The last time the Big Ten went through an expansion, Tim Curley had a front-row seat for it.
In 1990, Curley served as the right-hand man to Penn State athletic director Jim Tarman when the university joined the Big Ten. Things got off to a rocky start, as Big Ten presidents and chancellors initially approved Penn State in December 1989 without consulting the league's athletic directors, who were less than thrilled with being left out. A new vote took place in the spring of 1990 and Penn State was once again approved.
Curley also was front and center during Penn State's transition to the league. The Nittany Lions didn't begin athletic competition until 1993, and Curley took over as Penn State's AD on Dec. 30 of that year.
As Nebraska makes its transition to the Big Ten -- the school begins competition in 2011 and becomes a full voting member on July 1, 2011 -- Curley took some time to remember Penn State's situation and what Nebraska might expect.
What stands out to you about that time?
Tim Curley: Our situation may have been a little bit different. We were coming from [being] a football independent with our other programs being in the Atlantic 10. In our case, it probably wasn't the smoothest situation. The biggest challenge from the time we were announced to be in until when we actually started full participation with football, it took a little bit longer than what we're doing this time around with Nebraska. Overall, we were accepted extremely well overall by the Big Ten family. Just working through the scheduling and in our case, working our way out of an independent football schedule to a full conference schedule was probably the biggest challenge at that time.
You mention scheduling. What were some of the other challenges?
TC: Being an independent in football, we weren't a part of a major conference and all of the conference governance and the structure of the conference, our involvement with conference legislative matters and those types of things. So that was a little bit of an adjustment for us, as opposed to Nebraska, who has been a part of a major BCS conference. They don't need to make those adjustments. Other than that, it was just getting fully integrated into the conference, and it took a little bit longer.
What was the reaction to Penn State around the league? Was there any warming up period for both you and the other members?
TC: The [voting] process maybe could have been handled a little bit differently, but once we got over that and we were fully voted in, everybody from Day 1 has been very open and warm to our addition. They fully made us feel like a part of the conference, and we haven't looked back. It's just been a great partnership. At the end of the day, it all worked out.
Have you reached out to any of the Nebraska folks since the vote?
TC: I did reach out to Tom [Osborne] and got a nice note back from him. We're probably going to see him in a couple weeks here at the conference meetings. I've known Tom for a long time now. We've competed against a number of their teams throughout the years. Penn State and Nebraska have had a really healthy and good relationship, and certainly coach [Joe] Paterno and coach Osborne have had a relationship that goes back a lot further than I've ever been involved. So our fan bases have great respect for each other. It's just a great addition.
You mention the fans. What was that like, getting them accustomed to the Big Ten and excited about it?
TC: It was an easy situation. When they looked at competing against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin and all of the really good teams in the Big Ten, they were excited to see them come into our stadium and our arenas, as they saw how good the competition was. During that first 10-year involvement we had in the Big Ten, there were six different teams that went to the Rose Bowl. There were tremendous competitive opportunities there. It wasn't just dominated by one school. That made it for a very exciting time for our fans.
Over time, do you get less e-mails saying, 'Hey, I wish we still played this team or that team?' How is the fans' comfort level with the schedule you play?
TC: It's gone really well, and with the addition of Nebraska, the number of comments I've received since the announcement, our fan base is really excited about Nebraska being added. That will even further make the transition go extremely well. Our fan base is really appreciative of the competition within the Big Ten.
What's the rivalry potential with Nebraska? A number of Big Ten schools are expressing interest.
TC: The whole scheduling and divisional play and rivalries, how that's all going to work out, is yet to be determined. I just know that based on our past history of playing Nebraska, that is certainly a big game. Whether it's designated as a rival game or not, that's certainly going to be a very big game for Penn State.
What are your thoughts on divisions? You guys are still the Eastern outpost of the league right now.
TC: With division play, we are who we are, we're the Eastern most team in the conference. So no matter how we divide it up, we're going to still be the most Eastern team. What happens with further expansion will be determined throughout the next year or so, whether we see any further movement East or not. We'll play with the cards we've been dealt so far. Travel considerations are one more important factor, particularly for us being on the Eastern edge of the conference. But at the end of the day, both for our student-athletes and coaches, travel should not be the sole determinant. Competitive balance and rivalries and those types of things are just as important.
Is the travel factor any easier for Penn State because you used to play an independent schedule and didn't shy away from traveling?
TC: Certainly that helps, but for our Olympic sports, it has added some additional travel. We were primarily in the Atlantic 10 -- we had a couple of non-Big Ten sports that were primarily northeastern sports such as lacrosse -- so the travel has added a new dimension for us. But what I've found is our student-athletes, when you're competing against the best competition, they really don't care how far they have to travel. They just make it work, and they'd rather test themselves. That has not been a big concern voiced by our student-athletes or our coaches.
What type of advice would you give to Nebraska about transitioning to the Big Ten?
TC: I'm not sure I'm the one to be giving any kind of advice. Nebraska's fully aware of what attracted them to the conference. This is just a great conference with great people in leadership roles. The competition in all sports is at an extremely high level. They're going to make the conference better, and hopefully, as in our case, we're going to make them better as well. I think they're going to move into this very seamlessly, and right from the very beginning, they're going to be a major addition to this conference."