CHICAGO – Jim Delany didn’t have an answer for the $64,000 question Monday afternoon, but at least the Big Ten Conference commissioner revealed a few interesting tidbits during a question-and-answer session with reporters.
Delany said during a news conference at the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon that an announcement regarding divisional alignment won’t come for another 30-45 days. That means more waiting for fans who want to find out how the league will be split after Nebraska becomes its 12th member starting in 2011.
Still, Delany covered a lot of other ground in his 36 minutes in front of a podium at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
The biggest news was Delany’s revelation that the league will likely go to a nine-game schedule in football, possibly as early as 2013. The idea doesn’t thrill some coaches, including the University of Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, but Delany and others believe that’s the direction the Big Ten should go.
“I think that would be helpful to us,” Delany said. “I think there’s consensus among our athletic directors to do that.
“How quickly can we do that? We can’t do that in the next year or two. I’m hopeful we can make some progress in years three or four. Hopefully, it’s not more than that, but it could be depending on the contractual commitments that have to be modified.”
Delany also confirmed that he expects the first football title game to be held in December of 2011. Where it will be held — or which television network will have the rights to the game — has yet to be determined.
Because Big Ten officials are so busy working on the integration of Nebraska into the league in time for the 2011 season, Delany said there likely won’t be enough time to do a thorough examination of the handful of venues thought to be in play to host the game.
A likely compromise would involve the Big Ten settling on a venue for the 2011 game in the next 120 days and doing a more detailed study next spring to decide which venue — or venues, if the league decides to rotate the game — would be the best fit. Delany didn’t say whether Green Bay’s Lambeau Field or other outdoor stadiums would be considered.
Delany also said:
• The league won’t change names despite growing to 12 teams. “I think the Big Ten is the Big Ten regardless of the number,” he said.
• The Big Ten likely won’t use divisions in men’s and women’s basketball. “I’m not sure if divisions make sense in basketball,” he said.
• The league has hit the pause button on its expansion exploration while it devotes all of its energy into the Nebraska transition. Once the dust settles, Delany said he’ll poll the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors to see if further expansion should be considered.
• And if the Big Ten decides to wants to add more teams, Delany has given up hope that Notre Dame will be part of that growth.
“I don’t see them as a player, really,” Delany said. “I think (Notre Dame athletic director) Jack Swarbrick has been consistent from the beginning about their commitment to the Big East and their commitment to independence (in football). I see Notre Dame playing in the Big East for many years to come, and I see them playing independent football for many years to come.”
The hottest topic besides the divisional split in football may be the decision to go to nine games.
Bielema, who sat in the crowded ballroom listening to Delany speak Monday, met with reporters afterward and didn’t appear to be too pleased by the news.
It appears Bielema has an ally in Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who said he was concerned that the difficulty of an uneven schedule — five road games, four home games — might prevent a “special” team from making a run at a national championship.
Tressel mentioned the potential financial ramifications of the nine-game league schedule. In the years Ohio State has just four league home games, it would need to play all three of its non-conference games at Ohio Stadium. That might prove difficult, especially because the Buckeyes like to play a home-and-home series against a top-flight opponent.
“It’s really important to have home games,” Tressel said. “All of a sudden, now we have six away games and that might be difficult for us to (support) our 36 sports.”
Delany said eliminating a non-conference game would actually help finances because teams could avoid paying big money buyout games — some of which have reached seven figures — to low-profile but money-hungry opponents.
The bottom line is Delany believes fans and players want more Big Ten games.
“What we have to do is everything we can to make sure we play each other more, not less,” Delany said.