CHICAGO — The head of the Big Ten Conference said Monday that gaining a foothold in the South and extending the reach of the league's lucrative television market are the two biggest factors as it decides whether to expand.
Commissioner Jim Delany also said the Big Ten is not "looking to achieve a championship game" in football even though it could mean millions more for a conference that already shares a reported $22 million each year with its member schools. A title game like those held in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference would also shorten the lengthy bowl-game layoff for some teams, which has been a point of contention for at least a few of the conference's coaches.
"That's not the motivation," Delany said at league meetings in Chicago. "If it was, we could have done that many times over the past 20 years."
Delany said the Big Ten is basically sticking with the timeframe he laid out in December, when he said the league would explore its options over the next 12 to 18 months. Any decision on whether to expand is "months away." The conference grabbed the attention of everyone in college sports when it announced that it was considering whether to add to its current 11 members, a move that could lead to a domino effect in other leagues. But Delany insisted this is "not as much about conferences as it is about institutions finding the right fit for themselves."
Delany said the league won't expand "unless it was fiscally sound, unless there's a great academic fit and unless there's a competitive fit."
He would not identify any front-runners or say how many teams the conference would add if it expanded. He did say there would be no vote when school presidents meet June 6, though the issue will be discussed. "We're exploring, trying to do it the right way," Delany said. "We'll either decide to act or not decide to act. The only thing I can tell you is we're months away from that decision." Delany said the league would be looking at expansion even without the Big Ten network, although it is a major element in the decision. Demographics, however, will play a bigger role. Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Rutgers have been reported as possible targets, along with Texas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Maryland. The only Southern school in that group is Texas, although the others would bring strong traditions, rabid alumni, exposure to large TV markets or combinations of all three. "Our schools have benefited by healthy economies, by strong job markets, by growth," Delany said. "In the last 20 or 30 years, there's been a clear shift in movement to the Sun Belt."
"The rates of growth in the Sun Belt are four times the rates in the East or the Midwest."
Membership in the Association of American Universities would be a "very important" factor in considering potential members. All Big Ten schools are part of the AAU, a group of major academic and research institutions.
As for a football championship game, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said he had "mixed emotions" about it.
"I'm not feeling like it's broken in the Big Ten so if expansion does then lead to a football championship, I'm sure it's something we will take a look at," he said. "But it's not driving this process."