- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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After the Big Ten approved Maryland and Rutgers as future members in November 2012, league commissioner Jim Delany described the additions as "an Eastern initiative with a Penn State bridge."
The Big Ten is about to cross that bridge, put down roots in another region and brand itself as a truly national league. And despite lingering concerns and criticism from some corners of the conference about the new look, there's no turning back now.
"We’re probably as close to a national conference as there is in terms of demographics and alumni and national reach," Delany told ESPN.com. "It was a great Midwestern conference, and now it's a conference that's much broader."
There was a "theme of national" this week as Big Ten athletic directors and football coaches met at the league's new headquarters in Rosemont, Ill. The meetings focused in part on the integration of Maryland and Rutgers, who had ADs and coaches in attendance even though neither program can vote on league matters until officially joining the Big Ten on July 1.
The Big Ten likely will open a second office in New York next month, as well as a satellite office in Washington D.C., Delany said. The New York office will have some full-time staff. Delany will spend much of the 100 days leading up to July 1 on the East Coast to facilitate and promote the transition.
"There's going to be great synergies here," he said. "They both are great universities with missions that mirror ours. They're in powerful geographic footprints. ... When I think about Penn State as a bridge and think about New Jersey and New York and Maryland and DC and the commonality, as you talk to athletic directors and coaches, there's an awful lot of, 'We're in the same club.'"
Delany's national theme resonated as Big Ten ADs and coaches reviewed a new bowl lineup that includes games in Florida, California, Tennessee, Texas, New York and Michigan. They also discussed the upcoming College Football Playoff and the selection committee with Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the playoff.
The Big Ten is trying to reach a larger audience, Delany said, and after some missteps with the integration of Penn State in the early 1990s, the league wants to ensure its next bridge to the East Coast has a stronger foundation.
"We're so much more sensitive to working at this," Delany said. "We want to get people to adopt the Big Ten. That means come to New York, play games in DC, play games at [Madison Square] Garden -- play, live and build on a broader scale. It's where you recruit students, where you play bowl games, where your television games go.
"We have 30 percent of the population, 15 percent of the territory, but we're not constrained to that. We have a national look."
4hMax Olson and Brian Bennett