Big Ten action still on hold

Published 2:36 am Monday, June 7, 2010

PARK RIDGE, Ill. — The Big Ten did not take formal action during a meeting Sunday about conference expansion, although officials say their timeline may change after the Pac-10 revealed plans for their own expansion.

The 11 school presidents and chancellors met for about 4 1/2 hours, and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the majority of time was spent on expansion dialogue.

“One of our options was not to act, the other option was to act with a single member and another option would be acting on multiple members,” Delany said. “There could be a decision not to act. That’s always been on the table.”

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The Big Ten has been examining possible conference expansion since December, when it revealed a study that is expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

“We wouldn’t have announced the study in December if there wasn’t an interest in expansion by a significant number of the members of the Big Ten,” said Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon. “We’re not presumptuous enough to believe that (expansion) was only our choosing. It has to be a two-way street.”

Each of the current schools is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) — the only Division I conference to have all its institutions affiliated — and also form the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) along with the University of Chicago. If the Big Ten expands, it is presumed to be looking at schools that are also members.

Simon and Delany declined to identify potential candidates, but names that have surfaced include Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Delany stressed that expansion rests with the individual universities and not with the conferences. He declined to comment on reports that the Big 12’s presidents gave Nebraska and Missouri a deadline to state their intentions to remain in or leave the conference.

Delany also declined to expand on comments Ohio State President Gordon Gee made in an April 20 e-mail to the commissioner regarding Texas and its “Tech” problem, referring to rival Texas Tech. Gee was not available to comment.

“We have been very deliberate in respect to our due diligence, and we believe the process will be sustained,” said Simon, the chair of the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors.

“The strength of the Big Ten over a long period of time has been this sense of culture and commitment to one another that we believe is a strong attribute of the Big Ten.”

Simon emphasized that academics would play a large role in determining what schools would be a good fit to join the Big Ten, not just athletics.

“This is very important to the presidents. This is more than teams playing teams,” Simon said. “I can’t emphasize that enough about the Big Ten and the approach the Big Ten is taking.”

Big Ten bylaws require an application for membership and none have been submitted. Bylaws also state that action, such as offering a university to join the conference, can be done in person, electronically or by telephone — meaning university officials do not need to reconvene in Chicago to vote or make a decision.

“It’s not just a conference making a decision. It has always been and will continue to be about institutions making a choice,” Delany said. “For us that would be an application process, an assessment process.”