Paterno says expansion not his call

Updated: May 19, 2009, 4:51 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Penn State head coach Joe Paterno on Tuesday backed off his crusade for Big Ten expansion, saying league expansion should be left in the hands of commissioner Jim Delany.

Twice in recent weeks Paterno expressed his desire for the Big Ten to add a 12th team and a league championship game, which would end the regular season on the same weekend as the other five BCS conferences. He said Big Ten teams are at a competitive disadvantage by ending the regular season early, and the league loses relevancy during the long break before the bowl games.

Paterno took a less assertive position Tuesday at Big Ten meetings and expressed surprise that his initial remarks had created such a stir.

"I'm the newest guy in the league," Paterno said. "I've never been in a conference before. A guy like Delany that's been around the conference as long as he is, he's run this conference as long as he has, for me to come in here and tell him, 'Hey, Delany, this is what you've got to do,' I don't know."

Delany declared expansion a "back burner issue" in an interview with ESPN.com shortly after Paterno's original remarks and reiterated his position Tuesday. Though Big Ten coaches discussed expansion during their meetings with Delany, there remain no immediate plans to add a 12th member.

"[Paterno] is a person who's an icon, not only in Pennsylvania but in the football community," Delany said. "I'll listen pretty closely to what he says, but this is not a decision that's made by football coaches."

Paterno said April 30 that he had brought up the issue of expansion at Big Ten get-togethers before, only to be met with "snickering." Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel approached Paterno on Tuesday just to make sure the 82-year-old didn't think he was among those showing any disrespect.

"I had no intention of creating a stir," Paterno said. "I was reacting to the fact that we didn't play well [in the Rose Bowl] against Southern Cal. ... So we come out here, we're sitting around the table as coaches and I said, 'Hey, guys, look, I'm not pushing it. Period.' That's all I said.

"I tried to dispel any idea that I had an agenda, because I don't."

Paterno isn't the only Big Ten coach open to the idea of a 12th team and a league championship game. The issue was discussed Tuesday, but the expansion movement isn't picking up steam.

"You're wasting your time coming to me about it, honestly," Paterno said. "Delany's the guy. ... He knows more about it than anybody. He knows what the problems are with scheduling, he knows the problems with anything the Big Ten may want to do with expansion. I have confidence in him.

"If it's good for the conference and he can figure out a way to make it happen, he'll probably do it. If it's not good for the conference, that's a dead issue."

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

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