As the Big Ten’s commissioner from 1989 to 2020, James E. Delany led the conference through significant periods of growth that helped the Big Ten 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 grew 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. Because of Delany’s work, the conference’s footprint now stretches from the Colorado border to the Atlantic Ocean and more than five million alumni across the country.
Under Delany’s guidance, the Big Ten was a national leader in supporting gender equity and continued innovation. 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 also developed the first collegiate football version of instant replay under Delany, which was implemented during the 2004 season.
The Big Ten saw unprecedented levels of national television coverage in 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.
The 73-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 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. 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.