Big Ten commisioner says demographics drive expansion discussion

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | 5:28 p.m. CDT; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany laughs as he talks with the media Tuesday in Chicago at his conference's spring meetings.

CHICAGO — Jim Delany says considering  expansion for the Big Ten is just a matter of good sense.

"There's been a lot of change in the country," Delany, the conference commissioner, said Tuesday at scheduled league meetings. "We're looking at the long-term implications."

Delany said that the Big Ten needed to look into expansion to remain viable, but promised nothing would be done unless it was deemed prudent for the conference. The Big Ten announced that it would look into expansion in December, and Delany said he is still evaluating the situation.

He said one of the reasons for looking into conference expansion is to try to combat national demographic changes that have a shifted the population from the Midwest to the South.

"The Midwest is not growing in the same way as in the 20th century." Delany said. "We need to look forward to 2020, 2030."

Demographics could make gaining ground for the league's television operation important. The Big Ten Network, which was founded three years ago, is the financial dynamo that makes the Big Ten the envy of college sports. The network has made the league the richest in the nation. Subscription rights from the network allow the conference to share more money per year with their 11 member institutions than any other conference.

Delany promised that nothing would be decided in the near future. No votes will be taken regarding expansion at the Big Ten's annual directors and chancellors meeting in June. If expansion were to happen, Delany said, the conference would reach out to schools and encourage them to apply. Institutions that apply would need directors and chancellors from eight member schools to vote them in to join the conference.

Delany was adamant that the 12-to-18 month timetable announced in December remains in place, meaning nothing official will happen until the end of the college football season. The Big Ten last expanded in 1990, when the conference added Penn State. Delany said that expansion process took eight months.

By adding just one school, the conference would be able to host a championship football game, a contest that could bring in more than $10 million annually. But adding more than one school would allow the Big Ten Network to saturate new markets. Before the Big Ten Network, having 12 members in the Big Ten would not have been a solvent business practice for the conference, Delany said.

The Big Ten hired the Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Company to analyze the financial impact that expansion would have on the conference. Its report said the Big Ten would make money if they expanded by one or more schools. Missouri was one of those schools studied, according to a Chicago Tribune report. Delany and William Blair & Company cited confidentiality agreements when asked about the report.

Expansion is not on the official agenda for the spring meetings, but the topic was discussed informally. The Big Ten football and basketball coaches, along the league's athletics directors are using the spring meetings as informational sessions on the ongoing expansion process.

Delany said that expansion would not be on the official agenda for the June administrators meetings either, but he guaranteed it would be discussed.

Delany refused comment when asked about schools not currently in the Big Ten Conference and could not outline a schedule for how the expansion process would continue. The most he would say about possible additions is that a new member would have to be a good match for the Big Ten.

"This is not about conferences, this is about institutions finding a fit," Delany said.

Delany said good quality for a new member is membership in in the Association of American Universities, which all current members of the Big Ten belong to. Missouri, which has been a member of the association since 1908, is one of three institutions pictured on the AAU's website.

Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Nebraska and Syracuse are also members of the AAU, but Notre Dame, which the Big Ten has tried to bring into the fold before, is not an AAU school.

"AAU membership is very important," Delany said. "It's part of who we are. It makes an institution."

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