Barta: Big Ten expanded to get better

June 15, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Changing for the better — or expanding to get better — is why Gary Barta, director of athletics at the University of Iowa, is so excited about the University of Nebraska joining the Big Ten Conference.

“I’m not a person who’s anxious to go through change just for the sake of change. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Barta said. “What I do understand is that we all need to look at change to get better and I think this is a great example of that.”

The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors announced unanimous approval Friday, June 11, for Nebraska to join the Big Ten effective July 1, 2011, with competition to begin in all sports for the 2011-12 academic year.

Barta praised the strategic and intentional approach of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney throughout the expansion process, as well as the leadership provided by UI President Sally Mason.

“Commissioner Delaney explained what he was going to be doing and he told us about the process,” Barta said. “I’ve really appreciated the way he’s gone about it. Also, it took President Mason on our campus — the leadership that she provided. She’s done a terrific job representing Iowa through all this.”

There were four points of emphasis the Big Ten Conference was trying to identify for its next member: academics, athletics, financial, cultural. Nebraska, like the other 11 universities in the Big Ten Conference, is an Association of American Universities institution.

“That makes sense academically,” Barta said. “Athletically, what a great history and tradition; what a strong brand when you talk about the Nebraska Cornhuskers. That’s clearly a name that has great athletic identification across the country.

“I’m not a person who’s anxious to go through change just for the sake of change. That doesn’t make sense to me. What I do understand is that we all need to look at change to get better and I think this is a great example of that.”
Gary Barta
UI director of athletics

“Let’s face it, from a business standpoint — a financial standpoint — that’s an important part of this equation…it makes sense that way. Finally, culturally. To look at when Nebraska comes into those Big Ten meetings, I feel confident it’s going to fit. So for many, many reasons it’s an exciting day.”

The addition of the Nebraska marks the Big Ten’s first expansion since Penn State University joined the conference in June of 1990 and will increase Big Ten membership to 12 institutions for the first time. Barta said that although a league with an even-numbered membership is the “easiest” to work with, in some sports, an odd number might be beneficial.

“I don’t think there’s a perfect number,” Barta said. “For most sports in most cases, an even number is easier to work with. If your principles are set and you get those four things in line and you find the universities that fit, you can figure out a way to set it up competitively.”

While preliminary rumors hinted at a possible 14 or 16-team league, Barta defers to Delaney on that area.

“We’ve talked about the potential of one or the potential of several and my sense is that (Delaney’s) going to explain that this could be it, or he might even say we’ll continue to grow through our process. I’ll leave that to Commissioner Delaney to explain to all of us.”

Ironically, the Big Ten Conference now has 12 members and the Big 12 Conference has 10. The name of the conference might be an important question for the future, Barta said, but for now, it is still the Big Ten Conference.

“The Big Ten is a strong brand and I think we need to be very careful and make sure it’s very thoughtful about what happens and I think it will be thoughtfully approached,” Barta said. “Right now the most important thing is making sure the foundation is strong. Right now it’s not planned to be changed in the near future.”

The campuses for the UI and Nebraska are 300 miles apart, making the addition of the Cornhuskers extra-appealing for Iowa and its fans.

“We may get a double bonus,” Barta said. “When you look at the proximity of Nebraska to Iowa, I think it’s an added bonus. It will be great for our fans to travel back and forth to the two institutions. The practical side of our sports traveling to Lincoln, Neb., or their teams traveling to Iowa City; it just makes sense on so many levels for the University of Iowa.”

Nebraska has a strong athletic reputation that received a boost during the 2009-10 season. The Cornhusker men’s outdoor track and field team repeated as Big 12 champion and scored eight more points in the league meet than Texas A&M, the eventual NCAA champion; the women’s basketball team finished 32-2, losing to Kentucky in the NCAA regional semifinal; the 10th-ranked volleyball team won 26 of 32 matches before losing in the NCAA regional final; and the football team won 10 games and blanked Arizona 33-0 in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

“We’re biased, we think we have the best conference in America, but we want to make sure we maintain that and one of the ways you do that is to add value,” Barta said. “This is a step in making the Big Ten stronger and when the conference is stronger, the Hawkeyes benefit.”