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Wrapping up Big Ten spring meetings

5/20/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- There weren't many big-ticket proposals or key decisions at the Big Ten meetings this spring, though the league's coaches and lead administrators discussed several important topics, including the recruiting calendar, the impact of the APR reports, the bowl lineup, the possibility of a ninth conference game and, oh, yes, expansion. 

As Joe Paterno told me in the hotel lobby before he went back to State College today, these meetings are, more than anything else, a starting point for discussion. Different leagues have different agendas, and getting a new rule or policy through the NCAA gauntlet is never easy.

Getting back to JoePa for a minute, it was pretty amusing to watch him sit at the hotel bar by himself while I did my chat today. There aren't too many places in America where Paterno can enjoy a drink without being bothered. A few folks approached the coaching legend outside when he dropped off his bags, but it was clear to me that the spring meetings are one of the few times when these high-profile men can blend in easily.

Before putting the meetings to bed, a few notes from the last two days:

  • It won't happen until at least 2012, but the push for a ninth conference game really seems to have some life right now. Most athletic directors favor the addition, and it's just a matter of working out the logistics, which are far from easy. Of course, adding a 12th team would allow every Big Ten member to play nine league games. Ah, to dream.

  • Speaking of expansion, Paterno's decision to back off his earlier comments about the need to add a 12th team was interesting. He has earned the right to express strong opinions, and he usually doesn't ease up. Expansion wasn't a strong possibility even before Paterno spoke out, but it would have been interesting to see him continue the crusade. 

  • Most Big Ten coaches want to see official visits moved up to June of a prospect's junior year, which makes a lot of sense, given the current recruiting calendar. This idea certainly has legs, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a change sometime in the near future.

  • Negotiations for bowl agreements won't begin until the fall because of the shaky economy, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the Capital One Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl. If there's really no hope for a Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation, I could see the Big Ten look elsewhere for one of its top teams. 

  • Iowa athletic director Gary Barta reiterated that he expects to complete the new contract for head coach Kirk Ferentz before the start of the season. The two parties have agreed in principle, but Barta delayed the final steps so Ferentz could complete recruiting and spring practice.

"I don't have concerns," Barta said. "Kirk is a man of tremendous character. It's one of the reasons he's a perfect fit at Iowa. We were comfortable when we came to an agreement. We'll have it down before the season begins." 

  • There were some discussions about equipment, and whether players should be allowed to wear more protection during the first few practices of the spring and preseason, which are required to be in shorts and shells. Though there isn't much contact during the early workouts, extra padding could reduce the risk of injury. 

  • League commissioner Jim Delany said the league's budget will remain fixed for next year, and though expenses are being reduced in several departments, additions also have been made. For example, league is investing in a new Web-based system to evaluate officiating.

  • Teams throughout the league are exploring ways to reduce expenses, which include not having non-revenue sports teams stay overnight on road trips. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith mentioned that reducing the number of official visits prospects can take from five to three would be a good cost-cutting measure.