Big Ten in no rush to expand, commissioner Jim Delany says
“My personal feeling - and again, this is from me - is probably more rather than less” teams, Rodriguez said Tuesday at the Big Ten’s spring meetings. “But that’s just me talking. I’m not going to make any (predictions).”
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spent 38 minutes talking with more than two dozen reporters Tuesday about conference expansion.
He said there are no immediate plans for the Big Ten to grow, but the league remains in an investigative phase and will follow its original 12- to 18-month timeline for a decision.
That means no votes will take place at the league’s president meetings next month, though Delany acknowledged the topic will remain a primary point of discussion.
“I can assure you there will be no decision at that meeting,” Delany said.
Rodriguez said Delany was scheduled to address the league’s coaches later Tuesday - Big Ten athletic directors and football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches attend the three-day event - but he did not expect anything definitive to come out of that talk.
“The reality is it’s a process that’s not going to be settled for some time,” Rodriguez said. “But I think we’re dealing from a position of strength from the league and whatever’s going to be decided I think is going to make our league even stronger. From a coach’s standpoint, that’s pretty exciting.”
Delany said two factors are driving the Big Ten’s exploration of expansion: The powerful Big Ten Network, which helps the league distribute an estimated $22 million to its member schools, most among NCAA conferences; and America’s population shift out of the Midwest.
“We’ve been blessed in many ways by the economy and the density of population in the 20th Century,” Delany said. “I think that our schools have benefited by healthy economies, by strong job markets, by growth, by immigration.
“In the last 20 or 30 years there’s been a fair shift of movement into the Sun Belt. The rates of growth in the Sun Belt are four times they are in the East or the Midwest, so that has demographic meaning long term.”
None of the schools rumored to be primary expansion candidates - Rutgers, Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Syracuse - would expand the Big Ten’s footprint into the Sun Belt, and Delany would not answer questions about specific schools.
But Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said there are ways to address the population shift besides moving south.
"It’s a matter of how you think about it," he said. "You can get at it another way."
Smith wouldn’t name schools, either, but adding Big East teams like Rutgers and Syracuse would push the Big Ten into new, bigger television markets, which in turn would generate more money and, theoretically, more interest.
Rodriguez said football coaches, in their meeting Tuesday morning, talked about various expansion rumors and what a 12-, 14- or 16-team Big Ten might look like.
“We didn’t really talk about a wish list or anything like that, but we talked about different scenarios,” Rodriguez said. “Again, this is just coaches talking, is it going to be four divisions of four? Is it going to be two eights? Is it going to be 12 teams? And how that all plays out.”
Delany declined to address those scenarios, but said the league will only expand if it finds the right competitive, educational and fiscal fit.
“We won’t expand for the sake of expansion,” he said. “We never have and we wouldn’t.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.