Hailing from South Orange, N.J., Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany knows what he's up against. The sporting spectrum in the area between New York and Washington, D.C., is crowded, competitive and cutthroat.
There's no welcome mat or receiving line, even for a native son who has led one of the more powerful brands in sports for more than a quarter-century. If you want to get in, you have to earn it.
"I go into it with a good deal of humility, knowing that there is competition for eyeballs and for affiliation," Delany recently told ESPN.com. "It's probably the most competitive corridor for a variety of reasons."
Delany will spend the better part of the next two months on the East Coast as the Big Ten prepares for the official arrivals of new members Maryland and Rutgers on July 1. Last Thursday, Delany flew from Las Vegas, where he spoke at the Football Bowl Association meetings, to New York, where Maryland held an event featuring university president Wallace Loh, athletic director Kevin Anderson, former Terrapins quarterback Boomer Esiason, former basketball coach Gary Williams and about 500 Maryland supporters.
He's now in Dallas for the College Football Playoff meetings and then will return to New Jersey. Delany will spend part of May and June on the Rutgers and Maryland campuses.
Delany's purpose is two-fold: facilitating the arrivals of Maryland and Rutgers, and establishing the Big Ten in a new region. The league last month announced that its New York City office will be operational by June 1. There also is a satellite office in Washington, which Big Ten officials and those from member schools can access.
"It's really necessary to be engaged and to be seen and to be welcoming, and to begin to build," Delany said. "People appreciate it. It takes some time and effort, but it's well worth it. We know that change is sometimes difficult, but we want to make it smooth."
Both Maryland and Rutgers have launched campaigns to generate attention about the Big Ten move -- check them out here and here -- and Delany will meet regularly with schools officials to manage the transitions. Maryland has events scheduled in Baltimore and at Nationals Park in Washington on June 30, the eve of its Big Ten arrival. Delany will attend a Rutgers event Friday in New York, and the school has other gatherings in New Jersey and Washington in May and June.
The reaction to Rutgers and Maryland in Big Ten territory and throughout most of the country has been lukewarm, to put it nicely, but Delany has seen "great energy" in his East Coast stops. The integration poses significant challenges in a region ruled by pro sports, but a market exists for the Big Ten to target.
Delany estimates 1 million Big Ten alumni -- half from Maryland and Rutgers, half from existing Big Ten schools -- live in the eastern corridor. The Big Ten already has a regional presence because of Penn State, but no direct ties in the major cities.
"I think you're going to see this thing come alive and pop when our teams are playing out there," Delany said. "The curiosity of Rutgers and Maryland fans, Penn State fans, you have a critical core of three institutions, but Ohio State's third-highest number of alums is in D.C. Indiana has a huge group of kids from New York and New Jersey.
"We're on a pretty good trajectory. There's a lot of support, and I'm going to be out here a lot over the next couple of months."
Delany's chief goal in adding Maryland and Rutgers to the league was to make the Big Ten a bi-regional conference. Some think it will never happen, but the push is under way.
"What we're trying to do is live in the new region of our conference," Delany said. "We're not visiting."