Delany, though, relished the spotlight. As commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference from 1979 to 1989, he promised to play games at midnight if television stations would broadcast them. Later, he drew Penn State to the Big Ten and oversaw the creation of the Big Ten Network, which turned the league into a financial behemoth. And even when his decisions fell flat — such as the conference’s soon-to-be-abandoned “Legends” and “Leaders” division names – he was glad people were talking about them.
“Jim’s been on the cutting edge,” said Eric Hyman, a former North Carolina classmate who’s now the athletic director at Texas A&M. “Sometimes he may say or do things that may create conversation.”
Still, Delany and Swofford never drifted far apart. And when they became commissioners, they’d sometimes talk business, collaborating in 1999 on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and other times speaking casually, laughing sometimes at how they each had reached this point.
“I don’t know that I’m any closer to Jim as I am to any other commissioners,” Swofford said. “But the difference is, there’s a common thread that draws us together.”
More jousting in store?
On Friday, as Swofford waited for his flight home to North Carolina, he said that his moves are never made in response to another conference’s actions, indicating that the grant of rights agreement was made with only the ACC’s well-being in mind.
Delany said his counterpart’s move was smart. “John’s tactic was a good one,” he said.
But others, including those who know both men, spent the following days speculating that, if the Big Ten hadn’t gotten involved with Maryland, Swofford never would have gone to such lengths to protect the ACC.
“People are competing hard, and people are doing the best for their team, and those guys – they don’t take that lightly,” said Charles Waddell, a former North Carolina football player who has worked for both men and now is the deputy athletic director at South Carolina. “They both play at a high level, and they’re both very, very smart. So you’re going to see some of the things, some of the innovative things coming out of both of those guys.
“People kind of expect it with Jim, because a lot of times he’s out in front of the parade. But John is, most of the time, where he wants to be.”
After so many years, their routes taking such twists and turns, Waddell said he doesn’t expect last week’s news to truly end realignment. It wouldn’t be in Delany’s nature to accept a loss without having something up his sleeve — especially when it was his former classmate who delivered it.
“He’s not going to stop thinking about it and how things can go,” Waddell said. “I would be surprised if this is the way things end up. I don’t know how it’s going to be done, but for some reason I don’t think this is the last move.”