Big Ten mailblog

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
1:00
PM ET
Coming at you a day later than normal after all of Tuesday's news, but there's even more to discuss. Fire away.

Marcus Aurelius from North Royalton, Ohio, writes: When talking with a friend from SEC territory, we debated the relative pecking order of Wisconsin and Arkansas. With 6 Rose Bowls and a handful of conference championships for Wisconsin, compared to a single BCS bowl and three division championships since joining the SEC (without ever winning a conference title), it's hard to make the case for Arkansas. However, most of that was a result of Barry Alvarez resurrecting the program, and Bielema keeping the wheels turning. Without Bielema, what do you think are the chances that Wisconsin returns to football irrelevance, and how much of an impact does that have on the competitive balance of the Big Ten divisions?

Adam Rittenberg: Marcus, that's the challenge for Barry Alvarez, to keep the momentum going like he did with Bielema as his own successor. Wisconsin is still built to win, and it should be a very coveted job because few major-conference programs have had more consistent success in the past two decades. I don't expect Alvarez to hire someone who would go away from the things that have made Badger football so good for so long. Still, any major transition has the potential to create a drop-off, and even though Bielema pointed to 2013 as a potential breakthrough year, it could now be more of a transition year. Long term, I expect Wisconsin to be just fine. But Ohio State undoubtedly is the class of the Leaders division in 2013 and for years to come. Competitive balance remains a focal point for the athletic directors in determining division alignment, but geography also will be a greater consideration this time. It's why Wisconsin could be moving to the Legends and why Michigan and Michigan State could be headed to the Leaders.


J.C. from Seattle writes: Adam, why are some writers acting like there's a mass departure of coaches from the Big Ten when it's just one since Nick Saban left in 1999? All the other departures have been fired or retired.

Adam Rittenberg: J.C., that's a fair point. I think the issue with Bielema is that he has such deep roots in the Big Ten. Illinois native, played at Iowa, coached at Wisconsin. He's a Midwest guy through and through. The other thing is that so many coaches with Midwest roots have left the Big Ten. Look at the SEC with guys like Les Miles (Michigan) and Kevin Sumlin (Purdue). Look at all the coaches with Ohio roots like Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. The Big Ten has lost several elite coaches in recent years either to scandal (Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno) or to retirement (Lloyd Carr). The question to ask is whether the Big Ten remains appealing enough to the nation's top coaches. Is the prestige gone now?


Bryan from Chadron, Neb., writes: I would like to see Nebraska continuing to play on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It has been that way for years for Nebraska with Oklahoma in the Big Eight then Colorado in the Big Twelve. I just don't see the game with Iowa becoming a 'rivalry' game anytime soon at least in the eyes of Husker fans. That will take some time. I think most Nebraskans would love to see a late Nebraska -- Oklahoma non-conference matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Bryan, I've heard from a lot of Big Red fans, and almost all of them want to see the Black Friday tradition continue. The hesitancy seems to come from the Iowa side. While you will see Oklahoma back on the schedule in 2021 and 2022, it's highly unlikely Big Ten teams will play non-league games on the final weekend of the regular season. So unless Oklahoma joins the Big Ten (also unlikely), Nebraska is stuck with Iowa or another non-league opponent. I'd like to see the Black Friday game continue.


Todd from Minneapolis writes: You're absolutely crazy if you think Badgers fans are upset about Bielema leaving. Most are thrilled. Fact is, he is an average coach at best and when looking in detail at his record it's clear. Yes he has 68 wins in 7 seasons. But this has come against a garbage non-conference schedule and what is one the worst Big Ten conferences in its history. 52 of his wins have come against the stellar non-conference teams, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. All but Northwestern are 4 of the worst BCS conference programs in the country over the last 7 years, and Northwestern wasn't much better. He is 1-5 vs. Ohio State, 2-3 vs. Penn State and 3-4 vs. Michigan State. He has an 8-12 record vs. ranked teams and is 2-4 in bowl games. Fact is, he beats garbage teams and usually loses to good and great teams. The Wisconsin program can, and should, strive for much better.

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, first off, I never wrote Badger fans would be lamenting Bielema's departure. There's a good portion, like yourself, that questioned his in-game coaching skills and his ability to win the big game. The nonconference argument seems a little hollow because Wisconsin never played tough non-league schedules, even when Alvarez coached. You play who is on the schedule, and Bielema, more than Alvarez, wanted to beef things up in the non-league portion. The Rose Bowl argument is fair, as I thought Wisconsin should have beaten TCU and in no way should have lost three games last season with Russell Wilson at quarterback. But if you look around the country, most programs have taken a dip in the past 15 years, and Wisconsin really hasn't. Bielema deserves credit for keeping the momentum going. Would Wisconsin have taken the next step under his watch? Maybe, maybe not. But it's not that easy to sustain such success, and there are no guarantees that the Badgers will.


Jordan from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I like the Black Friday game. I have been to both of them and I enjoy the rivalry. Yes, it is a rivalry. I have heard that Nebraska fans view a rivalry with Iowa about the same as Iowa fans view a rivalry with Purdue. I think that is completely false. I grew up in Western Iowa where Nebraska and Iowa fans live together everywhere. No Iowa fan likes Nebraska, and no Nebraska fan likes Iowa. It honestly pains me to root for Nebraska in the non-conference schedule, but I have to go for B1G teams. There are too many red and white teams in the B1G (current and future).

Adam Rittenberg: Jordan, thanks for sharing your perspective. Most fans I've heard from on both sides seem to like the Black Friday game, although it can create some logistical difficulties. There's definitely a rivalry between Iowa and Nebraska that will grow during the years as long as the teams remain in the same division. Although Iowa needs to start winning a few to really fuel the rivalry, the two fan bases definitely don't like one another.


Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, The SEC schools, on average, pay coaching staffs about 30% more than Big Ten schools. The gap between the conferences will continue to grow until this gap is closer to zero. Will the Big Ten ever approach the SEC's coaching salaries? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Rich, some Big Ten schools are starting to pay assistants more, realizing where the trend is headed. Ohio State and Michigan pay competitive salaries for their coordinators. Michigan State ponied up to keep defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Paul Chryst was making a good salary as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator before taking the Pitt job. But Big Ten teams will have to start paying more and more to keep up. And while the Big Ten continues to rake in the revenue, Big Ten programs, on average, fund way more sports than programs in other parts of the country, specifically in the SEC. So there's not as much money to devote to one sport. Big Ten athletic directors face some difficult decisions in the future as they'll have to pay top dollar to keep pace.


Evan from Birmingham, Ala., writes: Hey Adam, I just wanted to say I love Purdue's pick of Hazell. I think it is amazing what he did at Kent State in such a short period of time; however, I understand that it will be much harder to turn Purdue into an 11 win team. I also like the fact that Hazell is a minority and the best pick for Purdue. You said in one of your articles that you think you'll be taking some flak because you like that he is a minority, but I don't think you'll be taking too much flak over this pick since he is a great coach. Overall, I think this is a big step in the right direction.

Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree, Evan. I took a lot of heat for writing about the topic, but I never suggested Big Ten teams should hire minority coaches just to fill a quota. The point is there are qualified minority candidates out there, and it would be nice to see a Big Ten team hire one of these men, like other big conferences are doing. Purdue has done that with Hazell, who did a terrific job at Kent State and knows the area from his Ohio State days. I also think his ties to New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic region will be huge when the Big Ten expansion kicks in.


Dan from Kansas City writes: Adam, I wanted to ask you a counterpoint to Bennett's article regarding Bielema to Arkansas blow to the B1G. Is it really bad in the long run or is it just a bad perception? Basically, if the B1G hasn't been competing as well with the other conferences, is it really a bad thing to lose the coaches who haven't been successfully nationally, which is where the B1G ultimately wants to be. No B1G team can fire a team that wins the league or division, which is going to make it harder for the league to change the current trent, but with the recent conferences failures, isn't it better to get "new blood" into league who might be able to compete on a National Level?

Adam Rittenberg: That's a good question, Dan. The perception is bad because Bielema has had success in the Big Ten and leaves for what many consider a lateral move or even a step down. That looks bad for the Big Ten, especially when he didn't appear to be in danger of being fired. But I get your point, and if Wisconsin's next coach can take the program to that next level, it will be better overall for the Badgers and for the Big Ten. The question is how attractive Big Ten jobs are nationally and whether the truly elite coaches want them? Urban Meyer's arrival definitely boosts the Big Ten. Brady Hoke isn't a nationally elite coach, but he seems to have things going in the right direction at Michigan. It will be interesting to see where Wisconsin goes, and to monitor the next few hires in the league.

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