The refrain from most coaches on Tuesday’s Big Ten football teleconference, the first and only of the spring practice period, was that conference expansion ideas are above their paygrade. Most expressed their general support of the idea, but said any specific ideas were beyond them.
“I’m certainly supportive of whatever our presidents and our commissioner feel is the right thing,” Indiana coach Bill Lynch said.
Said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: “That decision has to be made by people at a much higher level than myself.”
Said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz: “I haven’t given it an awful lot of thought, and part of that is a point you made a minute ago. Not only will I may not have a vote, I doubt I’ll have a vote.”
But Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who has been a vocal proponent of expansion for years, had no problem saying that with his experience, he probably should have a vote.
“Unfortunately, the athletic directors and the conference commissioners forget I’ve been in this thing for 60 years, so I don’t get a lot of input,” he said. “They don’t call me and say, ‘What do you think of this and think of that?’”
Paterno has many times said that the Big Ten needs to expand to create a championship game to shorten the Big Ten’s layoff between its final game and the bowl season and to keep its teams in the public consciousness when the rest of the major conferences are having their championship games. He reiterated that on Tuesday.
“I think the Big Ten has put themselves at a big disadvantage,” Paterno said. “Because I think when you play people who have played games three weeks after you finished playing and having a very, very competitive game two weeks after you play, I think you’re at a disadvantage. And having said that, even the exposure, the television has been a disadvantage to us. I think expansion is coming. Now, in what form, there’s a lot of talk about the Pac-10 going to try to get two or four teams more in their conference and someone else is doing something else and so forth.”
Paterno said he expected expansion and realignment to make bigger conferences with 14 and 16 teams. He again said he’d like to see one team from the East added to broaden the television markets and add exposure. But he said any teams added needed to fit in more ways than just football.
“When you get married, you better marry somebody you love,” Paterno said. “That means somebody that appreciates what you want to do. We’ve got to people in our conference who are AAU (Association of American Universities) schools, that are schools that have the same kind of commitment academically. I’m not even talking about the football field. I’m not talking about athletics. I’m talking about the research and all of those other things. One of the reason we got in the Big Ten so easily and so quickly was because we were a very comparable institution to some of the really great institutions that are in the Big Ten. And I would hope when we move we would do that, and along with that bring along some people that have a comprehensive athletic program, they’re gonna have women’s sports, they’re gonna have broad-based men’s sports. We’re not just looking at football and basketball, we’re looking at the other sports. We can really mesh that’s going to be a happy marriage and we’re all on the same page and nobody dominates it. It’s not a question of bringing somebody in who you’re just going to kick around. It’s a question of bringing somebody in who can handle the academics, the research, AAU schools preferably, people with a commitment to the women’s sports, the commitment to all sports programs, a commitment to the ideals of what intercollegiate athletics should be all about. Now, can you find one, two, three, four, I don’t know. That’s up to some people that are outside my realm.”