Hot topic in Chicago: Big Ten expansion

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2010 - 10:38 PM

Gophers AD Joel Maturi says nothing has been decided yet, but many speculate on Notre Dame's plans.

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Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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As chairman of the Big Ten athletic directors this year, Gophers AD Joel Maturi spent Sunday in Chicago representing the other conference ADs at the biannual meeting of the league's college presidents. One of the subjects discussed was Big Ten expansion.

The presidents meet twice a year, in December and June, and athletics is always on the agenda.

"I think the decision ... last December that the Big Ten was exploring expansion, I think obviously has had a reaction nationally," Maturi said. "I think all conferences are concerned about their own membership and there's a lot of discussion as to what that will lead to. Nobody wants to be left behind, so to speak.

"And so, whether the Big Ten expands or not still remains to be seen, [or by] how many it expands. I do think that some schools are certainly more sought after than others by any expansion of any conference, and obviously that's what's taking place with the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC and the Big 12, as well as the Big Ten."

Maturi pointed out that the Big Ten evenly divides most of the revenue, but the Big 12 doesn't. So schools such as Texas and Nebraska do much better than the other Big 12 members, and any one of those would gain by joining the Big Ten.

Notre Dame discussed

Maturi said there is also a lot of speculation about the Big East Conference. "The great fear is that if they were to lose two, three, four teams, would they be able to sustain their conference membership as it is?" Maturi said. "And leading the way in all their sports except football would be the Notre Dame question."

Maturi said there is a feeling out there that the Irish -- a Big East member, but independent in football -- might be forced to make a move.

"I can't speak for Notre Dame, I am an alum and close to some people there," Maturi said. " I don't think they want to move. I think that's probably the safest statement to say. The dynamics of college sports is changing, the finances are changing, and there might be a position that they would be forced to move."

Maturi said what is interesting is that the Big East has permitted Notre Dame to compete in all sports except football.

Said Maturi: "Yet there is some discussions that if the Big East were to lose some football institutions as well as other sports, that they would say to Notre Dame, 'You must join us as a full member or not.' And I'm not so sure if Notre Dame were to be forced to join any conference as a full member, meaning all of its sports, I'm not sure the Big East is the best fit.

"Obviously, we would like to think that the Big Ten would be, but I don't know where this goes. This is all speculation on my part and, again, as is everybody else with the blogs and the news stories and things of this nature. But it will be interesting to see what happens in the future."

Maybe the key to what Notre Dame does is how long NBC continues to pay the Irish big money to televise their football program. Notre Dame and the network agreed to a five-year contract extension through the 2015 season in 2008. The previous contract was reported to be worth $9 million per year.

Jottings

Maturi said the Gophers athletic department had the best academic semester in history. Of some 750 student-athletes, 553 had a 3.0 grade point average or better. "The [GPAs], which came out recently, are the highest that we've ever had at the University of Minnesota," Maturi said. And he pointed out the school's graduation rate for athletes is the highest ever at 71 percent. Maturi said athletes who finished their eligibility, meaning they competed for four years, graduated at over a 90 percent rate. ... Academic All-Big Ten honors were earned by 126 Gophers athletes, second only to Ohio State with 186.

Twins General Manager Bill Smith, talking about Monday's Major League Baseball draft: "Straight-forward year, our first pick is 21 and then I think our second pick is 71, because there are about 20 compensation picks for teams that either didn't sign their first-round draft pick last year or lost type-A free agents or type-B free agents. So there are about 20 bonus picks in there this year, and so we'll pick 21st on Monday night and then 71st, the second round will start on Tuesday."

The Frank Kara Integrity Award, named after the former University of Minnesota director of compliance who died of cancer in 2007 at age 40, was given this year to Gophers assistant baseball coach Rob Fornasiere. The recipient of the award must be a university employee or representative of the university's athletic interests who exemplifies integrity, honesty and character.

Gophers closer Scott Matyas has just been sensational of late, starting with beating Michigan in the Big Ten baseball tournament. He has pitched 6 2/3 innings in the postseason and has given up no runs and one hit. He pitched the final three innings in the Gophers' 6-4 victory over New Mexico in the NCAA tournament Saturday night, striking out the last eight batters he faced. For the season, he is 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA and eight saves.

Outside linebacker Brendan Beal of Bethlehem, Pa., has made it official that he will leave Florida and transfer to Minnesota, where he will have to sit out one year before being eligible. Not many Gophers football players in the past have been as highly recruited as the 6-3, 240-pound Beal, who was offered scholarships by Boston College, Louisiana State, Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame, Ohio State, Rutgers and USC before picking Florida.

Eric Decker, the former outstanding Gophers wide receiver, has been sidelined because of a foot problem. "I am not practicing at this time," he reported from Denver Broncos camp. "I just got back on my feet, running last week. I'm going to work towards cutting and doing route-specific stuff here in a few weeks. So hopefully by mid-June, end of June, I'll be full go, but I will not participate in any [organized team activities]. ... Yeah, definitely, my goal right now is to get the foot healthy and in July be able to run some routes and get on the field and knock some rust off ... hopefully by training camp."

According to his agent, Bill Duffy, Joel Przybilla will exercise his $7.4 million option for the 2010-11 season and remain with the Portland Trail Blazers instead of testing the free-agent market. The former Gophers center has been paid well for his performance despite several knee problems. He played in only 30 games this season, averaging 4.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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