An expansion manifesto after midnight

  • 06/07/2010 2:07 am in

PARK RIDGE, Ill. — Noted political scientist Thomas Hobbes once wrote that man, in his basest state of nature, lives a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” As a distant observer-turned-one-time insider, this is the best way I can describe the current climate of conference expansion.

To refresh thine memories: Last December, our friends at the Big Ten decided on the idea of exploring the possibility of expansion, or at least doing so publicly. (Commissioner Jim Delany has said since then that the conference had explored the possibility before, but not so seriously as they are now.)

Since then, college sports — and in particular, college football — has spontaneously combusted several times over from Syracuse all the way to Seattle. And this weekend was no different.

Sunday marked the June meeting of the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors, which might have been the only major piece of expansion news spawned in the last 96 hours that was in any way expected. It was hardly the only show in town.


I point you to an article written by yours truly for our friends at the Herald-Times, since it was far more convenient for me to make the Big Ten meetings Sunday. No seriously, it pretty well lists out most of what’s been reported since sundown Thursday. To summarize:

  • The Pac-10 is exploring expansion.
  • The Pac-10 wants every Big 12 team that can tell the difference between a football and a hole in the ground.
  • The Big Ten is quite tight-lipped, but willingly admitted that the actions of other major players might accelerate a process it had once hoped would last between 12 and 18 months. The “criteria” for expansion, which includes academic reputation, fiscal responsibility, competitiveness and an institutional fit (would they play well with the rest of the Big Ten), remain unchanged.
  • According to what we were told today, no institutions have, as yet, formally applied for membership, a requirement for admission per Big Ten bylaws.
  • The Big 12, once considered a stalwart on the landscape, particularly in football, is in serious danger of extinction. According to (more) reports today, Missouri and Nebraska, rumored to be among the Big Ten’s favorites as candidates, have been given an ultimatum by their conference to make a decision. And suddenly, a state university famous for its journalism school and another known best for Tom Osborne’s lack of willingness to discipline star football players appear to be the lynchpin.

There might not be a college sports reporter in America I respect more than Pete Thamel (except you, Duton) at the New York Times. He’s thorough, well-sourced and good at reporting things in a concise, simple way. Thus, I give you his latest piece on expansion, which essentially says that the combined decisions of Missouri and Nebraska will be the difference. Should they stay, the Texas teams — which apparently would prefer to stay together — will hang in the Big 12. Leave, and it might well send a rather more alarming signal to that same contingent. Thamel also cited a common theory that, if the Big Ten can get Notre Dame, then it might just stop at 12 teams, and a lot of these dominoes might stay upright.

Anyway, it’s a big cluster of ridiculous. And because council chairwoman and Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon and Delany were the only people available to us media types today, I couldn’t get anything in with Michael McRobbie, or any other president or chancellor for that matter.

There are, obviously, plenty of potential consequences for IU.

Where does a basketball institution fit in what has seemingly been, since its inception, a football-driven expansion process?

How would a conference championship game help or hinder Indiana, considering Indianapolis is far and away the most logical location, given access to an indoor facility that no other major Big Ten-area city offers?

How much does the presumed added revenue aid IU’s athletics department against the potential difficulties of facing a much stronger football conference, considering football is where money is made?

And probably the most important question from Indiana’s standpoint specifically: Does expansion in any way marginalize basketball in the Big Ten, where the Hoosiers have obviously hung their hats since time immemorial.

They’re questions I can’t readily answer right now, at least not with anything that isn’t 98 percent straight guessing. They’re questions we’ll do our best to answer over the coming weeks and months. But they’re also questions that, frankly, will in large part take months or even years, following any potential expansion, to truly make sense of.

So I leave you with that. I know it’s anti-climactic, and I apologize. But I got up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, and it is now 1:46 a.m. on Monday. I went to school for journalism, so while I’m not good at the mathematics and the adding, but that makes me tired. So until tomorrow folks …

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