CHICAGO – The recent creation of the Big Ten Network has stirred more than enough rancor when it comes to whether or not fans will be able to see their teams’ games in 2007. Now, its existence has brought up another hot-button issue: whether or not the conference will expand to a 12th team.
However, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday at the Big Ten media days in Chicago that while it would be nice to expand the conference network’s reach by adding another team, the league does not have current plans to expand and is not actively looking to do so
“I wouldn’t expect that piece by itself to move this issue from the back to the front burner,” Delany said.
In a recent interview in the Des Moines Register, Delany stated the reasons why the network could promote expansion, prompting scuttlebutt that expansion was a hot topic in the conference office. Delany said the spirit of the interview was correct but it might have falsely given off the impression that the conference was actively in the market for expansion when that is not true.
“Their question was, ‘Does your view of expansion change, is the analysis for expansion different with the Big Ten Network?’ and I said, ‘That’s a very good question, and it is a little different,’” Delany said. “When you have the Big Ten Network, you have more hours to produce games, you have more room for content and you also have a possible broader base from which to distribute that network.”
The network has faced an uphill and sometimes contentious battle to get it placed on cable systems throughout not just conference states but the entire nation. The league has asked for $1.10 per subscriber in its eight-state footprint and 10 cents outside of it. Adding a team such as West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh or Rutgers would increase that footprint and add teams in states currently without a Big Ten team.
However, a 12th team might bring with it two six-team divisions, much like the Southeastern or Atlantic Coast Conferences, and thus a conference championship game, something the conference could do without.
“This shouldn’t surprise anybody: We’re not looking for a championship game,” Delany said. “If we were looking for a championship game, we would have had one 15 years ago.”
Illinois head coach Ron Zook, who was at Florida of the SEC before coming to Big Ten, said adding a 12th game would add difficulty to the Big Ten schedule.
“If you do have 12 games, if you do have a championship game, it just makes it a little bit tougher,” Zook said. “It’s one more big game that you have to play. I think you have the opportunity if you’re in that game of maybe getting knocked out of a BCS game or things of that nature.”
The last time the conference expanded was when Penn State was accepted to the league in 1990. Notre Dame also was extended an application in the late 1990s but turned down the league.
Should the league do choose to expand down the line, Delany laid out what it was looking for in a school when Penn State was added and said the qualifications would be similar in the future.
“We looked at institutional fit, No. 1 – the academic quality, the similarity to our own institutions,” Delany said. “We looked at the school’s reputation for broad-based programs. Are they committed to the broad-based, equitable opportunities that exist on our campuses? We looked at the issue of integrity, commitment to integrity. We looked, to be honest with you, at marketing opportunities. Would it make our television programming stronger? Would it make our bowl presentation stronger?”
Purdue head coach Joe Tiller was one conference coach adamantly against expansion. He said he remembered the serious discussion had when Notre Dame applied and remains convinced from then that 11 teams is the way to go for the league.
“I kind of like the way it is,” Tiller said. “I’m a traditionalist. I enjoy the way it is. I think we have a very competitive conference and it’s fun to participate in. It’s very challenging and quite frankly I think we’re very healthy as we are.”