Time is right to explore Big Ten expansion

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
5:19
PM ET
For the first time in a decade, the Big Ten will actively explore the possibility of expansion.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Big Ten's Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) said the "timing is right" for the league to explore its options for adding a 12th team. Following a meeting last week at the Big Ten offices, the COP/C asked league commissioner Jim Delany to begin the evaluation process, expected to take 12-18 months.

What does this all mean? The Big Ten might expand, or it might not. But the league will explore all of its options.

There's certainly more support for expansion around the league, from powerful voices like Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. The league certainly could benefit from a 12th team in football, which would allow for two divisions and a league championship game played the same day as those from the SEC, Big 12 and ACC.

But the real reason why this is happening now is the league can truly focus on expansion. The Big Ten Network, which dominated the league's time and energy the last few years, is in place and operating successfully. As a league source told me, "Sometimes you're forced in to fighting two wars at the same time, but if you can afford to, you space it [out]."

There are three phases to the expansion process:

1. Evaluating all the possibilities for expansion
2. Identifying the options preferred internally
3. Making contact to the schools to gauge mutual interest

The Big Ten said it will contact commissioners of affected conferences before making any overtures to an institution.

OK, now let's get to the good part.

Who are the candidates?

Contrary to popular belief, a candidate doesn't need to be a member of the Association of American Universities or be located within the Big Ten footprint or in a bordering state. Though the schools must fit what the Big Ten looks for, "there’s no prescription that you have to have 30,000 undergrads or you have to be a major research institution," a source tells me.

This opens up the pool, and Alvarez said last week that the league will explore schools "from all over the country." Still, I can't see the Big Ten looking too far outside the Midwest or the New York market.

Many of you have brought up Notre Dame. While the school makes a ton of sense for the Big Ten, it's just not happening, folks. Notre Dame isn't about to give up its TV contract, and the Big Ten isn't going to make a third attempt at adding the Fighting Irish.

Here's my realistic list of Big Ten expansion possibilities:

Missouri
Syracuse
Pittsburgh
Nebraska
Rutgers

And here's the full statement from the league's Council of Presidents/Chancellors:

Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in June of 1990 and its addition has been an unqualified success. In 1993, 1998 and 2003 the COP/C, in coordination with the commissioner’s office, reviewed the issue of conference structure and expansion. The COP/C believes that the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion. As a result, the commissioner was asked to provide recommendations for consideration by the COP/C over the next 12 to 18 months.

The COP/C understands that speculation about the conference is ongoing. The COP/C has asked the conference office to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions. If and when such discussions become necessary the COP/C has instructed Commissioner James E. Delany to inform the Chair of the COP/C, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, and then to notify the commissioner of the affected conference(s). Only after these notices have occurred will the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions. This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions. No action by the COP/C is expected in the near term. No interim statements will be made by the Big Ten or the COP/C until after the COP/C receives the commissioner’s recommendations and the COP/C determines next steps, if any, in this area.

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