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Big Ten expansion is big topic at meetings

Rumors that the conference plans to add members are unofficially addressed at gathering of Bowl Championship Series commissioners.

April 21, 2010|By Chris Dufresne

Reporting from Scottsdale, Ariz. — Big Ten Conference expansion wasn't on the agenda at Wednesday's meeting of Bowl Championship Series commissioners. The subject didn't even come up inside the conference room at a swanky hotel and resort.

Outside, though, during breaks by the pool, there was a ripple effect.

"It has made for some anxious moments for everybody," Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. "You just don't know."

Speculation was so rampant that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany held a news conference to say . . . that he wasn't saying anything. And it lasted 30 minutes.

Karl Benson, commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, listened from the back of the room — even the insiders wanted tidbits.

Delany emerged from his self-imposed "silent phase" to inform the masses not to believe everything they read in the blogosphere. Things like: the Big Ten is preparing to crush the college sports landscape by expanding from 11 schools to as many as 16.

If you believe rumors, some based on substance, Delany is going to raid the Big East Conference for Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and maybe Connecticut, then wait for Notre Dame to become team No. 16.

Even if Notre Dame remains independent, which appears likely, the Big Ten might look elsewhere. What if it took two teams from the Big 12 Conference?

"We always wanted to be the Big Ten," a Big 12 official quipped.

Delany joked he thought the Big Ten would change its name when Penn State became the 11th member two decades ago, but was told that was never going to happen.

Seriously, though, how could you call a 16-team conference the Big Ten?

"Cart before horse," Delany said.

Delany noted the 12-to-18-month time frame for expansion he outlined last December was still in place.

"There's no change in the timetable," Delany insisted. "No announcement here, no notification here."

If the Big Ten lured three or four teams out of the Big East, it might doom that conference as a football league and set off a chain reaction that could stretch from the Southeastern Conference to the Pacific 10 Conference.

Officials who might be affected by the Big Ten's plans — just about everybody — are understandably nervous.

"It would be irresponsible for me not to be concerned," Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said of the expansion's impact on his league. "It's not the elephant in the room anymore. We're all concerned about it, not just the Big East."

As Delany was trying to dial down expansion rumors to reporters, the Big East issued a news release revealing it had hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a strategic advisor.

You could read between the lines: the Big East, perhaps facing another fight for its life after surviving a previous raid by the Atlantic Coast Conference, doesn't have time to wait out the Big Ten vetting process.

Meanwhile, Mike Slive commissioner of the powerful Southeastern Conference, read a statement to the media that he had scribbled on a piece of paper.

"If there is going to be a significant shift in the conference paradigm, the SEC will be strategic and thoughtful to make sure it maintains its position as one of the nation's preeminent conferences," the statement read in part.

Translation: The SEC, which has won the last four national titles in football, isn't going to allow the Big Ten to charge to the top of the heap.

Put more bluntly, Slive said the SEC will always be the cutting-edge conference: "I won't sit back and just ignore what is going on around me. Or, the conference won't ignore what's going on around it."

What is the Big Ten up to?

"I don't try to guess what somebody else is going to do," Slive said.

Funny. Everybody else was.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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