Big Ten Conference Adds Penn State - Hello, Big Eleven?

Can the Midwest sports conference of 11 schools hang onto its outnumbered name? COLLEGE SPORTS ADDITION

THE two teams are out on the field now. It looks like a great day for Big Eleven football.'' Big Eleven football?

Well, something like that. On Monday, one of the most storied and stable college athletic conferences in the United States added an 11th member. Penn State University is now officially part of the Big Ten.

No one is quite sure what to call the new conference. The Big Ten college presidents have given themselves 60 days to come up with a new name. So far, ``Big Eleven'' isn't getting a lot of votes.

``It doesn't sound right, does it?'' says Ron Smith, a Penn State professor of exercise and sports science and author of a book on the rise of bigtime college athletics. ``I think it should still be called the Big Ten. Everyone knows the Big Ten.''

The conference's official name - the ``Western Conference'' - doesn't help matters. Big Ten states (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa) haven't been considered ``Western'' since President Grover Cleveland's day. And adding a university from central Pennsylvania, which isn't Eastern, Western, or even Midwestern, further clouds the picture.

Started in 1895 as ``The Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives,'' the conference was first called the ``Big Nine'' in print in 1899, Professor Smith says. It had 10 members by 1918, dropped back to ``Big Nine'' status in 1939, when the University of Chicago left, then became a 10-school conference again when Michigan State University (then Michigan State College) joined in 1949. ``Big Ten'' has stuck ever since.

Colleges join forces with conferences for mutual advantage: to gain visibility, to play against schools that hold their athletes to similar standards, and to bolster revenues. In football, at least, Penn State appears to give the conference as much as it gains, although it will be the mid-1990s before the school becomes fully integrated in the conference's major sports.

Many sports observers thought the Big Ten would invite an additional college into the conference, allowing two six-team divisions to form. But the presidents of the Big Ten colleges have put that matter on hold, imposing a four-year moratorium on expansion at their meeting this week in Iowa City, Iowa.

A 12th school will probably join the conference eventually, Smith says. ``After all, people [in sports] are expanding just like businesses are expanding, to get a bigger territory.''

Ready for ``Big Twelve'' basketball, anybody?

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