Paterno's expansion plea met with no-go

Updated: May 5, 2009, 1:01 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

The Big Ten has no immediate plans to expand, and it would take more than a desire for a football championship game and a longer regular season for the league to add a 12th member, commissioner Jim Delany said.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno last week called on the Big Ten to expand, saying the conference goes "into hiding for six weeks" while other leagues hold championship games and play into the first week of December.

This fall, nine of 11 Big Ten teams will finish the regular season on Nov. 21, two weeks before teams from the other five BCS conferences. Come the 2010 season, the Big Ten adds a permanent bye week that will extend the regular season by one week.

Paterno expressed concern that the Big Ten disappears from college football's radar, which hurts league members vying for a spot in the national championship game. The Big Ten owns a six-game losing streak in BCS bowl games and hasn't won the Rose Bowl since 2000.

"Everybody else is playing playoffs on television," Paterno said. "You never see a Big Ten team mentioned, so I think that's a handicap."

Delany responded to Paterno's comments Monday, saying that while a league championship game has its benefits, particularly from a marketing perspective, expansion requires much more.

"It's not the reason you would expand," Delany told ESPN.com. He also said Paterno isn't the only Big Ten coach who has stumped for expansion in recent years.

"The issue has come up with our football coaches a couple times -- with the extra week and if we did expand, would we be more competitive?" Delany said. "I would say in some years they might be right. But has it enhanced the competitiveness of the ACC in football? Has it enhanced the competitiveness of the WAC? I don't know.

"Just because you have a championship doesn't make you more competitive. It's about coaching the players. The SEC game has been a marketing bonanza. I wouldn't discount that. But others have struggled with it."

Delany admits the lack of a championship game puts the Big Ten at a marketing disadvantage, which also was the case before the Big Ten added league tournaments in basketball in 1995 (women's) and 1998 (men's). Although Delany pushed for the basketball tournaments, he pointed out that the events haven't always translated to more success for its members in the NCAA tournament.

"I still think the tournament's a good thing, but it wouldn't be the reason why you'd expand a conference, to have a men's basketball tournament," he said. "It's too big a question."

The 82-year-old Paterno said the Big Ten remains a league dominated by a select few who "snicker" whenever he brings up the prospect of expansion. His claim surprised Delany, who recently spent several hours with Paterno in New York. The expansion issue never came up during their discussions.

"Coach Paterno ... is as important a coach, leader, teacher as we've ever had in college sports," Delany said. "So what he says gets disproportionate weight, and properly so. Whether it's in a coaches' meeting, a meeting of athletic directors or university presidents, his work and recommendation still means a lot. Coach Paterno has a lot of experience in this area. He's played around with conference configurations. He knows it's not easy, and he knows what he says matters.

"But the point of it is, [expansion is] a very big issue, it's a fundamental issue and it's a back-burner issue right now."

Paterno mentioned Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh as possible 12th members for the Big Ten. Delany declined to discuss specific teams from other conferences but said a school would need to fit the Big Ten, not just from a marketing perspective, but with its academic vision, athletic success and commitment, among other factors.

And since the Big Ten's second attempt to add Notre Dame fizzled in 1999, no other school has surfaced as a viable candidate for expansion.

"There's not an obvious move," Delany said. "There might be to some coaches, including Coach Paterno, but it's not as obvious to the university presidents and to the athletic directors.

"There are a lot [of schools] that could take a lot away, but there aren't a lot that could bring so much to make the choice an easy one. You have to have a lot to make something go like this, and it's broader than really a championship game or a basketball tournament."

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

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