CHICAGO — The Big Ten might be getting bigger.
Commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday the conference is going to explore options over the next 12 to 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 last team to join in 1990; Notre Dame rejected an offer in 1999.
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 Ron Guenther said in an e-mail to the AP. "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.
"With the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, now is a good time for the Big Ten to review its current structure and evaluate the potential for expansion," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. He called the addition of the Nittany Lions a "home run."
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'd like to see Rutgers, Pittsburgh or Syracuse join the league. He was not in favor of extending another offer to Notre Dame.
"There's some pressure, I would suppose, to maybe go back to Notre Dame and ask again, which I would not be happy with," Paterno said then. "I think they've had their chance."
Notre Dame officials did not immediately return a phone message left in the athletic director's office Tuesday.
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 — like the ones now held by the SEC and the Big 12.
If expansion seems likely, Delany will report to Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon, the chairperson of the league's council of presidents and chancellors.
"This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions," the Big Ten said, adding the league would not comment until the council receives Delany's recommendations and determines whether to proceed.
Missouri spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said the school hasn't been contacted by the Big Ten.
"Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based on what is in the best interest of MU, athletically and academically," she said in an e-mail.
Don Walsworth, a major donor to Missouri's sports programs who was a member of the board that governs the university until earlier this year, said that, aside from a Big Ten television contract that allows more revenue sharing than the Big 12 deal, it makes little sense for Missouri to jump conferences.
The school's position in the geographic middle of the conference allows easy, relatively inexpensive travel, Walsworth said. Leaving behind rivals such as Kansas and big-time opponents like Texas would upset fans.
"I think that they would be a little bit miffed if we had to start those traditions over again," Walsworth said. "I like to play Oklahoma, I like to play Texas."
The closest thing Missouri has to a Big Ten rival is Illinois, which the Tigers play every year in football and basketball.
But the schools have said their annual football game in St. Louis will end after 2010, and many fans from both schools — Walsworth among them — say the rivalry doesn't amount to much.