Only the Big Ten’s fifth commissioner since its founding in 1896, James E. Delany served as Commissioner for over 30 years, retiring in 2020. He led the Big Ten through significant periods of growth that 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 now sponsors 28 official sports, more than every conference except the Ivy League.
The Big Ten saw 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.
Delany 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. 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.