than 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten introduced men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse as official conference sports in the last five years, with Johns Hopkins University becoming the conference’s first sport affiliate member for men’s and women’s lacrosse, and Notre Dame joining as a sport affiliate member for men’s ice hockey in 2017-18. The Big Ten now sponsors 28 official sports, more than every conference except the Ivy League.
Under Delany, the Big Ten has been a champion for Title IX. The conference was the first to voluntarily adopt participation goals for female students competing in intercollegiate athletics as the Big Ten initiated the Gender Equity Action Plan in 1992. The Big Ten leads all conferences with more than 4,600 female students playing sports and features more than 870 televised or streamed women’s athletic events. Big Ten women’s teams have claimed more than 124 national titles.
The Big Ten also developed the first collegiate football version of instant replay, which was implemented during the 2004 season. The conference has applied numerous initiatives under Delany’s leadership, including Sportsmanship Awards beginning in 2003 and Postgraduate Scholarships starting with the 2012-13 academic year. In the summer of 2012, the Big Ten announced a partnership with the Ivy League to study the effects of head injuries in sports.
The Big Ten has seen unprecedented levels of national television coverage during Delany’s tenure, highlighted by the creation of the Big Ten Network (BTN). Launched in August 2007 as a joint-venture with FOX, BTN was the first national conference-owned television network. Delany has also negotiated media agreements with ABC, CBS Sports, ESPN, and FOX, who serves as the official broadcast partner of the Big Ten Football Championship Game. Through these agreements, more than 1,700 events are produced and distributed annually.
Big Ten teams have won national championships in 28 different sports since Delany joined the conference, including a Big Ten record of 10 in 2014-15. The top 10 single-season football attendance records have been established in his tenure, while men’s basketball has led the country in attendance for the last 42 seasons through the 2017-18 campaign. Each year more than 11 million patrons attend Big Ten home contests, as the conference leads the nation in attendance for hockey, volleyball and wrestling in addition to men’s basketball. The Big Ten has also added tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse, as well as challenge series with various conferences.
Delany and the Big Ten have been active in the community, creating the school outreach program SCORE (Success Comes Out of Reading Everyday). For more than 25 years, the conference has partnered with Chicago elementary schools to improve reading performance. The Big Ten has also established numerous community programs surrounding its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and football championship game.
The 70-year old Delany is a native of South Orange, N.J. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of North Carolina in 1970 and juris doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1973. At UNC, Delany was a three-year member of the varsity basketball team, serving as tri-captain in 1970 and twice participating in NCAA Final Four competition. In September 2012, Delany received the UNC Distinguished Alumni Award.
After earning his law degree, Delany served as counsel for the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee from 1973 to 1974, and was staff attorney for the North Carolina Justice Department from 1974 to 1975.
Delany’s distinguished career in administering intercollegiate athletics began at the NCAA where he was employed as an enforcement representative from 1975-79. For the next decade, he served as commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference before joining the Big Ten in 1989.
In October 2014, Delany and the Big Ten were presented the Torch of Liberty Award by the Anti-Defamation League in honor of the conference’s commitment to diversity, equality and opportunity for more than a century. In February 2016, he was honored with the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the most prestigious award presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame outside of enshrinement. Most recently in May 2018, Delany was named to SportsBusiness Journal’s Twenty for 20, a list of the 20 most influential sports executives over the past 20 years.
Moderators: Greg Brown, President & CEO, Learfield IMG College and Abraham Madkour, Publisher & Executive Editor, Sports Business Journal