July 31, 2007

Big Ten plans growth but not more teams

CHICAGO The prospect of a bigger Big Ten has become a hot topic, but Commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday that the conference has no immediate plans to expand.

Speaking at the annual conference media days at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Delany said comments he made to the Des Moines Register last week were misinterpreted. Delany was quoted as saying the 11-school conference would look to add a 12th member in the next year.

The conference hasn't expanded since adding Penn State, which played its first Big Ten schedule in 1993. In 1999, the conference approached Notre Dame about joining but was turned down.

"The way it was out there (in the Register report) and reiterated you might think the Big Ten was announcing it was going to expand," Delany said. "What I said was that every three to five years we have looked at expansion and we'll continue to look at it.

"That shouldn't surprise anybody. We're not looking for a championship game. Our goal is to see how we can get better. We haven't gotten beyond the back burner to the front burner with expansion."

A 12th team would allow the Big Ten to break into divisions and stage a lucrative football conference championship game just as the Southeastern, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences have done.

The Big Ten currently has members in eight states. Expansion into a ninth state could enhance the appeal of the fledgling Big Ten television network, scheduled to debut on Aug. 30.

"I don't expect (the Big Ten network) by itself to move the issue from the back burner to the front burner," Delany said.

Delany's comments last week became fodder for reports, chat rooms and talk shows. Syracuse and Rutgers of the Big East and Missouri of the Big 12 were mentioned as possible expansion targets.

"I called (Big East Commissioner) Mike Tranghese and told him two of your schools have been mentioned in articles, but not by me," Delany said. "We don't plan to expand. There were no misquotes there, but as the stories were reiterated in other media, whether they be blogs or talk radio, one would believe we were on the cusp of expansion and that's probably not an accurate characterization."

Delany said if the Big Ten expands, it would seek a university with ideals and standards similar to current members. He said the conference would seek a school that offered academic quality, broad-based programs and marketing advantages. The ability to strengthen the Big Ten's television opportunities and bowl game presentations would also be key, he said.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he would be open to a 12th member and aligning the conference into two divisions.

"Once in a while I've thought it would be great to have two divisions and do what the others do with a playoff game," Paterno said. "But I don't know what the problems are."

Playoff game detractors including many coaches argue that a conference championship game, while a proven revenue producer, adds another obstacle in the way of playing in a BCS bowl game or the national championship game.

"I suppose (expansion) would be good for revenue and it would be good for the media, etc., but I've sat in Big Ten meetings in which we had serious and intense elongated discussions in regards to Notre Dame," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "I don't know if we were all trying to convince ourselves if it was a good deal or it wasn't. The consensus was the Big Ten is healthy with 11 teams. Unless a team can come into the conference and really add something, I'm opposed to adding a university. I think we're better off without expansion."

Illinois coach Ron Zook, who coached in the two-division Southeastern Conference at Florida, warned that a championship game can have a negative impact.

"That does make it tougher," he said. "That's one more big game you have to play and the opportunity that maybe you'll get knocked out of a BCS game. There are a lot of things the people that make those decisions have to look at."

Delany said such issues would be considered carefully.

"Obviously, there are financial and marking opportunities for a championship games," he said. "It's clear some are more successful than others, and all are successful to some extent.

"The negative is they tend to minimize the value of season-ending traditional games (like Ohio State-Michigan). They also tend to create a loser, which affects the bowl lineup a little bit and the losing team is not as attractive. It's not easy to win a championship in any conference, and a championship game is an additional obstacle.

"Weighing all those things hasn't directed us at all towards expansion. It may direct us away from expansion."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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