Population shift driving Big Ten expansion study

CHICAGO -- Commissioner Jim Delany outlined two major forces behind the Big Ten's expansion study in his meeting with reporters Tuesday.

The first is obvious: The Big Ten Network, a project that faced plenty of initial skepticism but has not only survived, but thrived. The potential to grow the network in new markets or potentially strengthen existing markets is a huge part of what the Big Ten has been studying the last five months.

The second force is bigger than the Big Ten and impacts numerous industries in America.

People are heading south in larger numbers, and the population shift has put northern institutions like the Big Ten on notice.

"As far as the shifting population, that is reason, by itself, enough, to look at the concept of expansion," Delany said. "We've been blessed in many ways by the economy and the density of the population in the 20th century. Our schools have benefited by healthy economies, by strong markets, by growth, by integration. ... In the last 20, 30 years, there's been a clear shift in movement into the sun belt. The rates of growth in the sun belt are four times the rates they are in the East or the Midwest.

"You do want to look forward to 2020 and 2030 and see what that impact would be on our schools."

Delany has brought up the demographic shift several times in recent years when talking about recruiting and other topics. He knows that in order for the Big Ten to maintain its national standing, its alumni base and its brand, the league might need to get bigger.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said shifting demographics were one of the first subjects brought up when league officials decided to push forward with an expansion study.

"Without going into any specific school, it's just projecting ahead," Barta said. "Do we need to grow the business in the next 20 years, and, if so, does adding schools make any sense? That's part of the principle of whether or not we look at expansion."

Aside from Texas, most of the rumored expansion candidates are located in the Midwest or toward the East Coast.

It begs the question: Should the Big Ten look to the South to capitalize on the population shift, or is the league best served by getting stronger in its existing footprint?

"It depends," Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said. "You could address the census issue by getting [stronger] where we are."