Big Ten coaches recognize network's value

CHICAGO -- Perhaps the strongest endorsement for the Big Ten Network doesn't come from the coaches who benefit from it the most.

When Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald talks with his colleagues from outside the Big Ten, they often express the same sentiment about the network.

"There's a lot of jealousy," Fitzgerald said. "We've got our own network, and [each school] has got one-eleventh of it. Instead of having to worry about NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball, it's just a [network] that covers just our universities.

"So it's a huge asset to us. Huge."

It's an asset that makes the Big Ten appealing to outsiders, who might have a chance to join the league in the coming months.

Not surprisingly, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on Tuesday listed the Big Ten Network as one of the two major driving forces behind the league's expansion study. Although he pointed out that the Big Ten had explored expansion before launching its own network in August 2007, the network's success has created new opportunities for growth.

Expansion candidates such as Rutgers are mentioned primarily because of a location either in or near a major media market that could boost the Big Ten Network.

"The Big Ten Network is a relevant factor ... in looking at expansion," Delany said. "It's something you have to manage because we're a part owner of it. It's a successful entity after three years."

Fitzgerald has heard other conferences talk about how they're excited to have four or five games a week on national TV. Big Ten teams never have to worry about getting on the air every Saturday, which Fitzgerald said helps in national recruiting.

"I don't know if [non-Big Ten coaches are] jealous of it, but they realize it has benefited and been an important tool for all sports," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "My daughter lives in L.A. and she watches it all the time. My mother's in Florida and she watches it all the time. The exposure that you have has really helped us all."