Big Ten Media Days: What Did We Learn About the League's Future Plans?
CHICAGO—Since the Big Ten Conference announced this summer that Nebraska would become the league's 12th member in 2011, speculation has run rampant about where Jim Delany and company go from here.
Everything from the number of conference games to the potential alignment of divisions to the location of a presumed title game to a potential second phase of expansion has been discussed ad nauseum by the media...but Monday's Big Ten kickoff festivities in Chicago provided the first real opportunity for the conference's powers that be to explain the specifics of the course they are charting.
So what did we learn?
1. The Big Ten expects to hold a title game between division winners in December 2011.
"I think probably the championship game is inevitable," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "Because of obviously what it means to the Big Ten Conference financially, and of course, the exposure, I don't think there's any question there will probably be a big championship game."
For his part, Delany couldn't have been any more straightforward when he spoke with reporters this afternoon: "I expect there to be a championship game in '11, December of '11," the commissioner said.
While the venue has yet to be determined (and Delany didn't rule out the idea of playing the first edition at one stadium and then making the decision on a long-term site the following year), both indoor and outdoor locations remain in play.
2. It appears the league will keep its name and replace its logo.
Neither move is much of a shock, as the Big Ten logo that includes an "11" makes no sense at all with 12 teams, while the conference's brand and identity seem too strong to make a name change (especially with "Big 12" being unavailable).
"I think the Big Ten is the Big Ten regardless of the number," Delany said emphatically.
That settles that.
3. Divisional alignment is crucial and should be completed in the next month or two.
"I hope that within the next 30-45 days we'll have a divisional structure identified," Delany said. The commissioner listed competitive balance, geographic consideration, and the preservation of traditional rivalries as three important factors that play into the division-crafting process.
Delany especially stressed the significance of competitive equality throughout his press conference, with a focus on the period of time since Penn State joined the league in 1993.
"You're looking at national championships, you're looking at BCS games, conference championships, conference won-and-loss records, non-conference won-and-loss records, non-conference records that are influenced, how many BCS opponents did you play, Sagarin ratings, composite BCS ratings...all of those data points will be absorbed by our athletic directors," Delany told the assembled media.
"The divisions need to be as balanced as they can possibly be made.
4. Expansion is on hold, but not necessarily over.
"We'll pause [to work on the transition and integration for Nebraska], but we are not necessarily turning our back on expansion. We said we wanted to study it for 12 to 18 months, and we're only about six months into that study," Delany explained.
Worth noting: The commissioner wouldn't hint at a potential direction that the conference might look if they did seek a 13th team (or more), although most recent speculation has centered around the Eastern seaboard.
"I would hope we would be looking at a couple schools maybe in the East," said Penn State's Joe Paterno of possible future expansion targets. "It would certainly be a good move for us: it would help us particularly in the recruiting, the television, and all those kinds of things."
In response to a reporter's question, Delany did seem to close the door on the endless South Bend-related speculation, saying he didn't "see [the Fighting Irish] as a player," and that he did "see Notre Dame playing as an independent in football for many years to come."
It's OK, Irish fans. You can breathe now.
5. Look for the Big Ten to add a ninth conference game in the near future.
While some coaches spoke out in favor of this move (Purdue's Danny Hope said he was "excited about the possibility," adding that it would be "good for the league"), and others weren't so overjoyed (Ohio State's Jim Tressel lamented the cost to his university's bottom line at potentially giving up a home payday), the opinion that matters most—Delany's—didn't leave any doubt about the direction of the league's scheduling strategy.
"What we have to do is do everything we can to make sure that we play each other more, not less," he said. "And I think that will be very serious consideration to get to a ninth conference game so we can play each other more. We probably can't do it immediately, but I think eventually we'll get there because, as I say, a conference is about playing each other more, not less.
"I think a ninth game at this juncture would serve everybody's interests."
The logistics will obviously be a nightmare (2015 schedule-makers, do you have your erasers handy?), but from the tone of Delany's speech on Monday, a nine-game league slate is a matter of "when," not "if."
"I think that there's a good consensus among our athletic directors; we've sort of yet to decide when that will happen," added Delany. "But I hope it happens in two and no more than four years, and we might need to help them with some of their existing contractual commitments."
Big Ten bailout money to buy out home-and-home contracts? Stay tuned.
For more Bleacher Report coverage from Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, follow Tim on Twitter at @TimCary .
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