If anyone asks, no, I did not fill out a bracket this year. And let's never speak of this again.
But let's get to some of your emails:
EJ from Papillion, Neb., writes: I question your selection for coach on the hot seat in the Big Ten in the "smoke and fire" video posted by ESPN. As much as Tim Beckman had a disappointing season this past year, I think the coach on the biggest hot seat is Bo Pelini. Pelini has (as we all have heard many times) not been able to get over the 9 or 10 win seasons. His seasons have been a failure since after the 2009 season. First season in the Big Ten, most of us Huskers fans felt winning our division was essential and that never happened. This past year a conference championship was the goal at least in mid-season play, but once most of us were so sure this was the year to win the conference championship we got demolished in the big game. If he doesn't get 11 wins he's gotta be shown the door right? Your thoughts (and thanks in advance)?
Brian Bennett: EJ, I covered the Pelini situation on Friday, and you're right in saying that Nebraska fans are growing more and more impatient with the lack of championships and some of the ugly road losses. I'm still not sure we can accurately say Pelini is on the hot seat, however. This is a coach, after all, who has averaged 9.8 wins in his first five years and has done a great job with academics and limiting off-the-field problems. The big wild card in all of this is new Huskers athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who has no previous ties to Pelini and may at some point want to bring in his own guy.
I do think this is a big year for Pelini and the Huskers, who have a favorable schedule and a potent offense. But I don't agree that he needs to get to 11 wins. The only way I could see Nebraska making a change is if things went really awry and the team finished something like 7-5 and suffered some more blowout losses. Beckman, on the other hand, could be in real trouble with another 2-10 type year, even if it's only his second season. The empty seats in Champaign in that scenario might force Mike Thomas' hand.
Darren from Rock Island, Ill./ Spring Hill, Fla: As an IU alum from the late '80s, I always thought there was some conference pride -- I hate your team until you play the SEC -- but that seems to have gone away or at least is not as strong -- especially in basketball. I'm more of a football guy (yeah, go figure, IU) but when Im in the south it seems I run accross BIG 10 folks and they dont cheer for their "brethren"--what the heck? Have things changed or is this now the norm. I HATE OSU, but if they face Florida, I root for them every time.
Brian Bennett: While it's always risky and a subjective to make proclamations about how an entire conference worth of fans behave, I do believe there's far less overall Big Ten pride than there is in the SEC. You don't hear fans at games chanting "Big Ten! Big Ten!" as SEC fans do at just about any sporting event. I do believe the recent SEC dominance has instilled more of an us vs. them attitude, but I don't know how much that affects individual rooting interests. Were Ohio State fans really happy to see Michigan make the Final Four this past weekend, for instance? I somehow doubt it. Had we seen three or four Big Ten teams crash the Final Four, there probably would have been a larger display of conference pride.
Ben from Iowa City writes: It seems to me that within different fan bases, there is a disconnect as to what constitutes a rivalry, and that is what causes a lot of the divisional disagreements. To many fans, the most important aspect of a rivalry is tradition and history, and the level of competition in the rivalry is secondary. Also inter-regional hate, that extends beyond just football, is very important. This is why Paul Bunyan's Axe and Floyd of Rosedale will always be so important to their fan bases, even if its lopsided. On the flip side, some fans (many Husker fans for example) want to see a high level of competition above all else, which is why there is such a disagreement about what is most important in creating new divisions.
Brian Bennett: Tradition and geography are always going to be the foundations of any good historic rivalry. A recent run of intense, meaningful games can also cause rivalries to bloom (see Michigan State-Wisconsin, Ohio State-Wisconsin). The problem for Nebraska is that it has no major established history with any of its Big Ten mates, while geographically its most logical rivals -- Minnesota and Iowa -- haven't been good enough the past two years to truly matter to the Huskers. In the absence of that, teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State have become bigger rivals in the early days of Big Ten play for Nebraska. But like all rivalries, the best ones are those that develop organically over time.
Chris from Rapid City, S.D., writes: I have a question about Jim Delany's recent comments about the B1G de-emphasizing sports if paying student athletes becomes a reality.If pay-for-play is actually enacted, and Jim Delany enforces a de-emphasis on sports, do you foresee the B1G breaking up? I imagine lower-tier programs, such as Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota might not have too big of an issue with it, but I have difficulty imagining the bigger programs would just willingly give up their biggest cash cow. Would schools like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska leave the B1G and join other conferences, such as the ACC, SEC and Big 12? Or could there be a full break with the four name brand schools and some of the mid-tier programs like MSU and Wisconsin forming their own conference, a la the Catholic 7 leaving the Big East?
Brian Bennett: If only Delany had issued his declaration today, it would have made more sense. Because that sure read like an April Fool's Day joke. In what world are schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska going to voluntarily downsize athletics and become like Division III schools? Not the one in which I have breathed air. Even schools you mentioned like Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota have poured millions and millions of dollars into new facilities, stadium enhancements, etc.
When I was in Lincoln last week, I had to watch my step and avoid tripping over construction materials as workers put the finishing touches on the Memorial Stadium expansion and the shiny new basketball arena. College sports is a huge business, and business is booming in the Big Ten. That's not going to stop if some of the players start getting a piece of the pie, and fans of those schools wouldn't stand for it, anyway. Delany's comments should be read for what they were: a scare tactic meant to help protect the league's business interests in a lawsuit. And nothing more.