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Volume 23 No. 9
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Nine for Big Ten: Strong list of candidates to succeed Delany

Jim Delany, 71, will step down in June 2020 after 30 years as the powerful commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
Photo: getty images
Jim Delany, 71, will step down in June 2020 after 30 years as the powerful commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
Photo: getty images
Jim Delany, 71, will step down in June 2020 after 30 years as the powerful commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
Photo: getty images

The Big Ten’s initial list of candidates to succeed Jim Delany includes a diverse group of highly respected executives, ranging from influential media experts to veteran athletic administrators.

Four of the nine graduated from Big Ten schools, and seven of the nine played a sport in college. Three are women and two are minorities.

The Big Ten’s next commissioner, who will instantly become one of the most powerful figures in college athletics, could very well come from this list of candidates. The initial list was composed by the conference and its search firm, Korn Ferry. 

Big Ten: Commissioner candidates


Katrina Adams

■ Former CEO, chair, U.S. Tennis Association
■ Alma mater: Northwestern
■ Two-time All-American in tennis, NCAA doubles champ

Amy Huchthausen

Commissioner, America East Conference
Alma mater: Wisconsin-La Crosse
■ Played college softball; Earned MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management

Jon Litner

President, YES Network
Alma mater: Yale
■ Played college football, baseball; joined YES in 2016 after running NBC’s RSNs

Burke Magnus

■ Executive vice president, programming and scheduling, ESPN
■ Alma mater: Holy Cross
■ 24-year veteran at ESPN; leads the network’s acquisition of rights

Beth Brooke Marciniak

■ Global vice chair, public policy, Ernst & Young
■ Alma mater: Purdue
■ First woman to earn a basketball scholarship at Purdue

Tony Petitti

■ Deputy commissioner, business, media, MLB
■ Alma mater: Haverford College
■ Vast media background includes stints at ABC, CBS and NBC

Jim Phillips

■ Athletic director, vice president, Northwestern
■ Alma mater: Illinois
■ Chaired the first NCAA Division I Council

Mark Shapiro

■ President, CEO, Toronto Blue Jays
■ Alma mater: Princeton
■ Played college football; former MLB Executive of the Year with Cleveland

Brad Traviolia

■ Deputy commissioner, COO, Big Ten
■ Alma mater: Northwestern
■ College wrestler, Big Ten champ, 22 years at the conference office

It’s the first indication that the conference’s search to find a commissioner is ramping up, and it provides a rare look into the Big Ten’s priorities as it seeks its next leader. High-level searches like this typically are kept quiet until a hire is made. 

Sources cautioned, however, that this early list is just a starting point for the search. Names will move on and off the list as the search evolves. The conference and Korn Ferry haven’t even begun reaching out to most candidates yet, mostly because the conference has ample runway of about a year to have a hire finalized and ready to take the baton from Delany, 71, who spent 30 years as the conference’s commissioner.

Delany, who makes close to $3 million in annual salary, plans to stay on the job until June 2020. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is chairing the conference’s search committee, and the Big Ten presidents will make the final decision.

What seems clear is that the Big Ten presidents asked for a list of people who bring diverse backgrounds, varied experiences and a range of expertise. Having attended a Big Ten school might help, but it won’t be the deciding factor.

The name on the list that’s the least surprising is Jim Phillips, the athletic director at Northwestern. Phillips has long been considered a favorite among Big Ten athletic directors to ascend into the commissioner’s chair.

He grew up in Chicago, attended a Big Ten school at Illinois and has a broad background in college athletics, working at Arizona State, Tennessee and Notre Dame before getting his first AD job at Northern Illinois. Phillips, SBJ’s AD of the Year in 2018, has been the AD at Northwestern for 11 years.

In addition to his work on campuses, Phillips has cultivated a reputation as a national leader, having chaired the NCAA’s Division I Council and sat on the NCAA’s board of directors, the first sitting AD to be on that board.

Candidates with a strong media background also are prevalent. ESPN’s Burke Magnus, YES Network’s Jon Litner and MLB’s Tony Petitti all bring a vast array of media experience across TV and digital platforms, which would mesh nicely with the conference’s co-ownership of the Big Ten Network.

Having a commissioner with a wealth of media experience, sources said, would benefit the conference on its next media deal as well. The Big Ten’s primary media contracts with Fox and ESPN are up in 2022-23. One of the new commissioner’s first jobs will be preparing for the next round of negotiations.

The Big Ten is currently in a six-year, $2.64 billion joint deal with both network partners. That does not include Big Ten Network’s package of rights, which runs to 2031-32. Fox owns 51 percent of BTN.