Both Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema stumped to varying degrees this offseason for the Big Ten to fully and wholly embrace the idea of expanding to twelve teams.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the two coaches — and any other proponent of expansion — could be closer to seeing conference growth coming to fruition.
Citing an unnamed league official, the Tribune reported that the conference will release a statement today in which they will announce that expansion has moved to the front burner, as the paper puts it.
This past Friday, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, another supporter of expansion, hinted that something could be in the offing, saying that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany “is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it. I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators.”
And Alvarez, as well as the Tribune, could not have hit the nail on the head any cleaner as the Big Ten administrators did indeed release a statement this afternoon outlining the league’s intentions to explore expanding the league from 11 to 12 teams.
According to the release, commissioner Delany “has been asked to provide recommendations for consideration” by the league’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) “over the next 12 to 18 months.”
The conference office has been asked, the statement read, “to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions.”
The statement added that “[n]o action by the COP/C is expected in the near term.”
A move to twelve teams would allow for the league to be split into two six-team divisions and a championship game to be held at the end of the regular season. Additionally, it would allow the conference to remain part of the national landscape well after Thanksgiving. As currently constructed, the conference is a non-entity from, basically, before Turkey Day until the bowls start rolling around.
Should the conference ultimately approve an additional team, there are three questions that would need to be answered:
If the Big Ten had their druthers, Notre Dame would’ve been a part of the conference years ago. They are a perfect fit academically and athletically, and would likely be pursued yet again. And would likely rebuff the league yet again.
Short of the Irish, several schools have been bandied about as possibilities as a twelfth: Cincinnati, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Louisville.
Once a 12th team is decided upon, you would need to split the conference into two divisions and decide which teams go where. Rivalries such as Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan-Michigan State and the like would need to be preserved, but there could be some annual match-ups that may be forced to the wayside, at least on a yearly basis.
Here’s one way the conference could look, although it would need to be tweaked depending on the location of the additional team:
EastMichiganMichigan St.Ohio St.Penn St.PurdueIndiana
Missouri and, maybe, Louisville would make solid additions to the “Western” division, while Cincinnati, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia would fit in the “Eastern” division. Indiana could be the swing team regardless of which school joins.
As in, what would you call the conference? Well, they have eleven teams and are still called the Big Ten. Would an additional team really necessitate a name change?
[Writer's note: This story has been edited and given a new headline to reflect the fact that MSNBC.com requested it for their front page. I obliged.]