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Blowing smoke

Big Ten can't be serious about expansion; much more

Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2007 12:52PM; Updated: Wednesday August 1, 2007 2:19PM
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Jim Delany
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the conference looks into the possibility of expansion every few years.
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Over the past few years, I've noticed few topics elicit more curiosity among college football fans than the possibility of a conference shakeup. Though it's now been four years since the last major realignment craze, I still get e-mails nearly every week asking me whether I think School A might one day join Conference B or whether Conference C might annex Schools D and E.

It's such a hot-button issue, in fact, that I included an entire chapter about it (entitled "How Boston College and Clemson Became Neighbors") in my forthcoming book,Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls. Toward the end of the chapter, I address why the Big Ten and Pac-10 have thus far resisted the expansion craze and include recent quotes from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany scoffing at the idea.

So it figures that less than a month before the book's publication -- long past the point where I can update or change anything -- Delany would suddenly pull what appeared to be a complete 180 last week when he told media in Iowa that "I think we need to look at it [expansion] in the next year." On Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days, Delany retreated a bit, insisting people had read too much into those comments. "You might [have thought] that the Big Ten was announcing it was going to expand, and really that was not the case," he said. "Every three to five years we look at expansion and we'll continue to do that."

Many of those people Delany was referring to happen to be my readers, seeing as his comments last week caused my inbox to fill up faster than Homer Simpson's pig-slop silo.

Now that the Big Ten commish has spoken regarding a 12th team, who would be your top three to fill that spot?
--Joel, Madison, Wis.

Stewart, I read with interest the Big Ten's desire to add a 12th team. The report also indicated expanding into a new state. Given those parameters, I see possible candidates as Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, West Virginia, Syracuse or Louisville. Can you evaluate the potential for each candidate?
--Glenn Osborn, Randolph, N.J.

My honest opinion? The top three candidates to fill that spot are: slim, slimmer and none. The potential for most of those aforementioned schools? How about "non-existent."

Sorry to burst your bubble, guys, but the Big Ten is not going to be adding a 12th team anytime soon. The only school it truly covets, Notre Dame, is too busy scheduling games for 2031 to return Delany's calls. Missouri? Pittsburgh? Syracuse? Louisville? All fine schools, but not exactly motivation to expand.

If you ask me, I think Delany's curiously timed comments were just another negotiating ploy by an increasingly desperate owner of a certain start-up cable network. It's no secret Delany's baby, the Big Ten Network, is meeting considerable resistance from the nation's cable providers. Delany himself said the prime motivation for expansion would be to extend the network's coverage. So why not throw that out there as bait?

Hey, Time Warner Cable in New York, you might think you don't need our network now, but what if we told you we might eventually add Rutgers? Not enough Illinois fans in St. Louis for you, Charter Communications? Well what if we threw in Missouri, too?

Of course, that doesn't mean the league will follow through on it.

Mind you, this is pure speculation on my part, and I have no factual evidence to support my theory, but c'mon -- let's be realistic here. Any decision to expand would ultimately be made by the Big Ten's presidents. Do you really think they'd make such a monumental move for the benefit of a start-up cable network? Remember, these guys are pretty snooty about their academics, too. They're not going to accept just anybody.

It's not like adding a 12th team would net the conference additional network money, because the league just locked in a 10-year extension with ABC and ESPN. I suppose a conference championship game could fetch some extra cash, but as Delany reiterated Tuesday, the conference has always been anti-title game. "If we were [interested] , we would have had one 15 years ago," he said. The league is already skittish enough about playing past Thanksgiving, and a title game would almost certainly mess with the sanctity of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

There is, however, one other intriguing, albeit far-fetched possibility to consider. As we well now by now, Delany is the kind of guy who likes to make a big splash. There's one school on Glenn's aforementioned list that would definitely intrigue him, but it would take some serious stones by both him and the potential target to pull it off.

I'm talking about Nebraska.

It's an interesting coincidence, don't you think, that Delany's sudden openness on the topic comes just as old pal Kevin Weiberg leaves his post as Big 12 commissioner under suspicious circumstances to join the Big Ten Network. Weiberg undoubtedly brings with him tales of the growing in-fighting supposedly taking place within that league -- much of it believed to be between Nebraska and the Texas schools. Could it be the Huskers might be open to a courtship?

While the state of Nebraska is not exactly a TV hotbed, the Huskers hold a strong national following that could possibly do wonders for Delany's network. Did you know that a group of Nebraska fans in Phoenix actually pay a radio station there to broadcast the Huskers' network on Saturdays? Think they wouldn't be calling their cable company? Granted, it's a pretty far-fetched idea, but nothing surprises me anymore in this business.

So that's my take on the whole thing. Have fun talking up all the various possibilities. Just know there's a good chance that talk is the only thing the Big Ten will actually end up doing.

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