Big Ten to give expansion an exploratory group hug

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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:

WHO?

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.

WHERE?

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

WestIllinoisIowaMinnesotaNorthwesternWisconsin(new team)

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.

WHAT?

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.]

UCF announces largest financial gift in school history for athletics department renovations

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UCF announced the largest financial gift in school history from UCF alum Kenneth Dixon. The donation will help give UCF the support needed to move forward with its athletics facility upgrades, including an athletics village. Among those upgrades will be an expansion to the school’s baseball stadium and basketball facility, as well as a better atmosphere outside the football stadium for fans.

As far as the football program is concerned, the upgrades to the football operations and athletics headquarters have received a $2 million commitment to date. Most of the renovations will help bring the school’s other sports programs up to a more level playing field, but the football stadium will be given a fresh look on he outside with a plaza and promenade to make for a more inviting atmosphere for UCF fans before and after home football games.

In all, UCF is looking to invest $25 million in the renovation project, and the recent donation from Dixon has helped the school cross the $10 million benchmark.

“With more than $10 million committed to our $25 million facilities vision, our goal is to build the best Athletics Village in the nation,” UCF Athletics Director Danny White said in a released statement. “Thanks to Ken Dixon’s gift of more than $5 million, we’ve taken a major step in that direction.”

Duke QB Thomas Sirk to transfer

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) looks to pass against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk is leaving Durham in search of a new place to play football in his final year of eligibility. Duke announced Monday morning Sirk will transfer in 2017.

Sirk was recently declared a no-go for Duke’s spring football practices as he returns from an Achilles injury suffered last season. Sirk was granted an extra year of eligibility, his sixth, from the NCAA last November. It will be his final year of eligibility.

Sirk was Duke’s leading passer in 2015 with 2,625 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He was also Duke’s leading rusher that season with 803 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Naturally, he will likely be a quality dual-threat option for whatever program lands his services in 2017. As a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play this fall at any FBS program.

Minnesota Row the Boat bobblehead features Gopher mascot rowing a boat

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 3: Goldy, mascot for the Minnesota Golden Gophers performs before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs on September 3, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
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With the rights to use “Row the Boat” successfully acquired through a deal with Western Michigan, Minnesota is going all in with the merchandising efforts to capitalize on the motto of P.J. Fleck. Aside from being able to use the motto for program-building measures, Minnesota has the rights to market the saying on merchandise, including an upcoming bobblehead featuring Minnesota’s Gopher mascot.

A limited edition University of Minnesota bobblehead featuring Goldy Gopher rowing a boat was unveiled on Friday by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. Though just an illustration now, it looks incredibly promising and I sort of want to add it to my bobblehead collection.

The bobbleheads are available for pre-order at a cost of $40.00. They should begin shipping in July of this year, in plenty of time for the first season of the Fleck era at Minnesota.

Ex-Rutgers QB transferring to San Diego State

PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Quarterback Chris Laviano #5 of Rutgers attempts a pass during the second quarter against Illinois on October 15, 2016 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Illinois defeated Rutgers 24-7. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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It appears one of Rutgers’ transferring quarterbacks has found a new home.

In late November, Chris Laviano became one of three Scarlet Knights signal-callers who decided to transfer from Chris Ash‘s football program.  Over the weekend, as relayed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Laviano has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at San Diego State.

As Laviano would be coming to the Mountain West program as a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately in 2017. This coming season will be his final year of eligibility.

Laviano had started 18 consecutive games for the Scarlet Knights until he was benched in October of last year.

In 2015, Laviano completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 2,247 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The completion percentage was the best for an RU player since 2008, while the yardage was good for eighth in school history.

Overall, he tossed 21 touchdowns and 15 picks during his time in Piscataway.