I was among a group of reporters who had a chance to visit with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany earlier Monday about the league's addition of Maryland as a 13th member. Delany spoke from Washington and will attend the formal announcement in College Park, Md.
He declined to confirm the expected addition of Rutgers as a 14th member, saying only that "there may be other things" and it's a day to celebrate Maryland. He joked that he'll "be home by Thanksgiving." The teams are expected to join the league in the 2014-15 season.
Brian Bennett will tackle the on-field impact in a few minutes, but let's dive in to what commissioner had to say ...
Why did the Big Ten expand?
The Big Ten explored 14- and 16-team models during its last expansion study but decided to add only Nebraska and monitor the landscape. Well, the landscape kept changing with more realignment. The Big Ten created a collaboration with the Pac-12 as an alternative to expansion, but when the Pac-12 decided this summer it couldn't go through with it, Delany and the Big Ten presidents put expansion back on the front burner.
With so much realignment elsewhere, Delany said the league had to question its vulnerability.
"It's pretty obvious to us that the paradigm has shifted," Delany said. "It's not your father's Big Ten. It's probably not your father's ACC. The paradigm shift is that other conferences had [expanded], we had chosen not to, and we explored the collaboration [with the Pac-12]. It couldn't be executed. The Pac-12 couldn't do what they thought they could do. ...
"We said, how do we participate in the new paradigm? Our answer was let's look at contiguous states first, let's look at AAU members first, and let's figure out if there is a way to continue to bridge from Penn State into the Mid-Atlantic. Is there a way to collaborate with like institutions, to grow our footprint, to compete and to position ourselves for the future? We determined this is the best way to accomplish those ends."
The discussions with Maryland began between presidents before Delany got involved, and they intensified 4-6 weeks ago. Delany declined to comment about Maryland as a potential addition in 2010 (or any other institutions aside from Nebraska).
According to Delany, there wasn't one institutional move that triggered the Big Ten's decision to expansion.
"It's multiple institutions in multiple parts of the country moving into multiple regions," he said. "It really wasn't Notre Dame [joining the ACC in all sports but football]. It was pretty clear to me that Notre Dame for a long time wanted to maintain its independence, and as that's a matter of fact, I knew there wasn’t a possibility for us to add Notre Dame."
Although Delany understands Maryland football isn't the sexiest addition, he mentioned several times that the addition is a "long-term play."
What's the role of television/demographics?
The Big Ten's success with the Big Ten Network, along with the shifting population that Delany often acknowledges, played a role in the addition of Maryland.
He mentioned that the league's Midwestern demographics are "at the bedrock" of the Big Ten's identity, but that bringing in more fans and alumni to enhance the national appeal of the league is significant.
"To say that population doesn't matter is wrong," Delany said. "Population does matter. To say that important institutions, whether they're political, financial or media don’t matter [is wrong]. This is a place with great students, great high schools. We'll recruit students, we'll recruit student-athletes and I'm sure we'll collaborate on research."
The Big Ten Network distribution also is a key topic as the network has had several problems with cable providers in the Big Ten footprint.
"There should always be discussions before there's a battle," Delany said. "That's sort of down the line because it's going to be a while before there's full integration. I would hope that whatever we do in this area can be done in an amicable way with partners."
What about Maryland's financial problems?
Maryland cut seven varsity teams in June and has been mired in a financial mess in athletics. But it's hardly a unique problem in college sports.
"With very few exceptions, when we surveyed the landscape in our last expansion, there aren't many programs that are in a great place financially today," Delany said. "Nebraska is one, but everybody else we talked to had financial challenges of one sort of another. Maryland addressed theirs with some program cuts.
"Over the long term, they'll have a plan for addressing that."
Asked about Maryland's exit fees with the ACC, Delany said it wasn't a Big Ten issue to worry about.
"Whether the ACC was dealing with Big East schools or Big East schools were dealing with Mountain West schools or SEC schools were dealing with Big 12 schools, those issues are local," he said.
Will the Big Ten expand beyond 14?
Delany said the immediate focus will be on integrating Maryland and "other aspects," which we all know is Rutgers.
"We'll see what happens around the country," he said. "If the shift continues, I can tell you we’ll be strategic about responding to it."
What about the names of the divisions in the league?
Delany said the presidents and athletic directors will discuss division names and the makeup of the divisions. He added that he still likes the "Honoring Legends, Building Leaders" concept.
The Big Ten name is expected to stay.
"The name has got a great deal of equity," he said.
Was the Big Ten concerned about losing teams?
The Big Ten isn't viewed as a league in danger of losing members, especially because of its wealth and television network. But recent years have shown that almost every league is vulnerable, so I asked Delany about whether he's concerned.
"No, not in my view," he said. "But I do think that you need to build, and this build really solidifies the expansion we've done in the past. We've done in the East, we've done one in the West. I would say the driving force is demographics, but when you look at it, you can't help but think this is good for Penn State as well."