The Big Ten wants a 12th member, will spend the next 12 to 18 months trying to find the best match and does have the option of exploring possibilities around the country.
The conference released a statement Tuesday revealing its intentions to pursue a 12th school. That would allow the Big Ten to split into two divisions in football and play a conference championship game, which many consider vital to the league's success going forward.
The league's statement said there is no guarantee any school will be recommended after the 12- to 18-month search. The expansion possibility, therefore, is not yet set in stone.
A Big Ten official divulged a key piece of information to the Mirror that drastically changes the number of potential schools the league can consider for membership.
It had been widely speculated the Big Ten's bylaws, which are not public record, stipulated that any expansion school had to meet two criteria. One, it had to be a member of the academically prestigious Association of American Universities, which includes only 62 schools, and it also had to be in or border a state with an existing Big Ten institution.
Those criteria, if in place, would have limited the number of large, athletically successful schools the Big Ten could have gone after to about 10.
Big Ten statement
The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) discussed the future of the Big Ten Conference at its winter meetings on Dec. 6 in Park Ridge, Illinois. The following statement is issued by the Big Ten office on behalf of the COP/C.
Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in June of 1990 and its addition has been an unqualified success. In 1993, 1998 and 2003 the COP/C, in coordination with the commissioner's office, reviewed the issue of conference structure and expansion. The COP/C believes that the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion. As a result, the commissioner was asked to provide recommendations for consideration by the COP/C over the next 12 to 18 months.
The COP/C understands that speculation about the conference is ongoing. The COP/C has asked the conference office to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions. If and when such discussions become necessary the COP/C has instructed Commissioner James E. Delany to inform the Chair of the COP/C, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, and then to notify the commissioner of the affected conference(s). Only after these notices have occurred will the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions. This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions. No action by the COP/C is expected in the near term. No interim statements will be made by the Big Ten or the COP/C until after the COP/C receives the commissioner's recommendations and the COP/C determines next steps, if any, in this area.
The two stipulations, it turns out, do not have to be met.
"There are no restrictions regarding expansion - potential additions are not required to be in the AAU, and they do not have to be in (or adjacent to) the eight Big Ten states," league spokesman Scott Chipman wrote in an e-mail.
Removing the AAU and geographic limitations means the Big Ten can add any school from anywhere in the country.
Notre Dame likely sits atop the Big Ten's wish list of potential candidates, although it will be difficult to convince the Fighting Irish to give up their independent status in football. Notre Dame also is a member of the Big East in basketball.
Other geographically close possibilities for expansion include: Pitt, Syracuse, Missouri, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Rutgers, Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska.
Since there are no geographic or AAU restrictions, the league would have nothing standing in its way of trying for Boston College, Miami, Virginia or any number of schools if it were so inclined.
The unknown factor in the whole process is whether the Big Ten could lure its target school away from its current conference. Would, for instance, Pitt or Syracuse give up their basketball ties to the Big East, or would Missouri leave the Big 12, which is considered by many to be a better football conference than the Big Ten?
The Big Ten last expanded when Penn State joined in 1990. Nittany Lion athletic director Tim Curley was not available Tuesday to comment on how expansion may affect PSU.
"Any expansion of the conference would obviously have to be a good fit academically, geographically and financially," Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther told The Associated Pres. "If the Big Ten does make a change, I hope it will be as successful as the addition of Penn State."
Joe Paterno has long been a proponent of Big Ten expansion, but he's not so keen on the possibility of adding Notre Dame.
"They've had their chance," Paterno said earlier this year, referring to the Irish turning down the Big Ten in 1999.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors has instructed commissioner Jim Delany to pursue options for expansion and provide recommendations within 12 to 18 months. The fact-finding process will take place "without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions," the league's statement said.
Once that process is completed, the Big Ten will notify the conference commissioners of potential schools.
"Only after these notices have occurred will the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions," the league's statement said. "This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.