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Big Ten hires firm to explore expansion

Thank goodness for Barry Alvarez.

While most in-the-know folks around the Big Ten remain extremely tight-lipped regarding the league's expansion study, Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletics director, is keeping us clued in, to a certain degree. Alvarez on Friday told Wisconsin's athletic board that the Big Ten hired a search firm to explore expansion possibilities.

An initial report included 15 programs, none of which was Texas, reportedly engaged in preliminary exchanges with the league.

"They basically broke down what they would bring to the table," Alvarez said. "They talked about academics. They talked about size. They talked about size of their arenas. They talked about attendance. They talked about the populace in that specific area."

Alvarez told the board that the Big Ten will explore multiple additions if it makes sense. He also reiterated what he told me at the Rose Bowl -- that Notre Dame isn't interested in joining a league.

"My read is that Notre Dame wants to be a national school, and they want to play a national [football] schedule," said Alvarez, an assistant with the Irish before taking over the Wisconsin football program in 1990. "And unless you've been there and seen the magnitude of their fan base and the interest nationally, it is hard to understand.

"I understand."

Alvarez didn't reveal the institutions identified in the initial report, though we can probably figure them out. It's certainly noteworthy that Texas wasn't included, though it doesn't mean the Big Ten won't have internal discussions about the Longhorns.

We've had a lot of fun discussing expansion on the blog, and we'll definitely keep at it in the coming weeks and months. But from talking to some Big Ten folks in recent weeks, I can tell you the process isn't going to happen overnight. Alvarez told the Wisconsin athletic board that commissioner Jim Delany could make a recommendation for expansion this summer, but I wouldn't expect any major movement until late spring. The Big Ten holds its annual meetings of coaches and athletics directors in Chicago in May, and expansion certainly will be a primary item on the agenda.