On a night usually filled with great stories -- and there were a few -- the talk of Big Ten expansion was the most intriguing at Thursday's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl golf outing at Lochmoor Country Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
The post-golf dinner recognized Wisconsin athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez, along with bowl officials George Perles (the former Michigan State University coach) and Lloyd Carr (the former University of Michigan coach.)
Neither Perles nor Carr offered much on expansion, but Alvarez indicated where he thinks the Big Ten's next move may be -- he and the other athletic directors may be updated at next week's Big Ten meetings -- as it continues its study of the issue through at least the end of this year.
"I'm not sure about continued expansion, but it would not surprise me. Our commissioner (Jim Delany) thinks outside the box and is always thinking how to be progressive and proactive," Alvarez said. "We will continue to study expansion throughout this year. It would not surprise me if we continue to expand. We've always talked about and had research done that we haven't taken full advantage of Penn State being in the east and we need someone else in the league from the east to maximize Penn State. It wouldn't surprise me if we went that way."
The Big Ten already added Nebraska as its 12th member, yet the expansion study continues.
Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who formerly led the Ohio Valley and the Mid-Continent Conference, was also on the dais with the three former coaches and shared his views on expansion.
"I'm not quite convinced that manifest destiny is ending up with four 16-team conferences," Steinbrecher said. "Maybe we do, maybe we don't. I'm pleased that things settled down out west (with the Pac-10 not taking four more Big 12 schools.) I think that was good for college athletics. I'm not sure that having the Big 12 disappear would have been a positive. The Big Ten made a very fine addition with Nebraska.
"All of these conferences, as they expand are going to have the interesting task of how do they manage those longstanding rivalries? The Pac-10 has just gone to 12 and every one of those schools wants to be in L.A. There's not enough games for them all to be in L.A. How are they going to manage those things? Those are some of the tough issues that are out there.
"The other issue is this, if it's only about TV households, maybe we're not in collegiate athletics anymore. I think there's more to it than that. It is about longstanding rivalries, about our student-athlete experience and about our fans. And a lot of that is built on geography. And we need to respect. I'm hopeful we don't go all the way down that (megaconference) path, but time will tell."
The rest of the question and answer period was a bit lighter as Perles, Carr and Alvarez shared stories about meeting and crossing paths with each other.
Carr talked about the 1969 Michigan-Michigan State game, when he was allowed on the field by an usher to see the game up close and ended the day at a Michigan State victory party at Perles' house. (Perles was an MSU assistant at the time.)
Carr also mentioned that since he and Alvarez first matched up as assistant coaches in 1979 -- Carr at Illinois, Alvarez at Iowa -- he believed he coached more games against an Alvarez team than any other coach. Carr was at Michigan from then on and Alvarez continued at Iowa, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. He also mentioned that he was the runner-up to Alvarez for the Wisconsin head coaching job in 1990.
One of Alvarez's best stories was about one of his daughters marrying a Michigan grad, one who had long helped Carr and UM find recruits, and how that quickly changed once he married into the family. Alvarez also spoke about Perles, who told him to "shake them by the ankles" when Wisconsin approached him about a long-term contract extension.
But the star storyteller remained Perles, as occurs at nearly every event where he gets the microphone.
He told a story about when MSU played in Japan against Wisconsin in 1993 and how the teams shared a plane on the ride overseas. Alvarez was constantly reminded of the game's importance by his fans -- a win meant the school's first Rose Bowl trip since 1963 -- and the reminders were driving Perles crazy. So at a banquet in Japan, he announced that "this game don't mean (expletive)" which drew a roar of laughter on Thursday night but was less popular that night in Japan.
"Talk about laying an egg," Perles said.
He rolled through stories about trying to hire Carr as an assistant when Perles was trying to get the MSU job in 1980, but Muddy Waters got the position instead, leaving Carr to take Bo Schembechler's Michigan offer later that offseason.
"And we all got our tails kicked with (Carr) there," said Perles, who was hired by MSU in December 1982.
The event, which also served as a fundraiser for the bowl's charities, became an appreciation for Perles as well, as he was struggling to walk following April back surgery.
At one point in the evening, the dinner attendees gave Perles a standing ovation, a move that he said later overwhelmed him.