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Monday, May 16, 2011
Big Ten spring meetings primer

By Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten spring meetings are here, as league officials, administrators and coaches gather Monday through Wednesday at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

The site of this year’s meetings has a historical connection, as the Big Ten was founded at the Palmer House in 1896. I think Joe Paterno was entering his 12th season as Penn State’s coach. I kid, I kid.

I will be on hand throughout the meetings. Although this year’s spring session shouldn't resemble the chaos of 2010, when realignment was the rage and Nebraska's arrival was just around the corner, there could be some important news coming out of Chi-Town.

Here's a look at some things to know heading into the spring meetings:

Nine-game discussion

Big Ten athletic directors and coaches will continue discussing whether to add a ninth conference game to the schedule, and a resolution is possible this week. Commissioner Jim Delany first broached the possibility of a ninth game at media days last summer and indicated that it could happen several years down the line.

The momentum seems to have slowed a bit, but the conference schedule structure will be a main item on the agenda this week. Big Ten officials will present financial models of nine games versus eight games to the ADs. The Big Ten schedules are set through 2014, so the 2015 season is the earliest a nine-game schedule can go into effect.

"I think we'll finally get a resolution to it after all this time of talking about it," Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner, who oversees the schedule, told ESPN.com.

If the schedule issue does go to a vote, Rudner expects a large degree of agreement one way or the other.

"I don't think we’ll get a 6-6 vote," he said. "I don't think we’ll get a 7-5 vote. You'd like to have a strong majority favor one format over another. There’s a great deal of interest in looking at it and getting it resolved once and for all. They need to move on with their nonconference scheduling."

Division tiebreakers

In announcing the new divisions, the Big Ten outlined its basic tiebreakers for determining division champions: head-to-head record, conference record, record within the division and BCS ranking. But the league still must finalize some of its more complex tiebreakers, and the discussion will continue this week.

Why is this a huge issue? Just look to the 2010 season, when three teams finished atop the Big Ten at 11-1. Because Ohio State and Michigan State didn't play, the ultimate tiebreaker was highest rating in the final BCS standings. Wisconsin held the distinction despite its loss to Michigan State. The Spartans ended up being left out of the BCS bowl mix. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he was the only Big Ten coach to vote against using the BCS standings as a tiebreaker.

The head-to-head tiebreaker will prevent any two-team ties within a division. But what if there's a three-way tie and each team boasts a 1-1 record against the others? Could the BCS standings once again break the tie? I'd imagine there will be some resistance to this, and the discussion this week should be interesting.

"There's a lot they [the coaches] can use,” Rudner said.

Future championship game sites

The inaugural Big Ten football championship takes place Dec. 3 at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. The league still is in the process of determining championship sites for 2012 and beyond.

Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia said the league began its evaluation of potential future sites this winter and wants to make a decision by early summer. The league is evaluating football sites as well as sites for the men's and women's basketball tournaments, which enter the final year of a deal with Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse.

Although Traviolia declined to reveal many details of the evaluation process, he said, "There's a general excitement over a new premier event. The buzz is great."

Expect the Big Ten to announce a multiyear plan for sites this summer, but the league is flexible with length of term and could use a rotation for all three championship events.

"We're open to any possibility," Traviolia said. "If there was a foolproof method of hosting a successful conference championship game and it would work well no matter what area of the country you're in or what the economic environment you're in, we'd sign up. But there are different schools of thought, whether you park it one place, whether you rotate it around.

"You take a look a the pros and cons of what's in front of you and you make a choice."

Because of scheduling and the advance planning needed to produce the football championship game, the Big Ten can't wait until after the 2011 event at Lucas Oil to determine sites for 2012 and beyond, Traviolia said.

Big Ten presidents and chancellors have the ultimate say on future championship sites, but the topic will come up this week with coaches and administrators. Athletic directors ultimately will recommend sites to their presidents or chancellors.

"The coaches and the administrators have very important opinions that need to be included in the process," Traviolia said.

Coaches' meeting

The football coaches will gather Tuesday morning for their first meeting, which will be held in executive session without any league officials. Dantonio is the chair of the coaches' group and will lead the meeting.

Four new coaches will be in attendance: Michigan's Brady Hoke, Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Nebraska's Bo Pelini.

"They need some time together alone to sit across the table and communicate," Rudner said. "Our approach has always been, 'No surprises.' Don't leave anything off the table. Get it out in the open. Let's make sure we're communicating efficiently. And it makes a difference, it really does."

Rudner expects the coaches to discuss recruiting issues, including the possibility of an early signing date (which many Big Ten coaches want). Other topics include agents, freshman eligibility issues, the rise of 7-on-7 teams and gambling awareness initiatives. Delany will present the coaches and ADs with a report on the BCS and the Big Ten's bowls, and coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo will update the coaches on rules changes and the officiating training program.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the spring meetings throughout the week.