Conference expansion: Joe Paterno has all the answers

John Hageman

Joe Paterno fields questions from reporters at the BigTen Media Days Conference Monday in Chicago. Mark Vancleave, Minnesota Daily.

CHICAGO – Long-time Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno knows a thing or two about conference expansion. In 1993, the Nittany Lions became the eleventh team in the conference, and Paterno has been vocal about his desire to add a twelfth in recent years. 

Last spring, Paterno said the Big Ten would benefit from a championship game, because "we [the Big Ten] go into hiding for six weeks," while other conferences get national exposure for their championship games in December. Now that the Big Ten will have enough teams to institute a championship game with the addition of Nebraska in 2011 (which seems to be a popular move among all the coaches here), Paterno got his wish. 

When asked at the Big Ten media days conference if he remains hopeful that the Big Ten will continue to expand East, Paterno said with a smile, "Well, I could get up here and have a little fun with Commissioner (Jim) Delany and tell him exactly where we ought to go.  After all, I have all the answers."

But Paterno and Penn State may have helped the conference decide how to create two divisions when Nebraska joins 17 years after expanding the conference themselves. 

When asked if – and how – he will decide how to split up the conference into two divisions, Delany said he and league officials will take competitive balance, preservation of rivalry games and geography into account. Splitting up the conference based on competitive balance could prove to be a daunting task, but Delany mentioned the possibility of taking a plethora of data points such as non-conference records and composite BCS rankings dating back to 1993 into account. Penn State’s first year in the Big Ten is what Delany dubbed "the modern Big Ten".

"We’re looking at that 17-year stretch and trying to assess where institutions fall in, what they’ve accomplished and sort of using that as a basis to determine what would be a balanced and fair…segmentation of divisions," Delany said.

There will be plenty of division possibilities that the Big Ten officials will have to choose from, and Paterno is happy to stay out of that decision-making process.

"I’m just glad that I don’t have to make that decision," Paterno said. "I think there’s a lot of different combinations that would be good, which put us in a position where we could have a team that would be champions of the Big Ten and be in a position to go on and be national champs."