An initial report commissioned by the Big Ten offered this suggestion to conference officials: Just say yes to expansion.
A source inside the league told the Chicago Tribune that the report, prepared by the Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Company, analyzed whether five different schools would add enough revenue to justify expanding the league beyond 11 teams.
“The point was: We can all get richer if we bring in the right team or teams,” the source said.
The five analyzed were Missouri, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers. The source, though, called those five “the obvious suspects” and cautioned that other universities could earn consideration.
It’s also widely assumed that Notre Dame, which came within a whisker of joining the league in 2003, is not ready to give up its football independence, with Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying in December: “Our strong preference is to remain the way we are.”
The report got to the crux of the decision that will face Big Ten chancellors and presidents: If they expand to 12 or 14 schools, would they increase the current $21 million-$22 million a year each school receives from the league’s revenue pie?
If the Big Ten decides it wants to expand, one plausible scenario would have the conference negotiate specific terms for entry.
It’s also worth noting that a Big East school opting to join would have to pay a $5 million “loyalty clause” fee, according to sources.
“You just don’t jump into the league and get a full share of what everyone else in this league has established over time,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told The Associated Press. “I think someone has to buy their way into the league.”
Alvarez declined to be interviewed for this story, as did Ohio State President Gordon Gee, another outspoken proponent of expansion.
Gee did tell Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, that the two main motivations for expanding would be financing and “an inelegance in having 11 teams. We can’t play each other quite like we want.”
A 12th team would allow the league to split into two divisions and create a Big Ten title football game that would generate an estimated $15 million a year. That game would also address Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s complaint that the league “goes into hiding for six weeks” after the regular season.
Two sources told the Tribune that they believe the Big Ten will expand largely because Commissioner Jim Delany, who in 2008 signed a five-year contract extension, wants to add another accomplishment to his legacy.
Since taking the helm in 1989, Delany has added Penn State, helped form the highly profitable Big Ten Network and grown revenue from about $20 million a year to $220 million.
“What gets Jim going,” said a source with ties to Delany, “is doing something bold.”
Other than submitting to a prearranged radio interview with WSCR-AM 670 last month, during which he shot down speculation that the league had contacted schools such as Texas and Pittsburgh, Delany has declined nearly all interview requests.
As quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alvarez said: “They talked about academics. They talked about size. They talked about size of their arenas. They talked about attendance. They talked about the populace in that specific area.”
Alvarez said he didn’t believe Texas was on the list of 15, and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has since told AP that the school’s relationship with the Big Ten “is working. I like it. ... We’re always going to be looked at. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That’s a good thing.”