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Tuesday, May 13, 2014
B1G meetings to focus on big-picture items

By Adam Rittenberg


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- When Big Ten athletic directors and administrators gather each spring, they normally look in the mirror and explore internal issues.

In 2010, expansion buzz consumed the league's meetings in Chicago; weeks later, Nebraska became the conference's 12th member. In 2011, the athletic directors and coaches discussed the new football divisions and heard pitches from both Chicago and Indianapolis to host future football championship games. The 2012 meetings brought more national discussion, particularly about a potential college football playoff. Last year's gathering featured presentations about the Big Ten's new bowl lineup and its format for assigning teams to certain locations.

Athletic directors -- along with senior woman administrators and faculty representatives who form the Big Ten's joint group -- gather Tuesday and Wednesday at the Big Ten's swanky office just east of O'Hare Airport. Although this year's meeting site is more private -- previous meetings had been held at Chicago hotels -- the participants will spend most of their time looking beyond the Big Ten's walls and exploring national issues, particularly the proposed NCAA governance changes that would give more autonomy to five major conferences (Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).

Morgan Burke
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke, left, will brief the league on discussions about the likely big changes coming to the NCAA.
"The biggest discussion will center around the NCAA governance," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com.

Burke and his Missouri counterpart, Mike Alden, have represented the 351 Division I ADs in discussions with the NCAA about the likely seismic changes in how business is done. The movement to improve conditions for college athletes has gained unprecedented momentum in recent months, spurred not only by the unionization push at Northwestern but by several antitrust lawsuits filed against the NCAA, the Big Ten and other major conferences.

Big Ten attorneys will brief the ADs this week.

"There are some things where autonomy makes a lot of sense if you’re being attacked," Burke said. "Right now, you've got to have some freedom to try to address the issues."

One of those issues is increasing the value of scholarships up to federal cost-of-attendance figures. The Big Ten discussed a cost-of-attendance proposal three springs ago at its meetings, but the plan never was approved nationally as schools with smaller budgets, but equal voting power, voted it down.

"That's a very significant issue that needs to be resolved," Burke said.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has proposed a voting model that would make it easier for the major conferences to approve major changes. If three of the five conferences approve a proposal, 60 percent of all schools (39 of 65) would need to vote yes for an item to go through. If four of five conferences approve, only a simple majority would be needed.

Delany believes a stricter voting bar -- two-thirds or three-fourths required for approval -- would be "damaging to all of us."

He likely won't get opposition from Big Ten ADs this week.

"We've been pretty good about that as a conference, trying to make sure we have solidarity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Sometimes we may have some differences on different pieces of legislation, but on this one, we've been pretty aligned all along. So I think we'll come out of there with some recommendations, probably on the voting, probably on the autonomy legislation."

The ADs also will discuss the final steps with integrating new members Maryland and Rutgers, who officially join the league July 1. Last week, the Big Ten announced basketball initiatives in both New York and Washington, D.C. Delany will spend much of the next six weeks on the East Coast promoting the new arrivals.

While leagues like the SEC and ACC recently announced football schedule models -- both are staying at eight conference games -- the Big Ten last year approved a nine-game league schedule beginning in 2016.

"I don't see us backing up on that," Burke said.

The ADs will discuss the upcoming four-team playoff and hear from Delany, who attended an FBS commissioners meeting last week in Texas. Both Delany and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a member of the playoff selection committee, can provide more details to the group.

"We've been more interested in how is it going to work," Smith said. "If you're playing in the first game, who's coordinating a lot of the logistics? Are they scheduling the flights for you? How are the tickets going to work for families? All that type of stuff, nobody's really talking about."

The ADs also will discuss football non-league scheduling, which remains a challenge despite the selection committee stating it will value schedule strength in picking the top four. They also will be briefed on the league's new bowl selection process, which uses a tiered system rather than a traditional order and gives the league more power to determine who goes where.

Although past spring meetings have produced some newsy items, this week's get-together could be quiet.

"I don't see any real major issues," Smith said. "This might be a pretty boring meeting."