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Conference Expansion Picking Up Steam

PARK RIDGE, Ill. - The domino effect of the Big Ten Conference's study to expand, which has led other leagues to examine their futures, could speed up the Big Ten's timetable.

"Our announcement in December has caused individual institutions to consider their future and conferences to consider their future," Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon said Sunday. "That has had an impact on our deliberations."

Simon is chairwoman of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors. It met Sunday with Commissioner Jim Delany for about 41/2 hours, half of which was spent discussing expansion, he said. In December, the group said the expansion study could take 12-18 months. "It's possible that timeline may be altered," Simon said.

Also Sunday, the Pacific-10 announced its chancellors and presidents have given Commissioner Larry Scott authority to pursue expansion.

The Austin American-Statesman has reported the Big 12 has given Nebraska and Missouri until Friday to decide if they will stay or consider joining the Big Ten.

Contacted Sunday by USA TODAY, Missouri athletics spokesman Chad Moller declined to comment on that report. A call to Nebraska was not immediately returned.

Big 12 Commissioner Don Beebe said last week that a process for a commitment from league schools "has been discussed and put in place. I can't talk about the time frame."

Yet it's not clear the Big Ten wants Missouri or Nebraska. Delany has declined to name schools being pursued, if any. Simon said the Big Ten currently has no applicants.

Even with an accelerated process, "Academics are top on the list," Simon said. All Big Ten schools are research institutions and part of the 63-member Association of American Universities. A newcomer has to fit in, Simon stressed. If the league expands, it could be a lengthy process. Simon said it could happen in phases.

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