More than four decades later, Eddie Fogler can still see Jim Delany dumping their North Carolina basketball teammate Rusty Clark on the floor during a practice at Carmichael Auditorium.

It was payback for the hard screen that Clark, one of the team's stars, had set on the feisty backup point guard from North Jersey. Clark then had a few choice words for Delany as other Tar Heels scraped him up from the court.

"Rusty got him good, and he said, 'Hey Delany, don't do that again — you're not getting through my screens," Fogler recalled recently. "The next time Rusty set a pick on Delany, Jim took his knees out and knocked him on his butt and said, 'I'm still here.'"

The competitiveness with which Delany played at North Carolina has carried through in his professional life as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, an investigator for the NCAA and an administrator in college athletics, including the past 25 years as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.

But there is a difference. The man who first broached the idea of bringing Atlantic Coast Conference founding member Maryland into the Big Ten in the fall of 2012 — and who will be in Baltimore on Monday to officially welcome the Terps for their entrance Tuesday — has gone from a role player to one of the most influential powerbrokers in college sports.

Not that Delany looks at himself that way.

"I think that's hyperbole," Delany said in a telephone interview Friday. "I think because I work in the Big Ten and there are very powerful, important institutions and we have scope and we have success and we have quality…whoever is leading is going to have a strong position in the pecking order. From being there for a long time and [the league] doing good things, I get credit for that."

From getting independent football power Penn State to agree in 1989 to join the league, to helping launch the Big Ten Network in 2007, Delany takes on obstacles as he once did his teammate's picks.

"He does have a unique sort of competitive quality about him," said former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who served as Delany's deputy for his first five years with the Big Ten. "He's not afraid to get in there and mix it up. That's one of the characteristics I enjoyed when I was working with him."

Delany said a lot of who he is today goes back to his childhood, growing up as the middle of five siblings. Frank Delany, a history teacher and high school coach who is in Seton Hall's Hall of Fame for both baseball and basketball, encouraged his two sons and three daughters to speak their mind — respectfully.

"Dinnertable discussion and argument was fine; it was encouraged. Difference of opinion was tolerated," Jim Delany said. "There was an element of respect that was necessary, but there was a wide range of perspectives that were not only permitted, but encouraged."

Along with being raised in an ethnically mixed neighborhood in Newark, N.J., and being around his father when he coached at an inner-city high school nearby, the family's one-year move to London after their father was selected for a Fulbright teaching exchange program had a profound impact on Delany.

"A seminal moment," Delany said. "We were thrown into the mix there."

The four years he spent in Chapel Hill, the last three playing under legendary Tar Heels coach Dean Smith, also shaped Delany's future. Though he eventually wound up as a team captain as a senior, he started just two varsity games for a program that was in the process of becoming a national power.

"I played with eight or 10 pros. Whether I was a role player or not, I thought I could play and I got a chance to play in a lot of big games," Delany said. "It was always frustrating; I wanted to be more, I wanted to play more. But the fact of it is that I wanted to play at the highest level that I was capable of playing."

His older brother, also named Frank, said all those experiences laid the foundation for the person the now 66-year-old Delany eventually became. Frank Delany, who played college basketball at Niagara and also became an attorney, said his younger brother was "well prepared" when he took over the Big Ten after leaving his job as Ohio Valley Conference commissioner in 1989.

"Coming from where he came from, a family that supported a wide view of the world, with the education and the sports, he was probably better prepared than most for the path he took," Frank Delany said Saturday. "Some guys are basketball players from beginning to end. He's had the ability to transition from sports to law to the business of college athletics. That just doesn't happen."

Changing the landscape

At the ongoing trial between the NCAA and former athletes seeking compensation for their likenesses being used in video games, Delany was called as a witness by the governing body of college athletics. But his words seemed to indicate he was speaking for the plaintiffs.

As he had previously, Delany testified last week that he would like to see more of a balance between academics and athletics on the college campus. He went as far as to say in the Oakland, Calif., courtroom that "when the basketball season is over, we probably ought to just put a lock on the gym."