Big Ten expansion vote 'months away'

Updated: June 1, 2010, 9:34 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The Big Ten continues to study expansion, but has not extended any invitations to potential new members and will not vote when the league's presidents and chancellors meet next month, commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday.

Delany, speaking at the conference's spring meetings, provided few specifics about the league's expansion study, but reiterated that it's nowhere near a conclusion.

The league's presidents and chancellors meet June 6 at Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill., and while expansion will be discussed, no decisions are expected from the league's university officials, who ultimately have the final say.

"There will be no vote," Delany said. "That's not in our time frame. ... We're months away."

The Big Ten laid out a 12- to 18-month timetable for the expansion study, which it announced Dec. 15. Despite media reports and speculation that the process is accelerating, Delany said he and the league remain in the information-gathering stage.

They're looking not only at candidates but at previous expansions in other conferences, many of which have been "improperly studied," Delany said.

"[The timeline] continues to be roughly 12-18 months," said Delany, who added that the league might choose not to expand. "Could it be 19 [months]? I hope not. Could it be 11? It may. But 12-18 months makes sense."

Delany pointed to two factors fueling the expansion study: The formation and success of the Big Ten Network, and the national population shift to the South in the last 20 years. Although a lucrative football championship game would likely arrive with expansion, Delany reiterated that it's not a driving force behind the study.

The league could look to increase subscriptions for the network in new or existing markets, and it wants to maintain a presence and a brand in major media markets, he said.

"As far as the shifting population, that is reason, by itself, enough, to look at the concept of expansion," Delany said. "In the last 20, 30 years, there's been a clear shift in movement into the Sun Belt. The rates of growth in the Sun Belt are four times the rates they are in the East or the Midwest.

"You do want to look forward to 2020 and 2030 and see what that impact would be on our schools."

Delany declined to discuss specific schools considered for expansion, but said membership in the Association of American Universities remains an important part of the Big Ten's fabric. All 11 current Big Ten schools are AAU members, as are potential expansion candidates including Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

"AAU membership is an important part of who we are," Delany said.

The Big Ten isn't completely tied to the AAU, however; Notre Dame, which the Big Ten has pursued in the past, is not an AAU member.

The Big Ten will explore fiscal, operational and academic factors in its study and said "a significant number of institutions" are included in the analysis. Delany reiterated that he will notify the commissioners of any affected conferences before beginning formal discussions with any institutions.

"Prior to the time membership is offered or applied for, I'll give someone a heads-up," Delany said. "They will know it. Schools would have to apply, and then they would have to receive eight votes [for admission]. But I would presume that nobody would apply without knowing they were welcome to apply. We're not interested in embarrassing ourselves, embarrassing anyone else. So the process of due diligence is a long one, but the process of formal conversations about it is a shorter one.

"The heads-up anyone would get would be before a public announcement, but probably not months before a public announcement."

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com

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