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Friday, May 1, 2009
Paterno alone in crusade for Big Ten expansion

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Joe Paterno wants the Big Ten to add a 12th team and a championship game, but right now the legendary Penn State head coach appears to be standing alone. 

Paterno on Thursday night echoed the same thoughts shared by many Big Ten fans: That the conference is irrelevant after Thanksgiving and falls behind the SEC and the Big 12 on the national radar. 

"Everybody else is playing playoffs on television," Paterno told ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel and several other reporters. "You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that's a handicap. I've tried to talk to the Big Ten people about, 'Let's get a 12th team -- Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt -- we could have a little bit of a playoff.'"

The resumption of the Penn State-Pitt series sounds pretty appetizing, and the Big Ten could expand to the New York/New Jersey market with Syracuse or Rutgers. But Paterno's vision has little traction within the conference. The man who ran one of the nation's premier independent programs for decades once again is on his own, fighting a tradition-rich league that doesn't change very easily. 

His comments somewhat reinforce Penn State's place as an outsider in the Big Ten, though that's a debate for another day. 

"You know, it's a conference that's dominated by a couple of people," Paterno said. "If I start talking, they're polite, but they snicker. They don't know I know they're snickering, but they're polite. ...I wish I were younger and going to be around [more] 20 years."

The Big Ten has no immediate plans to expand. The Notre Dame ship has sailed, and commissioner Jim Delany won't make another run at the Irish. With new commissioners in the Big East and Pac-10 and a fairly new commish in the Big 12 (Dan Beebe), team shuffling between major conferences is highly unlikely right now.  

It will be interesting to see if Paterno makes any headway at the coaches' and athletic directors' meetings later this month in Chicago. There seems to be growing frustration with the unbalanced schedule and the early end to the regular season. A ninth conference game definitely will be on the agenda for coaches and ADs. 

But I can't see expansion happening any time soon.