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Friday, March 22, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Happy hoopin' ...

John H. from Omaha writes: Adam, You have been hanging around Michigan and OSU too much, their preferences have become yours. The East-West alignment is the Big XII North all over again. Everyone is bending over to kiss Michigan and OSU's behind. This is clearly their league. I never thought I would say this, but I would rather be in the Big XII round robin than face this Hypocrisy. Michigan needs to be in the West. Let OSU-Michigan be the cross over. Michigan State in the West is not good enough. At a minimum let Nebraska play Penn State every year. Penn State can balance OSU, O'brien is awesome. We need a blue blood with Nebraska in the West. I refuse to watch Nebraska play Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana every year. What a joke. I'll find something else to do, watch more pro ball.

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, you're just now realizing a part of Big Ten culture that upsets a lot of fan bases in the league. Ohio State and Michigan, to a large degree, drive the bus in the Big Ten. More specifically, The Game drives the bus. The league bases a lot of decisions around those teams and that game. That said, the Big Ten made it clear that its expansion to the East is all about demographics and markets. It should come as no surprise that the league wants to showcase its two biggest programs in the new East Coast markets as much as possible. Putting Ohio State and Michigan in the same division also eliminates the possibility of a rematch in the title game a week after The Game. From the league perspective, this is a good thing.

I supported the initial division alignment to split the four big brands, but many, many fans -- not just Ohio State and Michigan fans -- complained about the large gaps between matchups and the impact on geographical rivalries. The proposed alignment solves a lot of those issues. While I understand the concerns about competitive balance, you can't have it all, and things change over time. I'd argue Nebraska's program is closer to Wisconsin and Penn State than Ohio State. I also disagree with you that Penn State can "match" Ohio State. The Ohio State program is at a higher level. I also think you'll be seeing Nebraska against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State as much as possible in the new rotation. There will be more conference games (9), and the idea with eliminating crossovers is to have a better overall rotation.




Marcus from DePauw, Ind., writes: As a completely biased observer, I would vote for just about anyone other than Barry Alvarez as a rep on the playoff selection committee. He's shown a penchant for self-promotion and theatrics (breaking news from Big 10 meetings prior to official announcements) and isn't very well respected south of Milwaukee. Give me Osborne any day. Alternately, I'd look at former coaches/ADs that may have moved on to jobs in other conferences. Give me a Frank Solich, Lllllloyd Carr, or (yes) Jim Tressel. Or maybe Mark Hollis. Anyone but Alvarez...

Adam Rittenberg: I don't know if Alvarez's comments to his athletic board -- where all the Big Ten news leaks have come from -- qualify as self-promotion and theatrics. No one will deny Barry has an ego, which he showed during his news conference announcing the recent football coach search ("I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me"). But he has extensive experience both as a football coach and as an athletic director. He also has been involved with BCS governance, and he has respect from commissioners, ADs and presidents. I agree that Tom Osborne would be a great choice, and he was my top pick to represent the Big Ten. I also like the idea of other sitting ADs like Michigan State's Mark Hollis, who served on this year's NCAA basketball tournament selection committee. Ohio State's Gene Smith also has an interesting background as a Big Ten AD who also ran departments in the Big 12 (Iowa State), the Pac-12 (Arizona State) and the MAC (Eastern Michigan).




Mike from Chicago writes: While I am happy to see B1G teams play the SEC in the regular season, I hardly think scheduling games in Dallas is a neutral site. It might as well be in Alabama's back yard. In fact, when has an SEC team played a B1G team north of the Mason-Dixon line ever??? These are really home games for the SEC as are most of the bowl games. I went to the LSU-OSU title game in New Orleans in 2007. OSU fans were desparate for tickets they couldn't get while the venue was sold out to 80% LSU fans. Let's see if results change when the "neutral" site is Chicago or Detroit or Cincinnati?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, this is a very fair point about the locations of these neutral-site games. The two venues that have hosted most of the season-opening, blockbuster-type games -- Cowboys Stadium near Dallas and the Georgia Dome in Atlanta -- are located in SEC/Big 12/ACC country. The Kickoff Classic took place at what is now MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., from 1983-2002, but it's no more. FedEx Field in Landover, Md., could be a good option for these games. I think the venue has to want to host these games, and having a capacity like Cowboys Stadium -- or FedEx Field -- certainly doesn't hurt. I can't see Soldier Field in Chicago bidding for these types of games, but you never know. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis would be a great spot, but the desire has to be there to make it happen. I agree that it would be nice if these games had a more genuine neutral-site feel.




Levi from Chicago writes: Adam, Any chance you could provide a detailed position by position breakdown of how "Mr. Andersen" plans to take the Badger's D from a 4-3 to a 3-4? I've caught bits and pieces, but it would be nice to have ideal player sizes, potential candidates, etc.

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Levi. The big change is they're taking their smaller defensive ends like David Gilbert (6-foot-4, 247 pounds) and Brendan Kelly (6-6, 250) and moving them to outside linebacker while having them maintain a pass-rushing emphasis. They'll basically be rush ends. As defensive coordinator Dave Aranda told me, "If you want to look at it from a formational perspective, then it's a 3-4. But if you look at it from a personnel perspective, then it's a 5-2."

Wisconsin will use two bigger defensive ends and a nose tackle, which is another change. Beau Allen (6-3, 330), for example, moves from an inside tackle who would shade to one side in the previous system, to a zero-technique. Aside from Allen, who played some zero-technique in high school, there aren't too many other obvious nose tackles on the roster, but there are some obvious down linemen like Ethan Hemer (6-6, 296), Bryce Gilbert (6-1, 307) and Warren Herring (6-3, 286). "This defense allows you to be multiple, it allows you to change up who the fourth rusher is and not be a standard 4-man rush outfit," Aranda said. "It could be the fourth [lineman], it could be a corner, it could be a safety, it could be an inside backer, it could be an outside backer. ... You've got more options."




John from Cincinnati writes: Count this OSU graduate as someone who would have no problem with the BIG or Ohio State de-emphasizing varsity sports. National Championships have always been a nice bump for the ego (no one can ever take away that night in the desert), but I honestly think that all things being equal I could be just as happy competing for conference championships. I believe Ohio Stadium would still be packed on Saturdays and alums around the country would still tune in. In a perfect world, I would love to see the Rose Bowl remain a part of the equation, but as long as we are playing our usual foes, I would have no regrets bowing out of the arms race.

Adam Rittenberg: John, I appreciate the perspective. I can guarantee you're in the minority of Ohio State fans with this view, and I'm sure it's similar among most or all of the other Big Ten fan bases. But it's interesting and a little refreshing to read this from you. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sometimes makes head-scratching comments, but he reiterated his stance on what he thinks the league would do if pay-for-play came about after being pushed by SI.com's Andy Staples. I don't see it happening, though, and I disagree that Ohio Stadium would be packed for a Division III-style program. Maybe I'm wrong. But thanks for writing in.




Stephanie from Denver writes: Adam, I know you said that everything is cyclical in terms of strength, in relation to the proposed new divisions. But if you look at records since Penn State joined in the 90s, the Big Ten overloaded the East division. That's 20 years of data, Adam, which is not cyclical. Should the Big Ten think about competitive balance and shift at least one school west? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Stephanie, those are fair points, and even though my proposal didn't include Michigan State in the West, I would have no trouble with putting the Spartans there. As I mentioned in the divisions post, the discussions are still ongoing and things could change. But Michigan State wasn't on the table to move West three weeks ago, and when I checked again last week, the discussion boiled down to Purdue or Indiana. Barry Alvarez wrote in Varsity Magazine that the athletic directors are close to making a recommendation to the presidents, so something big would have to shift in the next week or two. It could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it.




Mike from Monmouth, Ill., writes: Hi Adam, I am not sure if you did the counting for a cyclical schedule with three crossover games and a protected rivalry between Indiana and Purdue. Except for Indiana and Purdue, each team would play everyone else in the other division eight times during the eighteen years it would take the schedule to cycle. In that same timespan, Indiana and Purdue would play each other every year and their cross-divisional opponents only six times. Of course, further conference expansion probably will occur well before one cycle could be completed.

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, thanks for sharing this, because it's a point I wanted to raise earlier. The Big Ten athletic directors are concerned about the fact Indiana and Purdue wouldn't have the same cross-division rotation because of their crossover game. But you have to protect the Bucket game every year because it's the most important game for both programs. Ultimately, the Big Ten could live without having Purdue-Michigan State or Indiana-Minnesota as much as the other games. It's not ideal, but you can't do much about it because 10 league games doesn't appear realistic right now. As you point out, the likelihood of further Big Ten expansion and more division alignment (four-team pods?) could make a lot of this discussion moot.