Luckily for the presidents, the competitive-format subcommittee is chaired by Ohio State's Jones, an athletic director who believes the travel difficulties can be worked out. "Every sport doesn't have to have a double round-robin or even a single round-robin," says Jones. "Some teams can meet just once a year, at the conference championships."
One wrinkle being explored by Jones's subcommittee to ease travel burdens is the addition of a 12th school, so that the conference could go to divisional play. Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Maryland have all been mentioned by the presidents as candidates. Says Jones, "Everyone might not be overjoyed by how things get worked out, but they will be worked out."
Nor does the geographical issue alarm Illinois president Stan Ikenberry, who remains the Council of Ten member most gung ho about adding the Nittany Lions. "The distances between Pac-10 schools are even greater, and they seem to be muddling through," Ikenberry says. Indeed, the University of Washington is 1,583 miles from the University of Arizona. Paterno points out that the roads to State College are being expanded and the airport is being enlarged. "And they're talking about high-speed trains you'll be able to take to Harrisburg [an hour-and-45-minute drive from State College] that go 300 miles an hour," he says. The earliest projected completion date for those magnetic levitation trains, now being researched at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, is well beyond the turn of the century, but Paterno says, "All I'm asking is for people to be a little more farsighted. A time will come when we'll be closer together than we realize."
A touchier question for the Big Ten is whether Penn State is up to snuff academically—an ironic concern, considering that one reason the presidents gave for the merger is the Nittany Lions' squeaky-clean reputation. To remain eligible for sports after one year at Penn State, athletes must earn a 1.5 grade point average. In the Big Ten they need a 1.8. "But these are small points," says Phil Nelson, the head of the food sciences department at Purdue, who chairs the subcommittee on academics and governance. "We don't anticipate having much difficulty working them out."
A more formidable obstacle may be the unseemly snobbery that has arisen among some Big Ten faculty reps and their athletic department allies. " Penn State is probably not any different from a lot of schools around the country," says the Boilermakers' athletic director, George King. "The difference is, the Big Ten is above that."
How nice for the Big Ten. But before the anti- Penn State forces start thinking about wooing Oxford and Cambridge, they would do well to recall the 1989 trial of sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, during which it was revealed that football players at Iowa had taken such courses as billiards, bowling, jogging and slo-pitch Softball to remain eligible. Nine athletes from the Big Ten entered pretrial agreements with prosecutors for improperly signing contracts with Walters and Bloom before their eligibility had expired. There were none from Penn State. Paterno, in fact, has declined to recruit countless talented athletes whom he feared would become academic washouts. Not all his Big Ten counterparts have been so particular.
In character and quality, Penn State has much in common with most of the Big Ten schools. A large (29,000 undergraduates), research-based, land-grant university, Penn State "would be a very comfortable fit," says Ikenberry, who was a senior vice-president at Penn State before becoming the head man at Illinois. In fact, the main impetus behind the Nittany Lions' eagerness to give up their independence and join the Big Ten is academics, not athletics. If it were to enter the conference, Penn State would probably be invited to join the Big Ten schools, as well as the University of Chicago, on several prestigious academic consortiums and computer linkups. As a member of these groups, Penn State would stand to gain tens of millions of dollars in research grants. That, in turn, could be expected to attract more distinguished faculty, which would mean a loftier academic reputation, which might ultimately translate into more and better-qualified students from all over the country.
"People want to know, 'What are you doing this for?' " says Paterno. "I tell them it's being done because the president of this university, Bryce Jordan, thinks it's a great thing for us, academically. This was never a football decision."
For the Big Ten it is very much a football decision—and, potentially, a very lucrative one. By the time Big Ten teams—whose schedules are fairly well set into the mid-'90s—would start making regular visits to State College, Beaver Stadium will have been expanded to accommodate 92,500, making it the conference's second-largest arena, behind only 101,701-seat Michigan Stadium. TV revenues for the member schools would also swell. The Big Ten has a base of 17.8 million television households in seven states. To those, add 5.3 million TV homes in Pennsylvania alone, then factor in the widespread interest in Nittany Lion football—Penn State has 300,000 living alumni and is the favorite team of many nonalumni fans in the East—and the conference could be looking at a hefty raise in '95, when it renegotiates the conference's TV contract with ABC, or signs with another bidder.
"But no one's sure if that extra revenue will offset the cost of bringing in an extra school," says the insistently pessimistic Bay, who is chairman of the subcommittee on TV and revenue sharing. "And Penn State's basketball program doesn't bring much to our package." Perhaps not, but Nittany Lion basketball, which has improved in recent seasons, would be helped immeasurably—especially in recruiting—by an affiliation with the hoops powerhouses of the Big Ten.