U.S. Senators Grassley, Harkin Question Big Ten Officals on Expansion

B.Senior Analyst IJune 24, 2010

LINCOLN, NE  Ð  JUNE 11:  Big Ten Conference Commissioner James Delany (C), flanked by (L) University of Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osbourne and Chancellor Harvey Pearlman (R) inform members of the media that the university has accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference  June 11, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The university will begin integration immediately and start athletic competition as soon as 2011. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Not to be out-strategized by Texas politicians , two U.S. Senators from the state of Iowa decided to put forth a bi-partisan effort to investigate the intentions of college football expansion. 

With major war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the biggest ecological disasters in the history of the planet still transpiring in the Gulf of Mexico, Senator Charles Grassley (R, IA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D, IA) thought that their efforts were best served by asking Big Ten Conference officials to disclose their expansion plans and release financial information about the league's cable television network.

Like Sherlock Holmes and his trusted sidekick Watson, Grassley and Harkin are on a mission to solve the riddle of how one of their beloved state universities, Iowa State, almost wound up without a conference.

In a letter to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dated June 10, 2010, the two politicians expressed concern that the Big Ten's possible expansion appeared "to be designed not to further the charitable operation of the Big Ten."

Rather it appears that invitations are being extended because of the major media markets where they are situated. Thus the invitations to join the Big Ten seem to be extended for the sole purpose of enhancing the financial bottom line that television contracts, marketing, and promotional activities will bring member institutions."  

It's important to note that the population of Nebraska (1.7 million) is roughly half the size of Iowa's 3.1 million people. That's not exactly a major media market.

Of course, their letter was written a day before the Big Ten announced that the University of Nebraska was seeking to join the conference.  

It was written during the turmoil of the college football expansion chaos, when several notable schools were about to be left without a conference to call home, and on the same day the two legislators were contacted by Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy.

Rumors of this letter began to surface on June 11, 2010, but the letter was not confirmed until two weeks later. 

My efforts to confirm the letter's existence with Senator Grassley's office on June 11 were never responded to.

In their letter, the senators asked for "all copies of any proposed expansion, merger, or consolidation plans the Conference has considered, developed, requested, or otherwise discussed and explain how the Conference decided on what schools to invite" to prove the Big Ten was not seeking expansion for the wrong reasons. 

Grassley's office confirmed that they sent a letter to every conference.  Grassley and Harkin warned officials that the establishment of super conferences could be at odds with their nonprofit status. They also demanded a halt to the conference's expansion efforts until their questions were answered.

"[We] ask for immediate response to these questions.  If you are not able to respond to these questions before Nebraska's vote tomorrow, we ask that you delay the expansion efforts of the Conference until you have responded in full to this important inquiry."

This comes as a surprise, considering Senator Harkin went on record the day after the letter was sent to the Big Ten stating that he was unsure if Congress sould get involved.

"I just don’t know if this is a proper place for Congress to get involved in this unless there’s something dealing with antitrust or something like that," Harkin said on June 11, 2010.

Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and oversees several tax-exempt organizations. Harkin is a former graduate of Iowa State. Harkin's wife is a member of the Iowa Board of Regents.

Big Ten Associate Commissioner Scott Chipman confirmed that the conference received the letter. 

"The conference has followed up with the senators' respective staffs," Chipman explained . "We have no other comment at this time."


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