Expanding the Horizons

In his 20 years leading the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany has been involved in many changes that have reshaped the conference and the college football landscape. In his annual address, Delany, along with the 11 Big Ten coaches, are willing to discuss the possibility of increasing the competitiveness of the conference.

CHICAGO – Running a league that has pioneered its own network, instituted instant replay, open up more bowl games for conference teams and help orchestra the Bowl Championship Series, Jim Delany has seen plenty of new and innovated ideas cross his desk.

Entering his 21st season at the helm of the Big Ten Conference, Delany still has many topics he's involved in that once again could change the direction of the conference, ideas that he openly talked about at the 38th annual Big Ten Media Day in downtown Chicago.

Over the past several years, one of the main topics of discussion has been the expansion of Big Ten as a whole, something the league hasn't done since adding an 11th member (Penn State) in 1993.

"I think as a group, they are very open to expansion," Delany said of the 11 conference coaches. "Ultimately, the decision is made by the presidents with the advice of the athletic directors and facility. Any kind of expansion always has profound effects on competitive structures."

The other form of expansion Delany addressed was the possibility of following the move the Big Ten men's and women's basketball programs did two seasons ago, by expanding the conference schedule to include an additional game. The topic, while discussed, is easier said than done from Delany's standpoint, due to the simple fact that basketball schedules have a longer non-conference schedule built in.

"In some instances, home games are worth between three and four million dollars and when you lose a home game, that has a dramatic effect," Delany said. "There is a clear majority that is willing to discuss it (but) if you don't get firm majorities to change, it's easy to put them off to the side for awhile.

"The ocean liner in football is a little harder to turn. It takes more time to turn in football than in basketball."

Since adding a ninth conference game would make certain schools play one more home or road game, the conference would have to insure that rivalry games (like Iowa v. Iowa State or Michigan State v. Notre Dame) would be sequenced with the conference schedule to make sure a school doesn't have to play a non-conference rivalry road game in a season where they would have to play five conference road games.

On the plus side, conference teams would have another guaranteed game on their schedule, eliminated a weak non-conference opponent and generating fan buzz.

"The 12th game, probably too often, has gone to an opponent that's a home game and one that you have a really good chance of winning," Delany admitted. "A lot of teams are trying to get bowl eligibility and I understand that, but I am starting to think that 6-6 and going to a bowl game is not (that great). Schools start to get bowled down."

Additionally, Delany, who still says a playoff of any kind isn't in the Big Ten's interest, was pleased that over the past several seasons, the five-game BCS package has drawn more ratings that the World Series, NBA Finals and the Final Four.

The ESPN/BCS deal includes exclusive television, radio, digital, international and marketing rights for the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls from 2011-2014 and the BCS title game from 2011 to 2013.

"They are the world wide leader for a reason," Delany said of ESPN. "Through 2014, the BCS will continue to hold its position. While it's controversial, it's no doubt successful."

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