Former North Carolina basketball standout and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany ’70 (’73 JD), who played in two Final Fours under Coach Dean Smith, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Delany will receive the inaugural Tom Jernstedt Lifetime Achievement Award. Jernstedt, who died in 2020, joined the NCAA in 1972 and throughout his 38-year career worked behind the scenes to transform the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship to what it is today — March Madness. Delany received the award during halftime of Monday’s NCAA Men’s national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Delany played for the Tar Heels from 1967 to 1970, during which he played in the NCAA tournament Final Four in 1968 and 1969. He’s a former two-term member of the GAA Board of Directors (2005-2008 and 2011-2019) and served as board chair from 2017 to 2018.
After earning his law degree, Delany worked as counsel for the N.C. Senate Judiciary Committee before working in the N.C. Attorney General’s Office. In 1975, he began his career in collegiate athletics administration as an enforcement representative. He later became commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and served on the Division I men’s basketball committee for the 1986, 1987 and 1988 championships.
In 1989, he was appointed Big Ten commissioner, serving on the men’s basketball committee from 1989 to 1991 and as committee chair for the 1990 and 1991 championships. Under his leadership, the current tournament bracketing principles were created and the NCAA received commitments from broadcast partners that resulted in significant revenue growth.
In 2016, Delany helped form and then chaired the Division I men’s basketball competition committee, which reviewed student-athlete health and safety, sportsmanship and integrity, game operations and presentation, technology, and statistical trends. During his tenure as Big Ten commissioner, he oversaw the creation of the Big Ten Network — the first collegiate conference network — and expansion of the Big Ten to 11 schools in 1990 and then to 14 in 2011. He also served as vice president of USA Basketball from 2000 to 2008, during which the U.S. national team won the 2008 Olympic gold medal.
Delany is the recipient of numerous awards, including the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and the UNC Law School’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012. He was also named to Sports Business Journal’s list of the 20 most influential sports executives over the past 20 years.
At Carolina, he served as a guest lecturer for the Law, Business and Journalism schools, and was an informal adviser to former chancellors Michael Hooker ’69, James Moeser, Holden Thorp ’86, Carol Folt and current Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. Delany and his wife, Kitty, donated $1 million in scholarship aid to Carolina Covenant recipients and law school students.
Joining Delany in receiving the 2023 Tom Jernstedt Lifetime Achievement Award are Dave Gavitt, who played basketball at Dartmouth and founded and later became the inaugural commissioner of The Big East Conference, and C.M. Newton, a member of the University of Kentucky’s 1951 national championship team, a college coach for more than 30 years and chair of the NCAA Rules Committee from 1979 to 1985. Gavitt and Newton will be honored posthumously.
Jernstedt was a quarterback at the University of Oregon before injuries derailed his career and was enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2010.