Questions linger about possible Big Ten expansion

Big Ten presidents and chancellors met Sunday to discuss possible conference expansion.

Michael Rietmulder

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and a number of Big Ten presidents and chancellors met Sunday in Washington, D.C., to discuss conference expansion while attending Association of American Universities meetings. A December announcement from the Big Ten that the conference would consider a possible expansion has made waves throughout the world of intercollegiate athletics during the last few months. Despite the ramped-up discussions, University of Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the conference is still very much in the exploratory stage and that itâÄôs too soon to speculate which team âÄî or teams âÄî the conference may add. âÄúI think I can very honestly and safely say that somebodyâÄôs throwing something against the wall and [hoping] it sticks, because I think itâÄôs completely premature to believe that talks of expansion are to that level at this time,âÄù Maturi said. Maturi said he expects an update on the exploration process at the conferenceâÄôs annual meetings between coaches and athletics directors, which will be held May 17-19 in Chicago. Many questions need to be answered before the conference can move forward with expansion, and not every Big Ten athletics director is entirely certain it is the right move. Some of the issues Maturi said need to be addressed include how additional teams would impact revenue distribution, rivalry games and geographical issues. âÄúThatâÄôs why IâÄôm pretty confident to be able to say to those people that say somethingâÄôs going to happen in weeks âÄî youâÄôre wrong,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúIt ainâÄôt going to happen in weeks.âÄù The initial December statement from the Big Ten indicated the exploration process would take between 12 and 18 months. Gophers football head coach Tim Brewster is a proponent of making at least one addition to the 11-member Big Ten so the conference could hold a nationally televised conference championship football game. A 12th member would enable the group to hold a conference championship, as many fellow Bowl Championship Series conferences do currently. âÄúI think that weâÄôre kind of sitting at home watching while others are out there really doing some good things and getting a tremendous amount of exposure for their teams and their conference,âÄù Brewster said during a teleconference last week. While a conference championship game would provide an additional source of revenue for the conference, it remains unknown whether it would increase the share each of the Big TenâÄôs member institutions receive. The conference allocates television and bowl payout revenue evenly among its universities. Not all conferences split all revenue equally among their members, which could make a move to the Big Ten more attractive for some. The Big 12, for example, divides half of its television revenue evenly, but the other 50 percent is distributed based on the number of appearances. Longtime Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno believes the conference would benefit from the exposure of a conference championship game. Paterno said he thinks the conference will expand, but by how many teams remains to be seen. âÄúI think the trend is going to be bigger conferences,âÄù he said during a teleconference, adding that conferences could swell to as many as 16 teams. Paterno mentioned that the Pac 10 is also considering expanding. âÄúI think that weâÄôre naive if we think that we can sit back and watch everybody else move ahead, because theyâÄôre going to move ahead âĦ and we better start thinking about where weâÄôre going,âÄù Paterno said. Universities rumored to be targeted by the Big Ten include Rutgers University, the University of Connecticut, Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh from the Big East, as well as several Big 12 teams such as the University of Texas and the University of Missouri. Along with Texas, the most high-profile school to be mentioned as a possible Big Ten addition is MaturiâÄôs alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish enjoy football independence, meaning they have no conference affiliation, but it is a Big East member in other sports. Maturi said he doesnâÄôt envision a scenario in which Notre Dame could join the Big Ten while maintaining their football independence, which is something its alumni support. âÄúI donâÄôt think Notre Dame alumni would like to see Notre Dame in the Big Ten,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI believe thatâÄôs one of the reasons theyâÄôre not in the Big Ten right now. ItâÄôs because their alumni have treasured their independence and have felt that itâÄôs one of the great uniquenesses of Notre Dame.âÄù Paterno said he would like to see the Big Ten add a team from the east to broaden the conferenceâÄôs television market, but he said any new member must fit the high academic and athletic standards of the Big Ten.