When Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced his retirement in March, he left open his date of departure. He told conference officials he would be available to serve until June 30, 2020, when his term expires. But if they named his replacement sooner, he would pass the baton whenever they desire.
After all, there are birdies to be made and speeches to be delivered.
Indications are that the conference — which held its spring athletic directors meetings Monday and Tuesday in Rosemont — wants a successor in place by early summer. As in this summer. All the better to start preparing for the next round of media-rights negotiations.
Against that backdrop, here are seven thoughts on the search to replace Delany after his 30-year run:
1. The Sports Business Journal list was … interesting.
The nine, in alphabetical order:
— Katrina Adams, former CEO, United States Tennis Association
— Amy Huchthausen, commissioner, America East Conference
— Jon Litner, president, YES Network
— Burke Magnus, executive vice president, ESPN
— Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair, Ernst & Young
— Tony Petitti, deputy commissioner, Major League Baseball
— Jim Phillips, athletic director, Northwestern
— Mark Shapiro, president, Toronto Blue Jays
— Brad Traviolia, deputy commissioner, Big Ten
2. Everyone views Phillips as the favorite, including Smith.
A Tribune source lauded Phillips by saying he has “the right temperament, work ethic, relationships, intelligence and respect among peers in the industry.”
Phillips has an impeccable resume that includes transforming Northwestern’s athletic department and serving on seemingly every key NCAA committee. You would have an easier time finding someone to bad-mouth Javier Baez’s tagging ability than Phillips’ candidacy.
3. But it’s no sure thing that Phillips would take the job.
Some in the industry are confident he would. Another insists he would not. Northwestern benefactor Pat Ryan sounds determined to keep him.
Phillips has said he has the best AD job in the country because of many factors, including Ryan’s largess, his tight relationship with President Morton Schapiro and coaches such as Pat Fitzgerald and Chris Collins and the chance to mentor some of the nation’s best and brightest 18- to 22-year-olds.
Phillips likely could double his salary past $3 million without having to uproot his family. He has accomplished nearly everything possible at Northwestern, save for a renovation of Ryan Field that is percolating among top university officials.
Adding to Phillips’ will-he-or-won’t-he intrigue is that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors tasked Schapiro to spearhead the search. Schapiro is working with Jed Hughes, the veteran Korn Ferry executive who helped recruit coach Jim Harbaugh to Michigan and Commissioner Larry Scott to the Pac-12.
4. The conference would prefer to hire someone with Big Ten ties.
Adams won an NCAA doubles title at Northwestern. Traviolia won a Big Ten title wrestling at 167 pounds for the Wildcats.
The only other candidate on Smith’s list with Big Ten ties is Brooke-Marciniak, who was the first woman to be awarded a basketball scholarship at Purdue. She rose to work in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and to crack Forbes’ top-100 list of the World’s Most Powerful Women.
Still, most view Adams, Traviolia and Brooke-Marciniak as long shots to succeed Delany.
5. The TV executives are intriguing.
The one knock on Phillips is that he has not negotiated a TV contract. Magnus, Litner and Petitti obviously have.
Petitti, who holds degrees from Haverford College and Harvard Law School, oversaw daily operations at CBS Sports before joining MLB Network and becoming deputy commissioner under Rob Manfred.
Litner, an alumnus of Cornell and Yale Law School, was the chief operating officer of the NHL before returning to the TV world and becoming president of the YES Network in New York. Delany is said to be fond of Litner, but Delany also has said he will not be involved in choosing his successor.
Magnus also has worked intimately with Delany during his tenure as ESPN’s executive VP for programming and scheduling. He joined ESPN in 1995 after earning degrees from Holy Cross and UMass.
6. The Mark Shapiro on the list is not the one Delany sparred with at ESPN.
The media executive Mark Shapiro created ESPN’s “SportsCentury” series and low-balled Delany during negotiations, prompting him to create the Big Ten Network.
The baseball executive Mark Shapiro is president of the Blue Jays, a role he previously had with the Indians. He played football at Princeton.
7. Two possible candidates not on the SBJ list are ...
Joe Castiglione and Eric Kaler. Castiglione is a 1979 Maryland graduate who is well-respected for his 21-year tenure as athletic director at Oklahoma. Kaler is the president of the University of Minnesota and chaired the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors.