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On College Sports

Big Ten’s next move will shake things up

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / April 23, 2010

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The overseers of college athletics — the conference commissioners — concluded their Bowl Championship Series meetings here yesterday, having looked to the future in the long term rather than year to year.

“I think for a while they administered it as if it wasn’t going to last,’’ said BCS executive director Bill Hancock. “But now we’re planning that it’s going to be here in the year 2040.’’

The tougher part for the commissioners will be to go back to their conferences and map strategic plans for a future that may include expansion for some and implosion for others.

Although there were no definitive announcements made at the meetings, plans are being formulated. One potential change would be to give the Mountain West champion the seventh automatic BCS bid in 2012 and 2013 (Big Ten, Big East, Atlantic Coast, Pac-10, Big 12, and Southeastern already receive automatic bids).

But the Big Ten is the linchpin for most of the movement.

On Wednesday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube in terms of how fast expansion would move. Delany said his conference was still in its 12-to-18-month format, which means nothing official until December.

Don’t bet on it.

In the next several weeks, the Big Ten will decide which plan it wants — and most guesses still have it as a five-school expansion to 16 teams. Once that is decided, the college presidents will examine potential additions to see if they fit — academically, athletically, even culturally.

The conferences in question and the schools of interest will be notified. The schools will then decide whether they are interested.

The Big East, Big 12, and ACC are the conferences most likely to be affected by this corporate raiding. Rutgers, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh in the Big East and Missouri and Nebraska in the Big 12 appear to be prime targets.

Whether the Big East, which has added former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a consultant, can come up with a counter plan remains to be seen.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto said it will be aggressive in its quest to preserve the conference’s football identity.

The SEC has taken the same stance.

“I won’t sit back and ignore what is going on around me,’’ said SEC commissioner Mike Slive. “We know who we are. They [the other conferences] want to look and see who they are.’’

The SEC, which owns the last four national football championships, knows who it is and what it is doing, and if the Big Ten acts, count on the SEC to move aggressively to counter, with ACC teams such as Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State the most likely targets.

Elsewhere, doing less might be enough. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said his conference is still exploring expansion but he also said it might instead remain at 10 teams and promote legislation that would allow conferences with 10 teams to hold a championship game.

Downsizing may be a trend, with the NCAA deciding to limit the much-talked-about expansion of the basketball tournament to 68 teams (for one year at least) rather than 96.

That decision was greeted with enthusiasm by ACC commissioner John Swofford.

“I think that’s great, fantastic,’’ said Swofford, whose conference has claimed the last two basketball titles (Duke and North Carolina). “Sanity has prevailed. It’s just great news, and adding Turner to the television mix is good, because it gives a new face to the tournament.’’

Whether the major college conferences will have a new face in the coming months is the hot-button topic.

Slive, who along with Delany are the major players among the commissioners, with the most juice and the most influence, concedes the landscape might indeed change.

“What’s this all going to look like in five years?’’ he said. “I don’t know. It will probably be different.

“Will it be better? I guess that depends on your perspective.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.