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THE LAST DAYS OF JIM DELANY

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A SHORT STORY

[in a dim, dusty office, lit only by the dying rays of sunset, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany speaks on the phone with an unseen entity. It’s quiet; the office has emptied out for the day, his staff all gone home to their families. Delany’s time as one of the most powerful entities in college sports draws short, having just announced that he will retire in 2020. He’s left an indelible mark on the sport. For now, he looks weary but determined. He’s chasing one final brick in his immense legacy]

DELANY: I’ve done so much to shape the Big Ten over the years. When I came in, this was a 10-team conference with a limited reach, spanning only from Columbus to Iowa. Decades later, the sun barely sets on our empire. You’ll be the final part of that, if you’re willing to join.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: I understand you’re reluctant. You’ve got your own legacy to protect, and it’s immense. But that’s why we want you - and you have to understand the security we offer. Look at Nebraska - they were once every bit as successful as you’ve been. In the 1990s, no one could touch them, they dominated the sport. But the Big 12 didn’t look out for them. Texas ran the show, and they’d get whatever they wanted - even an extra second in a conference championship game.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: No, it definitely hit the rail after time expired.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: Anyways, the point is, all that winning in the ‘90s didn’t give them any security. We did. Now they can go 4-8 and cash a check for $50M. That’s what the Big Ten offers. We offer security. You offer us reach. And that’s what this is all about. Reach. Look at Rutgers - they don’t offer us a thing football-wise. Did you know they didn’t even have a football team before they joined us?

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: No, you only think you saw them play games beforehand. We’re incredible at faking these things. It’s like that Sinbad movie, Shazam. We made that disappear because Hayden Fry didn’t like it. Anyways, Rutgers has a bunch of community theater actors pretending to play football, but they gave us reach. Entry into the immensely lucrative East Coast cable markets. It was good for them, and it’s good for us. That’s the Jim Delany promise - everyone makes money when I’m involved.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: No, not the players.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: But this is what I’m saying. You don’t need to be good at football. That’s not the point. You can offer us what Rutgers did but orders of magnitude greater. They got us New York and New Jersey. You can get us on every device in America. I’ve seen you do it, and that’s why I want you. With us working together, people won’t be able to avoid the Big Ten. My legacy will be secure.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: What’s in for you? Like I said, the security. Listen, I’m a big fan of you all. Decades of prominence. Worldwide fanbase. But there’s no room for independents anymore, and let’s be frank: I think we both know your program’s never going to recapture those heights again. You need to recognize what Nebraska did: we can package your nostalgia and sell it for ten times as much.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: Yeah, I know it’ll put us at 15. I’ve got a handshake agreement from Notre Dame to come on, too - but only if you do. They love your whole thing. Total cultural fit. They see you as coming from the same place they do, in a broad sense.

OTHER SIDE OF PHONE CALL: [not heard]

DELANY: I knew you’d love that. Let’s make this happen.


[days later, at a press conference at Big Ten Headquarters]

DELANY: I’m proud to announce that my legacy as commissioner is finally complete. Notre Dame will be joining the Big Ten West, and for the Big Ten East, we’ve got a team that will put us in front of viewers everywhere, whether they like it or not.

REPORTER: Who is it? Where are they?

DELANY: They’re everywhere.

[everyone’s phones buzz simultaneously like an Amber Alert]

BONO: UNO DOS TRES CATORCE

REPORTER: This is the worst thing you’ve ever done.

DELANY: C’mon they’ve gotta be better at football than Rutgers.