IOWA CITY — Student-athletes missing extra class time and extended travel have members of Iowa’s President Committee on Athletics concerned about the recent wave of Big Ten expansion.
Maryland and Rutgers, both of which are located between 900 and 1,000 miles from Iowa’s campus, accepted Big Ten invitations last week and will join the league in either 2014 or 2015. They boost the league’s enrollment to 14 schools.
“So where does this end?” asked PCA member Michael O’Hara, a psychology professor. “I thought maybe 12 was about right.”
The PCA has a policy that athletes can miss only eight days of classes per semester for regular-season competition. With likely travel challenges ahead, several sports might require waivers to that rule.
“This organization’s primarily emphasis is what works for student-athletes in terms of protecting their academic achievement and protecting them so they can have more or less a normal life as a collegiate student,” said PCA Chairman Bill Hines, a law professor.
“We really need to protect students,” said PCA member Jeffrey Cox, a history professor. “They’re basically helpless in this kind of thing.”
None of the members spoke against either Maryland or Rutgers, which are members of the American Association of Universities, a prestigious consortium of research institutions. Thirteen of the 14 Big Ten schools are AAU members. Nebraska was expelled from the AAU after it was accepted as a Big Ten member in 2010.
“They’re both AAU schools, which means they are both elite in terms of public universities who have a major research agenda,” Hines said. “They’re very much like us. I can’t imagine that if it was put up to a vote at the Faculty Senate that there would have been much resistance.”
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said the schools fit the league standard for academics and athletics. He said the integration process is just starting and there will be meetings to discuss everything from football realignment to reshuffling league basketball schedules and tournaments.
League administrators received word from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was interested in expanding “probably several weeks, not several months” ago, Barta said.
“The whole discussion about growing the footprint and let’s see where it heads,” Barta said. “It was generic, not specific schools on day one. But then of course as he got closer and closer we started to learn about schools.”
Maryland and Rutgers were fully vetted in 2010 when the league selected Nebraska, Barta said, so the process was expedited. When asked if other western schools closer to Iowa were considered, Barta said, “I’m sure there were some that were talked about, yes.” He declined to reveal which ones.
“I’m not going to try and speculate if we’re going to grow and I’m not going to speculate if we do grow where it would be,” he said. “But the selfish answer is it’s simpler if it’s closer. But beyond that, I want what’s best for the Big Ten.”
In the most recent round of football realignment, Barta told other administrators he wanted to compete against Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin every year. Iowa and Wisconsin were separated, but the Hawkeyes were placed in the same division as Nebraska and Minnesota. School officials are slated to discuss football divisions in early 2013.
“I’m not going to yet guess what my response is going to be because I don’t yet know the questions. That’s my response,” Barta said. “My thoughts haven’t changed. I still think of those schools that most of fans think of and that’s Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. But I’m not ready to make my proclamation yet because I haven’t been asked any questions yet. It might be different for different sports.”
The primary tenet in the original realignment was to configure the divisions based on competitive equality and consider rivalries and geography. But that will change in next round. Delany said last week, “I think that geography will have to play probably a more important role in the evolution of the next divisional structure.”