CHICAGO — Commissioner Jim Delany expects the Big Ten to hold a championship game next season, when Nebraska joins and brings the league to 12 members.
He also said teams will likely play nine conference games instead of eight in the future to help preserve rivalries.
“I think there’s a real consensus among our athletic directors to do that,” Delany said Monday at the league’s football media days. “How quickly we can do that? We can’t do that in the next year or two. I’m hopeful we can make some progress for years three, four. Hopefully, it’s not three or four, but it could be depending on the contractual commitments.”
The timetable for the championship game is sooner.
Delany expects there to be one next season, although he’s not sure where it would be played and if the site would rotate. He also wants to sell naming rights to the game.
Delany said he’s spoken to representatives from potential host sites and Chicago is in the running. But he’s not sure he’ll have time in the next four months to make visits. The conference could choose one for the first game and then tour venues in the spring.
“I just think that selection, the philosophy, the economics around a championship venue may require more focused energy than we have right at this moment,” Delany said.
Luring Nebraska from the Big 12 and adding one of college football’s traditional powers put the Big Ten in position to add what figures to be a lucrative championship game to the schedule. It also created some issues.
The conference now has to figure out how to align into two six-team divisions while maintaining long-standing rivalries, like Michigan-Ohio State. Delany hopes to have that resolved in the next 30 to 45 days.
While geography will be considered, it’s not the top priority. Competitive balance and rivalries trump that.
“I don’t know that we’ll be able to preserve every trophy game or every rivalry game, but I can tell you that we’re going to go through great lengths to make sure the traditions and the rivalries are respected,” Delany said. “I’ve seen other expansions where you expand your conference, you don’t increase the number of games and play each other less.”
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said “there’s a framework there that’s pretty good” for the division alignment, although nothing’s been decided.
With the championship game, it’s possible teams could meet twice and even in consecutive games. That could mean, for example, back-to-back games for Michigan against Ohio State.
Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez has no problem with that. At the moment, they play on the final week and Rodriguez would like to continue that “just from a tradition standpoint.”
The most important thing is they meet, period, whether they wind up in the same division or not.
Further expansion remains a possibility, although Delany said the Big Ten “is not actively involved” at the moment. He said the league will probably decide in December whether to look into it again.
If it does, Penn State coach Joe Paterno hopes the conference looks east.
“It would help us particularly in the recruiting, the television and all those kinds of things, that are pluses that you get when you expand as we have with Nebraska,” he said.
And he was in favor of adding the Cornhuskers, calling it “a good move for the Big Ten.”
Penn State played them every year from 1979-83 when Osborne was their coach, but Paterno’s history against Nebraska goes back even farther.
“I coached, actually, as an assistant coach long before — not long before, but before even Bob Devaney or Tom did, when Bill Glassford was coaching out there,” Paterno said. “They beat us out there and they had a great running back by — I think [Bobby] Reynolds was his name, one of the best backs in the country.”
He was looking forward to seeing Osborne and got a chance to pose for a picture with him and Delany.
For all the talk about maintaining traditions and rivalries, some coaches were looking forward to creating a new one with Nebraska.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz called it “a home run” and “a great thing for the conference.”
Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema approached the league about playing Nebraska in the season finale every year and likes the idea of a conference championship game.
“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said. “But for me personally I think it would be a very exciting thing.”
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