Illinois interim president says 12 is the right number for Big Ten

Published: Monday, June 14 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

A 12-school Big Ten is just right, according to Stanley Ikenberry, Illinois' interim president.

"I think 12 is a good number," Ikenberry told the Tribune on Monday. "If there are opportunities compelling enough in the future to expand further, I suppose folks will look at those. But frankly, I don't see anything on the horizon right now."

The national picture also reflects that, with Texas announcing Monday it will remain in a 10-team Big 12 rather than bolt for the Pac-10.

Nebraska fled the Big 12 for the Big Ten on Friday, earning unanimous approval from Big Ten presidents and chancellors. It would take a supermajority (8 of 11) of Big Ten chiefs to approve another addition, and that would be a tough sell for Ikenberry.

"I am a conservative leaner on expansion issues," he said.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said last week the league would "take a deep breath and see what the possibilities might be," adding that the league could continue to study expansion for another six to 12 months.

"For us, we are in a great place," Delany said. "We are stronger today than yesterday."

Ikenberry said adding Nebraska made sense on a number of levels.

"One, Nebraska is an AAU (Association of American Universities) member and, academically, that was an important threshold," he said. "No. 2, they are geographically proximate. The University of Texas, for example, a great university, great tradition, but really not practical from a geographic standpoint.

"And third, they have a strong athletic tradition and strong fan base. When Nebraska comes to play Illinois, there will be a high level of interest."

Ikenberry said the financial benefits of adding Nebraska would be minimal. The conference paid out about $20 million to every Big Ten school last year.

"I don't think it will be a windfall for us," he said, "but I think that it will not be a sacrifice. The criteria ... was not (to) diminish the revenues of any existing school. Nobody is looking for a windfall, but everybody is looking to be held harmless."

Ikenberry is not just any university CEO. He spearheaded Penn State's move to the Big Ten in 1990 before returning to a leadership role at Illinois last year.

"As soon as we brought Penn State into the Big Ten, we began to look for a 12th team," he said. "I think everybody believes that having 12 members in the league is a good step. It will allow conference members to develop their schedules even more within the conference. That would be a healthy thing."

Big Ten officials have discussed boosting the conference football slate from eight games to nine. With 11 teams, that wasn't possible. With 12, the math works.

The league also plans to create a Big Ten title game.

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