College Sports

Big Ten ADs weigh in on the qualities they seek in the next commissioner: ‘Someone who understands this league’

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was talking to reporters Tuesday about who might replace retiring Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany when Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez walked behind him.

"Someone like a Barry Alvarez," Smith said coyly. "He'd be a prototypical candidate."

As Alvarez playfully grabbed him by the back of his neck, Smith joked, "Oh, is Barry here?"

In all seriousness, Alvarez, 72, said he is not interested in the job.

"I'm moving toward Jim's route," he said, alluding to retirement.

Athletic directors who spoke Tuesday after two days of meetings concluded at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Ill., said they hope the next commissioner has a strong understanding of the conference's philosophies and values, ideally from the inside.

"Certainly you need someone who understands this league and appreciates what this league represents," said Alvarez, who has been Wisconsin's athletic director since 2004. "Someone that is strong enough they can deal with the coaches and athletic directors and chancellors at great universities. Someone who can build a consensus. We've made a lot of tough decisions and had tough votes on expansion, divisions, how we broke up divisions.

"Certainly someone from the inside could answer all those questions and understands what we're all about. It doesn't have to be someone from the inside, but someone from inside may have an edge."

Delany, 71, announced in March he plans to retire by June 2020 after 30 years at the helm. He oversaw landmark moments for the conference: expansion to 14 teams, the creation of the Big Ten football championship game and launching the Big Ten Network.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is heading the search committee, assisted by search firm Korn Ferry.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips is considered a strong candidate. Phillips, one of the nation's highest-paid athletic directors, has worked for Northwestern since 2008 and has experience on the NCAA level as the inaugural chair of the NCAA Division I Council and the first active athletic director to serve on the NCAA Board of Directors and Board of Governors.

"Jim's a strong leader, and as an athletic director he's been involved in a lot of committee work and understands the league," Alvarez said. "He's well-respected. I don't see why not."

Smith, Alvarez and Michigan State's Bill Beekman all said experience negotiating media rights should not be a priority.

"A lot of people put emphasis on television, but that's not a big issue for us," Smith said. "At the end of the day, (Delany) and his staff and all the ADs who were part of that have a great contract in place and good partnerships. It's really managing what we have in place. When the time comes, you can hire a consultant to help you with that piece of it."

Stability is another important factor.

"From my personal perspective, the most important criterion is somebody that 'gets' the Big Ten," Beekman said. "The conference has sustained itself for many decades, has grown very carefully and thoughtfully. It has a unique culture. The Big Ten has always been very stable and solid."

Smith noted the changing landscape in college athletics – from more liberal transfer rules to the movement for players to be allowed to profit off their images and likenesses – and wants a forward-thinking commissioner who can handle such watershed developments.

"(We need) someone who can guide us through what's coming at us," Smith said. "Historically we've been an association that's been reactive and not as proactive as we should be."

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