CHICAGO - The Big Ten Conference might be getting bigger.
Commissioner Jim Delany said yesterday the conference is going to explore options over the next 12-18 months for expanding the league. The league's presidents and chancellors decided this month that the timing is right to study adding a 12th school.
The Big Ten said in a statement it also looked at expansion in 1993, 1998 and 2003. Penn State was the most recent team to join in 1990, and Notre Dame rejected an offer in 1999.
"I think the timing is good to take a fresh look at everything," Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said. "It's been 20 years since Penn State was added. I don't have a strong feeling either way as to whether we should add a team or shouldn't. But I do think it's a great opportunity to take a fresh look at our structure."
The league, whose offices are in suburban Chicago, said no action on expansion is expected soon. It said it hopes to gather information before engaging in formal discussions with any schools.
The conference actually has 11 football teams, despite its name.
"About every five years the Big Ten Conference explores the possibility of expansion," Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said. "Any expansion of the conference would obviously have to be a good fit academically, geographically and financially. If the Big Ten does make a change, I hope it will be as successful as the addition of Penn State."
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez last week told the university's board that he thinks the conference is serious about adding a 12th team, though Delany as recently as March called expansion a "back-burner" issue.
When Penn State came aboard, it was the first addition to the conference since Michigan State in 1949.
Notre Dame, with its campus in South Bend, Ind., and a football independent with a lucrative and exclusive TV contract, rejected an offer 10 years ago. Most of the school's other athletic teams compete in the Big East.
Earlier this year, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he would like to see Rutgers, Pitt or Syracuse join the league. He was not in favor of extending another offer to Notre Dame.
Paterno said a 12th team could ease scheduling difficulties and clear the way for a lucrative conference championship football game with maximum end-of-the season exposure - such as the ones held by the ACC, SEC, Big 12, MAC and CUSA.