Big Ten Conference ready to explore expansion

The Big Ten Conference is ready to consider getting even bigger.

According to a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors "believes that the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion."

Commissioner James Delany has asked by the council to provide recommendations for consideration over the next 12 to 18 months, the statement said.

The statement did not specify how many schools could be included in an expansion.

The conference actually has 11 football teams, despite its name.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez last week told the university’s board that he thinks the conference is serious about adding a 12th team, though conference commissioner Jim Delany as recently as March called expansion a "back-burner" issue.

The Big Ten last added a team in 1990 when Penn State joined. When Penn State came aboard, it was the first addition to the conference since Michigan State in 1949. Tuesday’s statement by the Big Ten called Penn State’s addition an "unqualified success."

Notre Dame, with its campus in South Bend and a football independent with a lucrative and exclusive TV contract, rejected an offer in 1999 to join the Big Ten.

Earlier this year, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he’d like to see Rutgers, Pittsburgh or Syracuse join the league. He was not in favor of extending another offer to Notre Dame.

"There’s some pressure, I would suppose, to maybe go back to Notre Dame and ask again, which I would not be happy with," Paterno said then. "I think they’ve had their chance."

Paterno said a 12th team could ease scheduling difficulties and clear the way for a lucrative conference title football game — like the ones now held by the SEC and the Big 12.

University of Missouri spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said the school hasn’t been contacted by the Big Ten.

"Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based on what is in the best interest of MU, athletically and academically," she said in an e-mail.

Don Walsworth, a major donor to Missouri’s sports programs who was a member of the board that governs the university until earlier this year, said that, aside from a Big Ten television contract that allows more revenue sharing than the Big 12 deal, it makes little sense for Missouri to jump conferences.

The school’s position in the geographic middle of the conference allows easy, relatively inexpensive travel, Walsworth said. Leaving behind rivals such as Kansas and big-time opponents like Texas would upset fans.

"I think that they would be a little bit miffed if we had to start those traditions over again," Walsworth said. "I like to play Oklahoma, I like to play Texas."

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