Nittany Lions' success offers insight
HERSHEY, Pa. -- Insight into how the Big Ten might proceed if it decides to expand can be found at the last school to join the conference.
The Big Ten took in Penn State in 1990, adding a former independent football power with two national titles and an influential coach in Joe Paterno. Penn State remains a large public institution with a solid academic reputation, much like most of the other schools in the Big Ten.
Plus, Penn State's national fan base offered the Midwest-centric league a foothold in lucrative Eastern television markets, notably Philadelphia. With the Big Ten considering expansion again, TV dollars could play an even larger role in how the conference proceeds.
"Television in today's environment plays a big role, and I'm sure as we look at all the factors that will be one of the ones right at the top, but it won't be the only one," Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said this week in response to a question on the impact of television.
"There are going to be many factors, but we certainly can't ignore the changing factor of television and how important it is to the conference."
The Big Ten shook up the college sports landscape in December when it announced it was going to consider expanding from its current 11-team lineup. Conference commissioner Jim Delany said last week the league was sticking with its original time frame of making a decision in 12 to 18 months.
Schools rumored to be potential targets include Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Missouri. Further east, other schools rumored to be candidates include Rutgers, Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Maryland.
All boast some combination of strong academics, athletic success and exposure to large markets.
In a time when athletic departments across the country are grappling with balancing budgets or cutting sports as the economy tries to emerge from the recession, television revenues can provide a much-needed boost.
The Big Ten reportedly distributes about $22 million annually to each of its 11 members, thanks in part to the creation of the Big Ten Network three years ago. It's about double what any other conference pays its members.
Echoing in part comments from Delany last week, Curley stressed the Big Ten must be patient in making the right choice -- or choices -- to expand.
"With a decision of this magnitude, you really have to be patient. You really have to let the process play out," Curley said before a reception Thursday night for university alumni in Hershey. "At the end of the day, when you're making a big decision like this, it needs to be thoughtful, it needs to be deliberate ... You need to hit this one right."
Curley has deemed Penn State's membership in the Big Ten a "win-win" situation.
Penn State has won 19 NCAA championships since 1993-94, the Nittany Lions' first full season in the league. It's more than double the number of the next two Big Ten schools on the list, Iowa and Minnesota, each has nine, according to Penn State's sports information department.
Academics may also play a role in any expansion. Each of the 11 current members of the Big Ten belong to the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit, invitation-only group of public and private research universities.
Curley said the school has benefited as much academically from its Big Ten affiliation as it has athletically.
"If you can do that in an expansion, then you've hit a home run on both sides of the plate," he said. "When you try to look at who may be new partners to join, certainly the academic piece is very, very important."
Paterno has been ill the last couple of weeks with a stomach flu and missed Big Ten meetings in Chicago last week. But the Hall of Fame coach who has been one of the most vocal proponents of expansion is clear about what schools might make the best candidates.
"It's not a question of just bringing somebody in that you're just going to kick around," Paterno said last month. "It's a question of bringing someone in who can handle the academics, the research, AAU schools, people with a commitment to the women's sports, a commitment to all sports programs, a commitment to the ideals of what intercollegiate athletics should be all about."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press