CHICAGO -- The last time a major expansion hit collegiate athletics, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez had a front-row seat.
Rodriguez was coaching West Virginia in the summer of 2003 when the ACC swiped three programs from the Big East, shaking the league to its core. After losing powers Miami and Virginia Tech as well as Boston College, the Big East and its members were momentarily stunned.
"It was more of a blindsided shot," Rodriguez said at the Big Ten's spring meetings. "You didn't really see it coming. You heard maybe a rumor or two, but it happened so fast. There was a lot of doom-and-gloom scenarios, and we fought that in recruiting.
"The solution then, and I remember talking to our people, was, 'We've got to do all we can to take care of us.'"
West Virginia and the remaining Big East schools decided to upgrade their revenue-generating programs, namely football, making greater investments in facilities and in other areas. Those league-wide upgrades along with the successes of programs like West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida sustained the Big East through some lean times. Pittsburgh is back in the spotlight, and Connecticut has quickly built itself into a solid FBS program behind coach Randy Edsall.
As the Big Ten continues its expansion study, several Big East schools have been brought up as potential candidates, namely Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse and Connecticut.
"There's a lot of schools of value in the Big East, and some have been mentioned [as expansion candidates]," Rodriguez said. "When the three schools left, there were questions on worthiness from a BCS bid standpoint and all that, and you could understand from a coaching standpoint why the public was saying that. We said we've got to prove ourselves in nonconference games and in bowl games.
"Fortunately, the league had some big wins and helped us quell some of that."
After helping the Big East survive, Rodriguez now finds himself on the other side of a potential expansion push.
"It's certainly good," he said, "to be in a spot where we're dealing from a position of strength in the league."