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redeyechicago.com

Delany looking long term with Big Ten expansion bid

Teddy Greenstein

On Colleges, On Golf

7:55 PM CST, November 18, 2012

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He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three months ago. Remember that about Jim Delany.

He's 64 and loves playing golf. His conference is awash is cash (if not dominant football teams) after he had the vision and moxie to create the Big Ten Network. He added Nebraska, and everyone applauded.

What else is there to prove? If I were Delany, my summer goal would have been to knock two strokes off my handicap.

He did cardio training in Colorado and Idaho, then scaled the highest peak in Africa, reaching a stomach-churning, headache-inducing 19,340 feet above sea level.

He took the path of most resistance.

The same thing applies to Big Ten expansion. Widening the circle to include Penn State and Nebraska? Those were no-brainers.

Adding Maryland, a financial weakling (seven sports cut in July) whose football program has won the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference only once since 1986?

Adding Rutgers, whose football team has sold out two of its last 26 home games?

No one thinks this expansion from 12 to 14 would make much sense. Except, by all accounts, Delany, the Big Ten commissioner.

And we could know very soon whether it will happen. Maryland's Board of Regents will meet Monday to consider the move.

The debate will center on whether they believe they will be compelled to pay the ACC's $50 million exit fee. And, if so, whether the school can afford it.

Delany is not speaking publicly, and he has successfully created a wall of silence among Big Ten officials.

In December 2009, the Big Ten went public with its manifest destiny by releasing a 288-word statement. The process ended six months later with Nebraska departing the Big 12.

The Huskers gave the Big Ten the fourth winningest program in major college football history — and perhaps the country's most rabid fan base.

The additions of Maryland and Rutgers would be largely about one word: demographics.

Delany studies population shifts. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Michigan's population shrunk 0.08 percent from April, 2010 to July, 2011. It ranked 49th among U.S. states. Ohio was 47th. Illinois 42nd. Pennsylvania 41st. Wisconsin 37th. Indiana 34th.

The District of Columbia had the nation's largest growth rate, at 2.7 percent.

This is long-term thinking.

Both Maryland and Rutgers are AAU (American Association of Universities) members, and that would please the Big Ten's presidents and chancellors. But this move would be about numbers, sheer numbers.

More than 7 million people live in the greater Baltimore-Washington market. Nearly 9 million live in New Jersey, and Rutgers is the state school.

The New York market is a behemoth, of course, and everyone has an opinion on whether Rutgers can attract those big-city eyeballs, those TV viewers. Simply put, can BTN get on expanded cable in New York?

A New York Times study of the nation's 210 television markets found New York has about 3 million college football fans, and 20.9 percent of those chose Rutgers as their favorite team. That's almost equal to those naming Notre Dame (9.2 percent), Penn State (6.4) and UConn (5.2) combined.

The flip side, as ESPN Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell pointed out on Twitter: The Rutgers football team improving to 9-1 was the 19th story down on the New York Post sports section website Sunday morning.

That's OK, Delany might say. He doesn't consider today. He is concerned with tomorrow.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein