Big Ten presidents talk expansion

PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- The Big Ten's presidents and chancellors met for about four and a half hours Sunday at league headquarters, and not surprisingly, they spent a "considerable" amount of time on expansion.

The big takeaway from this meeting: the Big Ten is paying attention to what's happening elsewhere and could (likely will) accelerate its timetable for expansion, originally set on Dec. 15 for 12-18 months. The league seems less committed to that time frame but reiterates that it remains diligent and thorough with the process and committed to the criteria it laid out nearly six months ago.

“Our announcement in December has caused institutions to consider their future and conferences to consider their future,” said Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon, the chair of the Big Ten’s council of presidents/chancellors. “That has had an impact on our deliberations. … We had targeted a timeline that was as long as 18 months. It’s possible that the timeline may be altered, but not the process.

“The actions of others are obviously important to us and they impact us, but the process is as we’ve outlined it.”

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany added: "There's also been a lot of activity in the last two weeks, as reported in a lot of media outlets. We don't know how that will all play out, but it could affect how we do things."

Is the Big Ten accelerating its process based on what's happening elsewhere? Looks like it. Delany said he didn't know of any Big 12 ultimatums to Nebraska and Missouri and didn't comment on any specific schools.

Another important lesson from today is that the league's presidents and chancellors can vote electronically on applicants to the league, so they don't necessarily need to convene as a group. Their next scheduled meeting doesn't take place until December.

The Big Ten ideally wants more time to go through its study, but the league is also prepared to move quickly. Delany said Sunday that the league began studying expansion months before putting out the statement Dec. 15, and has used the last six months wisely.

A few other key points:

  • Simon said the league hasn't settled on a wish list, but the suspects are fairly obvious. She also made it very clear that academics remain a huge part of the Big Ten's expansion process. This league isn't going to admit second-rate academic institutions, so there's no point in speculating about them. "I've facetiously said that at the start of this process," she said, "if we had given fifth graders the criteria, the list of institutions would be essentially the [same] list of institutions that have been bandied about for quite a while by [the media] with much more sophisticated analysis of the sense of fit [by the media]. But as I look at your analysis, academics hasn't been much of the conversation. That's an important component of this. This is not an infinite set of institutions." Does this mean I'm not as smart as a fifth grader? Ouch!

  • In case you forgot, here are the four criteria that the Big Ten is using to evaluate potential applicants: academics, willingness to participate in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (Big Ten’s internal academic consortium), athletic competitiveness and fiscal responsibility to the conference.

  • The Big Ten isn't dismissing rivalries or the intimacy of a league during its expansion examination. They realize that rivalries and frequency of competition make a league what it is, and they don't want to squander that with expansion. Time will tell if they actually hold true to this.

  • Simon and Delany both said expansion could happen in several phases, not just one big three- or five-team addition. "The process, as designed, contemplated either a single action or phases," Simon said. This is interesting, but I doubt the Big Ten would take gradual steps to expand. "If we expand, it's going to be for the next 50-100 years," Delany said. "It's not a bowl game. It's not a TV arrangement for six years."

  • Asked if the Big Ten presidents and chancellors have a consensus on whether to expand or a preference in number of teams added, Simon said, "We would not have announced the study in December if there wasn't an interest in expansion by a significant number of the members of the Big Ten. But any institution involved in expansion has to fit the criteria. It has to be a two-way street. It's their destiny, it's our destiny, and the strength of the Big Ten over a long period of time has been this sense of culture and commitment to one another."

  • The Big Ten continues to make a big deal about doing the expansion thing right. But what if other leagues go about things differently? "The other conferences have got great leadership at all levels," Delany said. "They're smart, bright, and have good experience."