Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
The college football season may be over, but the mail never stops. Let's see what's on your mind.
Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: Your "Crystal Clear" article raises some interesting questions. I appreciate the importance of football to a school's overall profile, and even its attractiveness to prospective students. But I do have a problem with this national championship pursuit, the title game, and much of what has happened in the college athletic world ever since the BCS was formed: sure, the money is good, but how much like professional leagues do we want college athletics to become? Without getting into a litany of specifics, I'll just say that I'm enjoying the college game less and less as the bowls and other traditions fade to insignificance, and it's all about the crystal football.The emphasis on BCS and national championship is reducing, not enhancing, my interest in the sport. I wonder if other people feel this way?
Adam Rittenberg: Les, thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm sure you're not alone in these views. The singular focus on the national title game -- and, after 2014, the playoff -- takes away from the bowl system, and I'm sure certain bowl games will suffer. The flip side of the argument is that there already are far too many bowl games, and that the sport rewards mediocrity (6-7 wins). I can hear that side of it, too. For the most part, sports fans love championships and playoff systems. They don't want championships decided by sports writers or computers -- they want definitive results on the field. The crystal football definitely drives college football right now, and as long as a league wins it, nothing else really matters. But there definitely are different views on the topic.
Jason from Biloxi, Miss., writes: Hey Adam, not to many Big fans around here. Anyways, do you think there is a switch of powers going on between MSU and Northwestern. I ask this because it doesn't seem as if MSU is going to get the recruits it has been getting the past 5 years. I don't look at stars, because of the amount of bust each team ends up with. And Northwestern is starting to roll, with up-grades to facilities and finally some coaches who don't leave. Not every team can win, looks as if Mark Dantonio should have gotten a new job when his stock was high.
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I think it's too quick to draw such a conclusion about Michigan State. Mark Dantonio still has the program headed in the right direction despite a disappointing 2012 season. If the Spartans struggle again next fall -- the schedule favors them -- maybe we have this discussion. Dantonio and his staff definitely benefited from the Rich Rodriguez era and Michigan's recruiting efforts away from the Midwest during that time. Brady Hoke's arrival and recruiting focus has made it tougher for MSU to sign elite recruits from the region, although the Spartans are still getting their share. Northwestern undoubtedly is a program on the rise and will benefit from its on-campus facility. The coaching continuity under Pat Fitzgerald helps, but Michigan State also has that with Dantonio's staff. I don't see it necessarily as one program moving past the other.
Tim from Bolingbrook, Ill., writes: Let me get this straight: as their new offensive coordinator Illinois hires the recently fired coach from the only I-A team they played this year that failed to score more than a touchdown against their woeful 35 PPG defense? Only in Champaign.
Adam Rittenberg: Good catch, Tim. Western Michigan clearly had a poor year, which led to Bill Cubit's firing, but his offensive track record remains pretty strong. The Broncos still ended up finishing 37th nationally in total offense and 28th in passing this season. Western Michigan had the nation's No. 19 offense in 2011 and had other productive seasons during Cubit's tenure. He coached several offensive standouts with the Broncos, including Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings. Although Cubit has had some good offenses and bad offenses during his career, I wouldn't base your judgment entirely off of the 2012 unit.
Big MAC fan from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Expansion of the B1G usually includes discussion of the need to grow their footprint. What about keeping ones market from becoming infiltrated? The MAC had an outstanding year. A number of teams were ranked in the top 25 at various points in the season, rankings that exceeded many B1G teams. NI made it to the Orange Bowl. Haven't read discussion of the B1G "promoting from within." Are any of the MAC Schools growing their research activities along with their football programs to possibly join the AUU and the B1G? As Nebraska is not an AUU member is it possible a lack of membership in the AUU would not be a show stopper for a MAC school? If none of the MAC schools are likely potential future members of the B1G, do you see any on the verge of making moves to major conferences?
Adam Rittenberg: Big MAC, I really don't see this happening. If you really look at the profiles of the MAC schools -- beyond the strength of their football programs -- and compare them to the Big Ten schools, it's really night and day. I always use the Boise State example. Besides the Boise State football team, is there anything else about the school that shows it definitely belongs in a major conference? Now some leagues don't care about the other stuff -- research reputation, academic rank, etc. -- but the Big Ten most certainly does. The AAU membership matters a great deal, and if Nebraska hadn't been an AAU member at the time of admission, the vote might have gone differently. I understand your general premise of the Big Ten protecting its own footprint, especially after the ACC added Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (sports other than football), but it's in the Big Ten's best interest to truly expand -- go beyond its current borders to areas with large, growing populations. The Big Ten always will resonate in the Midwest. The objective is to resonate in other parts of the country.
Giro from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I think the B1G has reached a good number of teams/institutions with 14. Barring Notre Dame, there isn't much to add now. Is there ever a point where the B1G adds by subtracting? I don't know what school they'd drop, maybe Purdue? On the flip side, is there a program that benefits from going independent? Ohio State is the only one that I think could pull it off. Maybe Michigan, Penn State again, or Nebraska.
Adam Rittenberg: Giro, the Big Ten isn't going to cut ties with one of its members just because the school might be struggling on the field, if that's what you're asking. There was some speculation about the Big Ten kicking out Penn State after the child sex abuse scandal there, but the league opted to impose penalties and didn't seriously consider cutting ties. The Big Ten has maintained an equal revenue sharing model to make sure the Purdues of the world can be competitive financially just like the Ohio States. So no, I really don't see a scenario where the Big Ten subtracts. Penn State has been an independent before, but I don't see PSU going down that road again. And while Ohio State could pull it off, I don't see the benefits outweighing the potential drawbacks. The Big Ten remains an extremely rich and powerful league. Its members are happy being part of it.
Greg from Philadelphia writes: Adam, everyone's made a big deal about the sanctions at PSU, especially the 15 scholarship limit for each upcoming recruiting class. However, I noticed in your recent article about signing day that only Michigan is close to filling it's 25 player limit, while 3 teams (Purdue, Minnesota, MSU) all have 15 or fewer commits (it's like they're sanctioning themselves!). Is this scholarship limit really that big of a deal? Especially since O'Brien is already used to dealing with smaller rosters from his NFL days.
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, a couple things. Several teams likely will add a bunch of recruits before signing day, and each team's scholarship situation is different. Some teams are closer to the 85-man limit than others. Wisconsin, for example, has redshirted so many players that its recent recruiting classes have been small. The difference these schools have is scholarship flexibility. If they want to use scholarships, they can. Penn State, meanwhile, is limited to a certain number because of the sanctions. Here's how I look at it: Penn State can't afford to miss on many, if any, of its scholarship players. Most recruiting classes contain several players who never amount to anything on the field. That's OK because more scholarships are given out. Penn State, meanwhile, can't have five or six players out of a 15-man class never produce in Blue and White. O'Brien and his staff need to be extremely selective and hope each guy they offer turns out to be a contributor. The bottom line is Penn State's margin of error is much smaller.
Amanda from Chicago writes: Adam, totally random question here. I've been curious for years to know your personal opinion on the Big Ten marching bands. I'm sure you've had the opportunity to see them all--which ones have you enjoyed the most? Do you have a favorite?
Adam Rittenberg: Amanda, I'm usually typing away during halftime as it's one of few breaks I get to see what's happening in other games. So to be honest, I don't pay a great deal of attention to the halftime shows. But from what I do see and hear, I can say the Big Ten bands do an excellent job. From the larger bands like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan to some of the smaller ones, the cohesion and creativity definitely comes through in their performances. Band members put in a ton of time and energy, and they definitely add to the Big Ten football experience on Saturdays.