CHICAGO — From what Jim Delany has said this week, it's easy to see why rumors about Missouri moving to the Big Ten are gaining buzz.
Delany, the Big Ten Commissioner, discussed expanding the league at meetings this week in Chicago with the conference's coaches and athletic directors. He said nothing official has been decided and that the Big Ten will not expand if it isn't deemed prudent financially, competitively and academically for the conference.
But if expansion does take place, Delany would be hard pressed to find a more viable candidate than Missouri. By joining the league, Missouri would make a lucarative conference championship football game possible and draw more viewers to the Big Ten's already wildly profitable television network.
Delany said in a press conference on Tuesday that membership in the Association of American Universities was important for any school wanting to apply to the Big Ten. Missouri has been a member of the AAU for more than 100 years.
Missouri has also surged in the revenue sports of football and men's basketball. The Tigers' football team was ranked No. 1 in the BCS in the last week of the 2007 regular season and the Tigers' men's basketball team reached the Elite Eight in 2009. Football coach Gary Pinkel and men's basketball coach Mike Anderson have both signed contract extensions with Missouri.
Delany would not comment on what stage the expansion process is at or if specific teams, including Missouri, have been discussed at this week's meetings or in earlier discussions. Most Big Ten coaches and athletic directors have followed Delany's lead and also refused comment on possible expansion candidates. But no one brought up a downside to adding the Tigers.
Illinois head football coach Ron Zook said the Illini and the Tigers already have a strong rivalry. Missouri has has geographic rivalries with Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa State in the Big 12, but the Tigers and Illini have opened their seasons against each other in St. Louis since 2007.
"I don't think adding them would change anything," Zook said. "It would probably make it a little more heated up, but it's pretty heated up right now. We (the Illini football team) have got to do our part — the basketball team has done such a great job — but border states make for a great rivalry."
According to everyone at this week's meetings, the possibility of forming divisions in the Big Ten, like those found in the SEC, ACC and Big 12, has not been discussed.
Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez said that a conference championship game in football is "the next logical step" if the conference expands, but maintains that discussing divisions or how a championship game would work is currently a moot point.
"We're not far enough to sit down and start discussing that stuff," Alvarez said.
Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez said he looks forward to that discussion, noting that the Big Ten does things differently.
"Who knows? We might think of something unique that hasn't been done yet," Rodriguez said.
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said he doesn't care how an expanded Big Ten would be divided, even though North and South divisions might mean Ohio State and Michigan could be separated and not play an annual football game.
"I don't care how they do it. But if Ohio State and Michigan don't play in the regular season, then we'd have problems," Smith said with a chuckle.
Speculation was that a possible vote for expansion could come as early as June, when the Big Ten chancellors and athletics directorsmeet in Park Ridge, Ill. But Delany has said that no vote will happen at that meeting and that the timeline for expansion will still be the 12- to 18-month period he announced in December.