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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
What's next for the Big Ten in expansion

By Adam Rittenberg

That sigh of relief you hear echoes from Columbia to Waco and from Ames to Lawrence.

The Big 12 has been saved, and college sports Armageddon has been averted. At least for now.

Meanwhile, it's quiet in Park Ridge, Ill, site of Big Ten headquarters. The Big Ten made its move Friday -- much earlier than it wanted to, mind you -- and added Nebraska as its 12th member. In doing so, the league became unquestionably stronger with a fourth traditional powerhouse program now occupying its western edge.

The only question that remains: how long will Jim Delany sit still?

The Big Ten could be finished with expansion and satisfied with a 12-team league. The need to become a 16-team superconference certainly seems less urgent than it did 30 hours ago. The Big Ten remains rich, and it should get better on the field with Nebraska. If this round of expansion roulette is over, the Big Ten secured the best available prize.

Then again, the Big Ten certainly might act again in expansion. Keep in mind that we're only one-third of the way through the 12- to 18-month period Delany and the Big Ten brass laid out in December to study expansion. The Big Ten likely wouldn't have added any teams until the fall or winter if the Pac-10 didn't make an aggressive push for Big 12 teams. Now that Delany and co. are back on their own timetable, they could decide to make another move on their own terms.

"We’re back to the slower tempo sort of game," Delany said Friday.

But the game is far from over.

The Big Ten still has a television network to grow and a population shift to address. Those were the two driving forces for the expansion study, Delany told us in May.

Nebraska doesn't help a lot in either of those areas.

The Big Ten will continue to explore its options, and most likely look to the East. I've heard Rutgers, Maryland and even Boston College mentioned by Big Ten sources in recent days. And the Big Ten's Holy Grail, Notre Dame, is still out there, clinging to its independence. Unless Notre Dame's BCS bowl access changes, I don't see the Irish joining a league.

Could the Big Ten still raid the Big East? Possible, but unlikely. The Big Ten's next move likely will be driven by the Big Ten Network, meaning a coveted media market must be added.

Delany has talked extensively about limiting damage on the back end of expansion, and there seems to be a genuine feeling among college sports' power brokers not to be labeled the one who ruined everything.

Maybe Delany leaves the Big East alone. Maybe he doesn't. But to assume one of the most powerful and ambitious figures in college athletics is finished would be foolish. Delany devotes more than half of his time to the expansion issue, and he absolutely could have a major move left in him.

For now, the Big Ten waits, and so will we.