Expansion Now “Front Burner” Issue for Big Ten Conference


How can I justify putting this post on our blog? Hmm, well it’s sort of education-related … and it’s definitely profit-related.

The Big Ten athletic conference is looking seriously at expanding to 12 teams. The last team to join was Penn State in 1990. Schools reported as top candidates to fill the current void include Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Brian Kelly’s boys in South Bend remain doubtful. The Chicago Tribune explains the rationale behind expansion:

Jim Delany never will be a contestant on "Top Chef," but the Big Ten commissioner frequently has used a cooking analogy when asked about the prospects of Big Ten expansion.

"A back-burner issue," he has called it.

Not anymore. According to a league official, the Big Ten will release a statement Tuesday saying the matter has moved to the front burner.

The first sign of change came from former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who told Wisconsin’s athletic board on Friday that Delany "is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it. I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators."

A league source on Monday cited a "growing groundswell" of support among athletic directors for expansion.

In 1990, the Big Ten became the Bigger 11 by adding Penn State. (The Nittany Lions had to wait until 1993 to vie for their first Rose Bowl.) In 1999, Notre Dame stiff-armed the league’s overtures, and that put the issue on ice.

Why is it being revisited now?

The biggest reason, as always, is the stuff that doesn’t grow on trees: money. If the league expands to 12 teams and two divisions — like the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — it would create a Big Ten title game that could be worth $5 million or more to the league. The Big Ten Network would love to televise it, and the conference has a 51 percent ownership stake in the network.

Personally, I must admit that I love the Big Ten Conference. So much so that even though I’m an Indiana man, I even root for Purdue against "outsiders." And I think the conference embodies the characteristics of many Midwesterners like myself — the competitiveness, the penchant for good sportsmanship, and the plight of being terrible at football.

So I have mixed feelings about this move (should it happen). The money would be nice, but I think mega conferences like the Big East can get so convoluted they lose their identity, so expansion should be treaded lightly. Your thoughts?