Big 12 can rest easy through 2010 (kind of)

Anyone hoping for the next step in Big Ten expansion went home disappointed, when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told reporters (again) Tuesday that his 12-to-18-month timeline for expansion remains in place, meaning Big 12 teams will have to wait until at least December (a year after he originally instituted the timeline) to make any real plans to join the conference.

Kind of.

"Could it be 19? I hope not. Could it be 11? It may. Could it be 13? I think 12 to 18 months made sense then and makes sense today," Delany said.

Delany reiterated the Big Ten's "wink-wink" approach to the "application process," but said he would notify the conferences he hoped to raid before any formal negotiation commenced, so expect the news to break in that order.

"Schools would have to apply, and then they would have to receive eight votes [for admission]," he said. "But I would presume that nobody would apply without knowing they were welcome to apply. We’re not interested in embarrassing ourselves, or embarrassing anyone else."

That's been part of the hold up for the decision, but the process will no doubt feature slow baby steps. Don't expect what's already occurred on at least a pair of occasions since the end of last season, that is, leaked reports of Big 12 teams receiving invitations to join the conference. But the dominant message from Delany's 37-minute Q&A with reporters on Tuesday was the Big Ten is still in the information-gathering stage, and is still at least six months from the formal-application stage of expansion.

I wouldn't be shocked if things lurched into motion before then, but once the season starts, don't expect to hear much beyond murmurs of expansion. Based on his comments yesterday, there's little reason to believe otherwise. The lull between conference championship games and bowl games could be the next logical time to expect real news on the subject, but the most likely scenario now sounds like after next season is completed.

Delany made sure there was no doubt about how throroughly the conference is studying expansion, and left open the window for the Big Ten to check, rather than raise the stakes other conferences might later be inclined to call.

"We may not expand, we may," Delany said. "If we do, it will be the result of a very thorough set of studies that touch on competitive aspects, the educational fit and it would have to be fiscally sound."

The conference's study has examined the population move to the southern United States*, as well as the effects expansion would have on the Big Ten Network, the conference's cash cow. Delany's attitude deemed adding a 12th team--or more--for only an opportunity to hold a conference championship game foolish.

But clearly, this isn't a cram session and the real headlines are still being written.

*Quick note on the "Sun Belt" talk from Delany: I'm only going to say this once, but I would be dumbfounded if the Big Ten somehow lured Texas and whatever other hangers on into its league. Though Texas is in the South and is a member of the AAU, which Delany spoke about again on Tuesday, and boasts a gawdy budget to finance its teams' skyrocketing travel costs that would come with the move, that's the one scenario that would honestly shock me in all this realignment discussion.

(And if you're wondering, yes, Texas A&M is a member of the AAU. So are Nebraska and Missouri. And since we're talking about it, so are Iowa State, Kansas and Colorado. That's seven of the conference's 12 teams.)