Though Athletic Director Bill Martin and Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez have made statements on the prospect of the Big Ten conference adding a twelfth team to its ranks, University President Mary Sue Coleman declined to comment on the issue.
In a statement e-mailed to the Michigan Daily on Wednesday, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that Coleman will not be commenting on the issue at this time, but that the University is interested in seeing the results of a planned 12 to 18 month investigation by the league into whether the expansion is feasible.
“The University believes it’s important to give the Big Ten time to investigate all of its options on the issue of expansion,” Fitzgerald wrote.
The conference’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors announced Tuesday that they will aggressively explore the possibility of adding a twelfth team. The last time the conference seriously entertained the idea of adding a team was in 2003, thirteen years after the most recent addition — Penn State — joined the conference.
Following Tuesday’s announcement, Martin told AnnArbor.com that he’d be “open minded” about adding another team, but that the decision is not up to him.
“It’ll be up to the president,” Martin told AnnArbor.com Tuesday.
Rodriguez wrote in a press release on Tuesday that he was “pleased the conference is looking for ways to make the Big Ten better.”
Though Martin and Rodriguez expressed support for adding a team, Sport Management Prof. Jason Winfree, who specializes in the economics of professional and collegiate athletics, said the expansion might not be in the conference’s best interest.
He said that while adding another team to the Big Ten could increase revenue for the conference and member schools, it may not be in the student-athletes’ best interests.
“It’s hard to measure the costs and benefits,” Winfree said, “(The schools) would get more regular season revenue, but the athletes are having to play longer. If they think it’s worth it, I’ll believe them.”
An additional team in the conference would allow the Big Ten to divide into two divisions, similar to the ACC, Big 12, and SEC. Having two divisions would allow for a conference football championship game after the regular season to determine which team would receive the conference’s automatic BCS bowl bid.
Winfree said that a conference championship game could be a competitive disadvantage for Big Ten teams. But, he added, the additional game would mean that all the members of the league and the conference would make more money.
“I think that in terms of football revenues the weaker football teams would be helped most from the additional revenue from the conference championship game,” Winfree said. “For the better teams I think it’s a little more ambiguous because that’s one more game they have to go out and win to be in the national title picture.”
Winfree said the twelfth university could defect from a handful of conferences. However, he said, it would be unlikely that Notre Dame – whom the conference hotly pursued in 1999 – would join this time around.
“The issue with Notre Dame is they have their own national TV contract, which gives them quite a bit of revenue. So, they would actually be taking less television revenue if they joined the Big Ten because the Big Ten (television) revenue is going to be shared.”
Winfree said that whatever school is added to the league will need to be an institution of high academic standing.
“You want to bring in a school that has decent academics,” he said. “If you bring in another Big Ten school it’s not just the athletic department or the football team.”