Expansion Thoughts From Iowa City

By Marc Morehouse, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa's media guide lists the recruiting territory for each assistant coach. Under secondary and special teams coach Darrell Wilson's name is "New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania."

In February 2011, Wilson was credited with a recruiting haul that included three players from Maryland and one from New Jersey. So, Iowa is well acquainted with those fertile recruiting grounds and that can't hurt with the rest of the Big Ten now set to pounce.

Maryland joined the league on Monday. And, as expected, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany welcomed Rutgers (N.J.) on Tuesday.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is locked into the Nebraska thing. The Hawkeyes (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten) will try to salvage something out of a disappointing 2012 season when they play host to No. 17 Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) Friday at Kinnick Stadium. Ferentz didn't have deep thoughts on Big Ten expansion.

He did say Tuesday that those eastern recruiting pockets Iowa has mined since Hayden Fry came here in the 1980s will have Big Ten-brand schools in their backyards. That throws those areas up for grabs.

"I don't know if it helps or hurts, really. It might be better for them [Maryland, Rutgers] than us," Ferentz said.

Of course, expansion isn't a head coach topic. These decisions are made on the Delany and Big Ten university president levels. UI President Sally Mason, who leads the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, told The Gazette on Tuesday that all the ins and outs have yet to be determined.

These questions include the divisions for football and whether or not Big Ten football moves to a nine-game conference schedule.

"What will our conference schedule look like, what will the divisions look like?" she said. "We'll have about a year to figure this out. Over the coming months our athletic directors in particular will begin to determine how many conference games we'll be playing, what that schedule is going to look like going forward.

"How many non-conference games we can squeeze into a full season now. Of course, Jim Delany will continue to monitor the landscape in terms of conference realignment, so we'll keep our eyes on the ball."

On the question of whether or not the Big Ten is finished at 14, Mason said that's on Delany and his landscape monitoring. The door remains open and it's a wait-and-see.

"In terms of allowing the boundaries to expand beyond Pennsylvania and Penn State to New Jersey and Maryland, which are contiguous schools with another Big Ten state, Pennsylvania, I think makes a lot of sense [the eastern expansion]," Mason said. "So, lots of factors come into play, not the least of which was the interest that both Maryland and Rutgers showed in wanting to become full members of the Big Ten."

Despite a $50 million exit fee, Maryland will leave the ACC, a conference it was a charter member of since 1953, join the Big Ten for the 2014-15 academic year. Rutgers also plans to join its new conference in 2014, though the Big East requires 27 months' notification for departing members. The Scarlet Knights will have to negotiate a deal with the Big East to leave early.

Delany pointed out Tuesday that divisional alignments aren't set. An ESPN report Monday had Illinois flipping over to the Legends Division, while Maryland and Rutgers joined the Leaders. Not true, Delany said.

"One of the great things about expansion is the speculation surrounding expansion," Delany said. Big Ten athletic directors will decide division alignment and the topic has yet to be discussed, Delany added, saying it would be a high priority for the league in early 2013.

The 2010 Nebraska expansion kinked some rivalries, Iowa-Wisconsin included. As it stands now, if the Big Ten continues with an eight-game conference schedule and the number of teams sticks at 14 and if Purdue remains Iowa's protected crossover rival, the Hawkeyes will host the Badgers once every 12 years.

Iowa-Wisconsin might not be the impetus, but Delany said the nine-game conference schedule is something the league will put back on the table. The Big Ten was set on that before it made the deal with the Pac-12 for one non-conference game a season. The Pac-12 backed out and nine games were squelched. Delany also mentioned as many as 20 conference games for basketball.

"I think more games is on the table," Delany said. "One of the reasons we stayed at 11 (members) and stayed at 12 is because we love to play each other more, not less."

The nine-game schedule is a Delany preference. Coaches have trouble processing the years where they would have four conference home games and five on the road.

"I just think the math is weird," Ferentz said. "I'm not thinking much about this, but anytime you talk about a competitive advantage of five home games, four away, or vice versa, I'm not sure that's a good idea."

Iowa players polled on Tuesday love the idea of expansion. They like the idea of Iowa's Tiger Hawk showing up in big eastern markets. They also like the idea of sending a message to major media markets that Iowa is more than the cut-away shots of cornfields you see during every telecast from Iowa City.

"If there's any chance the Iowa brand can reach that New York and that Baltimore/D.C. metro area, that's good," linebacker James Morris said, "because for a lot of people, the perception of Iowa is corn, right?

"Granted, it is a lot of corn, but it's not just corn. There are other things and Iowa football is one of those things. That's what we want them to know about, so yes, I think it's good for Iowa."

In a way, it could give the state a chance to re-brand.

"We probably benefit from this more than any other state in the Big Ten," Morris said. "Nebraska is a national brand. People in New York and D.C. know Nebraska. I've been to New York and D.C. and people don't know Iowa.

"We stand to gain more than we stand to lose, if we stand to lose anything."
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