Big Ten adds Nebraska; UM being considered, sources say

They met last month at a secret location to exchange materials on mission and branding and culture and finances — all those athletic-department buzzwords that make you want to flip the channel.

But what struck Jim Delany, the Big Ten's button-down commissioner, was something more emotional, something that led him Friday to call Nebraska a "phenomenal fit."

Delany recalled Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne telling him about how Cornhuskers fans gave Texas' Ricky Williams a standing ovation after he rushed for 150 yards in a 1998 game — a 20-16 Longhorns victory.

"I thought: 'Wow, that's special. They get it,'" Delany said. "When you are proud of something like that, it's a distinguishing characteristic.

"It's not [about] dollars or cents or television or even academics. It's about culture and values. They thought a lot like we did in what we are trying to achieve in our venues."

So there you have it — Delany was struck by Nebraska's sportsmanship. Probably also didn't hurt that Nebraska has some of the nation's richest football tradition, has sold out 304 consecutive games at 81,067-seat Memorial Stadium, is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is in the Midwest.

All those factors contributed to Nebraska's joining the league of Bo and Woody — the Big Ten's first addition since Penn State in 1990.

"We feel we share a lot of common values with what we know of Big Ten institutions," Osborne said.

And the Big Ten might not stop at 12, instead following Delany's "act and act again" forecast from one week ago.

Delany called this period "a pause … a deep breath" and said the league could take an additional six to 12 months before deciding whether to add more schools.

"We're back to the 'slower-tempo' sort of game," he said. "We will continue to study. If an opportunity presents itself, [we will] seize it. But it's very hard to predict the unpredictable. That's the environment we find ourselves in."

Sources say the Big Ten remains interested in not only Rutgers but also Maryland, a school that has not received much attention from expansion observers.

Maryland is a large public research institution in a Big Ten border state with two substantial TV markets (Washington and Baltimore) and a decent history of athletics.

Maryland is also an Association of American Universities member and ranks 53rd nationally among public universities (tied with Ohio State and ahead of Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa and Nebraska) but has struggled to graduate its football and men's basketball players, producing weak Academic Progress Rate numbers.

A Maryland official told The Baltimore Sun last month that the school had had no contact with the Big Ten.

Missouri is all but out of the picture, a victim of apparent Big Ten ambivalence toward the Tigers.

"My understanding," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said Friday, "is there aren't any other conference members [that will be] considered by the Big Ten."

Texas appears headed to the Pac-10 (along with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and possibly Texas A&M), but Longhorns officials won't make that announcement until Tuesday at the earliest.

Notre Dame also remains a pipe dream, with athletic director Jack Swarbrick telling the Tribune that the school has had "no substantive discussions" with the Big Ten and that "there's been nothing at all that's happened that directly impacts us or our evaluation of what's going on. We continue to be focused on trying to do what we can to maintain our football independence and ensure the long-term viability of the Big East."

Back to Nebraska. Chancellor Harvey Perlman said a major attraction of the Big Ten was stability "that the Big 12 simply cannot offer."

Not only that, but there's also a promise of increased revenue once Nebraska becomes an equal member. The Big 12 paid out about $10 million to Nebraska in 2009, half of what Big Ten schools received.

•Nebraska will join the league on July 1, 2011. "A quick turnaround," Delany called it. But not soon enough for Osborne: "Once you make the change, you'd like to do it tomorrow."

•In determining how to break up the 12 (or 14 or 16) teams into divisions, Delany said the league's first priority will be "competitive fairness." Second is maintaining rivalries. Third is geography.

•Delany said he is "presuming" that there will be a conference title game in 2011 and will consult former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer on the logistics (scheduling, etc.) of creating the game. Delany said the league has not looked into possible venues.

•The vote among presidents and chancellors in favor of Nebraska was unanimous. Penn State President Graham Spanier called in from Paris.

•Nebraska has been particularly strong in women's basketball, women's volleyball and baseball. Oh, and the women's bowling team is pretty decent. The men's basketball team, meanwhile, has never won an NCAA tournament game.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
63°