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Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

Boiling down the Big Ten expansion talk

By Dave Birkett

The Big Ten appears to be months not days away from adding one or more schools, but commissioner Jim Delany and the league’s coaches and athletic directors shed some light on the process Tuesday. Here’s a synopsis of where things stand:

When will the Big Ten decide on expansion? The conference said in December it would take 12 to 18 months to explore expansion, and Delany said that timeframe hasn't changed. No decisions have been made on what teams to add or how big to grow.

"(Our timeline) continues to be roughly 12 to 18 months," Delany said. "Could it be 19? I hope not. Could it be 11? It may. But I think 12 to 18 months made sense then, I think it makes sense today."

Why does the Big Ten want to expand? Delany said two factors are driving expansion: America's population shift south and the money-making Big Ten Network. The Big Ten owns 51 percent of the network, so growing its revenue is an easy way for schools to make money. As for the change in demographics ...

"You’re only here for a period of time, but you do want to look forward, to 2020, to 2030, and see what that impact would be on our schools, not only from a competitive intercollegiate aspect but also from the standpoint of recruitment of students (and) the tax base necessary to support colleges and universities," Delany said.

So does the Big Ten need to move into the Sun Belt for expansion to make sense? Not necessarily, but the league needs to add schools in major markets that also are good academic and athletic fits. Adding Rutgers, for instance, would expand the Big Ten's footprint to the New York and Philadelphia areas, large cities with little sign of population erosion.

What other schools are the Big Ten eyeing for expansion? There's no public list and Delany declined to address specific institutions Tuesday, but some combination of the most heavily speculated upon names remains the best bet: Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn and Pitt from the Big East, Nebraska and Missouri from the Big 12, and of course Notre Dame.

What are the chances Notre Dame joins the Big Ten? Probably not good. Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said the school values its independence and Delany said that appears to be Notre Dame's "destiny." Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, however, said Notre Dame should consider its options.

“If they end up being one of the schools I hope that they would consider what a conference championship means to a young person," said Smith, who played football and coached at Notre Dame. "I was blessed to be there when we were winning national championships - won two, one as a coach, one as a player. The landscape has changed.

"For me, I've just got to believe that a Notre Dame football player winning a conference championship and having that conference ring is a memorable experience."

What else did Delany say Tuesday? He left open the possibility that the Big Ten won't expand, though that doesn't appear likely. He said any school that wants in has to apply for admission to the league and be approved by at least eight of the current Big Ten schools. ("But I would presume that nobody would apply without knowing that they will be welcome to apply," he said.) And he said that membership in the prestigous Association of American Universities, of which all Big Ten members are a part, is "very important."

"Do not underestimate" the academic part, Smith said. "You’re hitting on the most important part of this deal that people are actually missing. Our presidents are in it not because of football, let’s be clear. And I agree with them. There’s some interdisciplinary things that can be done locally and in the larger conglomerate that a lot of people aren’t focused on. So you’re hitting on something huge."

Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.


Marvin Face

Fri, May 21, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

Sunset: My appologies for insulting you by assuming you were involved in higher-ed at Michigan. I can assure you that I fully understand how the system works: Money rules all at elite universities. The Big Ten's Manifest Destiny just keeps feeding the machine.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, May 21, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

Marvin, just because you don't understand how the system works doesn't mean you can use childish insults as a substitute for knowledge. Follow the money. That's what all of this is about. If you can't follow the money, maybe it's time to keep quiet and listen for a change.

Marvin Face

Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8:17 p.m.

Sunset, you must be in higher ed at Michigan because only someone who has drunk the kool-aid would talk about research funding, doctorates, prestige, and the elitism that follows and how "important" it is. I know why the AAU THINKS it's important...doesn't mean I believe it.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

Marvin, these decisions are made by college presidents, not athletic directors. If you examine research spending by universities, you'll see how important this designation has become. More than half of all doctorates awarded in America come from AAU institutions. Originally, conferences were created to organize inter-collegiate sporting events. These started with the top academic institutions (Harvard, Yale and Princeton began what would later be called the Ivy League back in 1872). And the Big Ten was the first conference outside the northeast - Chicago and Michigan were the traditional powers at that time. Why is academics still important? Tradition. There is significant prestige in having both strong academics and athletics (the Ivy League finally gave up several decades ago, as strong athletics does mean compromising academics by recruiting kids who can't compee in the classroom). Ask Missouri's professors how they feel about joining the Big Ten.

Marvin Face

Tue, May 18, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

The AAU is only important to the 63 member schools. It's a BS club that perpetuates the "academy" mentality of higher ed. What does that have to do with intercollegiate athletics?

Macabre Sunset

Tue, May 18, 2010 : 5:45 p.m.

In some ways, Chicago is still in the Big Ten, though its athletic programs (if it still has any) do not compete. AAU membership is very important. That's why the list is so short. And just one reason why I'd be amazed if UConn is even under remote consideration. Only Notre Dame can get away with not being in the AAU, and even then it would be expected to gain an invitation as part of this process. What I got out of this talk today is that Missouri is now the front-runner, and there will probably only be one invitation this year.

Marvin Face

Tue, May 18, 2010 : 4:30 p.m.

If membership in the AAU is so important, it looks like the Big 10 will be adding University of Buffalo, Stony Brook, Brandeis, and the real "monsters of the midway", University of Chicago. It's gonna be a great league!


Tue, May 18, 2010 : 4:19 p.m.