Paterno wants 12 teams in league

NEW YORK -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Thursday night that he has pushed within the Big Ten conference to expand it to 12 teams as a method of leveling the playing field in college football.

"We go into hiding for six weeks," Paterno said, referring to the hiatus between the end of the Big Ten regular season and the BCS bowls. The other major FBS conferences play into the first weekend of December.

"Everybody else is playing playoffs on television," Paterno said. "You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that's a handicap.

"I've tried to talk to the Big Ten people about, 'Let's get a 12th team -- Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt -- we could have a little bit of a playoff.'"

Paterno spoke to several college football reporters before a booster meeting at the Plaza Hotel. The comments came in response to a question on whether a team from the Northeast could win a national championship. The 1986 Nittany Lions are the last No. 1 team from the region.

"The only [Northeastern] team that's got a shot would be us, and yet we've got a tough job because the Big Ten is not as visible in the key times as the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12."

Asked what sort of response he had received, Paterno raised his eyebrows in a facial shrug.

"You know, it's a conference that's dominated by a couple of people," Paterno said. "If I start talking, they're polite, but they snicker.

"They don't know I know they're snickering, but they're polite. ...I wish I were younger and going to be around [another] 20 years."

With the conference commissioners holding so much power, Paterno said, the whole landscape could change if two or three people change.

"We're not talking about invading Normandy," Paterno said. "We're talking about some alignments that could happen very quickly."

Paterno, 82, made a few references to having dismounted the soapbox he used for so many years. On the other hand the new hip he received last November has restored the vitality for which he is so well-known. He looks, sounds, and yes, coaches younger than he has in years.

"I coached this spring," Paterno said. "That may be the kiss of death. Last year, all I did was supervise. ...I was really more of an observer. Now, since I'm walking around. I can grab the kids and say, 'You can't do it that way.' I can look 'em in the eye and grab 'em, and that's part of the fun for me. To have an impact on the pace of the practice, the enthusiasm, those are the kind of things that I missed."

The winningest coach in the game renewed his call for a four- or eight-team playoff to replace the BCS. He also decried the NCAA decision to force Florida State coach Bobby Bowden to vacate 14 victories in which the Seminoles players were later found to have committed academic fraud.

At the conclusion of last season, Paterno led Bowden in career victories, 373-372.

"My feeling is, Bobby coached the team he had and he won, OK? He ought to get credit for the wins," Paterno said. "I think that's ridiculous. Can anybody in this game, with all the rules of the NCAA, stand up and say, 'Every single kid I got, every single kid, is absolutely pure?' That's a tough statement to make."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.