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Opinion

Opinion

Big Ten could learn lesson from ACC

May 21, 2010

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Various Big Ten Conference officials spent the weekend insisting that the league’s spring meetings, which began Monday and concluded Wednesday in Chicago, would be anticlimactic on the expansion front.

That may be true, but it’s difficult to believe the league’s 11 athletic directors returned home without important information to relay to their campus leaders.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has made it clear that some degree of expansion probably is on the way, although he repeatedly has said there is no specific timetable or definite number of prospective new members set.

It’s virtually certain at least one team will be pulled in. Just one would be enough to allow the conference to stage a postseason championship football game, which probably would increase annual revenue by $8 million.

If the expansion is to be only the one team, the process could move along quickly.

But if the many rumors are true that three to five new schools could be targeted, Delany and his staff will face a good deal of fence-building within the current membership.

The perfect example in that regard is the ACC.

The league’s acquisition of three Big East teams in 2005 and 2006 so rearranged the landscape that the governor of Virginia at time — Mark Warner — ultimately emerged as the primary power broker.

Duke and North Carolina, the two schools that account for about 99 percent of the ACC’s reputation as a basketball kingpin, weren’t wild about the idea of adding so much as a 10th team, much less zooming to 12.

Schedules had to be revamped across the board, travel expenses in minor sports soared, and any semblance of a “conference family” was forever abandoned.

So much ill will was created among the old Big East clan that pre-raid relationships never will be restored.

At the end of the turmoil, the ACC wound up a weaker basketball conference, roughly the same in football and with a baseball “championship” tournament that prohibits four teams every year from even competing.

The per-team television income remained about the same as when the ACC had nine members, and those all-important football championship games have done nothing whatsoever to create any sort of national interest or prestige.

What happened within and to the ACC will not be casually disregarded by the Big Ten presidents and boards of trustees, most of whom ultimately are supposed to account for their actions to taxpayers and state governments.

In other words, the pro-expansionists in the Big Ten simply can’t assume that all of the wheeling and dealing can be done behind locked doors and be forever hidden from the public.

Warner shot a hole in that sort of nonsense when he told the ACC either to include Virginia Tech or expand without the support of the University of Virginia.

Mike Easley and/or the UNC System Board of Governors could have done exactly the same favor for East Carolina but didn’t so choose.

College conferences often like to think they can operate in a vacuum and make up rules as they please, but that’s not really the case.

Expansions are all about money and allowing television networks to gain more control over college sports.

But the process also involves real people and can touch on issues that transcend athletic competition.

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