Friday, May 24, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday weekend.
Kevin from Minneapolis writes: Adam, Morgan Burke's comments comparing the difference in the number of varsity sports sponsored by Big Ten and SEC athletic departments translating to on the field performance are rather perplexing, but he is really missing the other half of the argument. If you want to correlate the business side of college football with wins/losses, the focal point has to be on the investment in facilities and the resulting impact on recruiting. It is hard to make an argument that having to support additional non-revenue sports causes Big Ten teams to lag behind when in recent years we have seen programs like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan hurling millions at (football only) Student Performance Centers. Heck, Nebraska's weight room is said by some as being the best in the country, trumping even the SEC. I could see how non-revenue sports affect the Big Ten athletic departments operating in the red, but I'm not buying this argument from those with a net profit.
Adam Rittenberg: Good points here, Kevin. The Big Ten isn't lagging behind in football facilities and boasts some of the best stadiums/practice complexes in the FBS. Every team in the league either has completed a renovation or a new project, is in the construction process (Iowa, Wisconsin) or is raising funds (Northwestern). But facilities are only one piece of the recruiting process. Assistant coaches are another, and Big Ten programs aren't as willing to throw boatloads of money at top assistants as SEC programs, in part because they have more sports to fund. There have been some increases in this area in recent years, but on average, Big Ten assistants aren't making what SEC assistants earn. I recently asked Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, whose department sponsors 36 sports, if Big Ten programs have the resources to compete nationally in football. He said they do. Still, Burke makes a notable point about the different athletic models and football being a religion in the South. When football season ends, most Big Ten fans turn their attention to basketball. That's not the same in the SEC. Football is a bigger deal in that region year-round.
Mike H. from Pittsburgh writes: Regarding the Big Ten and SEC having different models: While it may slightly hurt the Big Ten, in relation to the SEC, not devoting all of its revenue to football, it can not be blamed for the struggles. First of all, like the high standard of academics being important, having broader and more sports programs is advantageous and respectable. True most have low interest and lose money, but as a recent graduate, many students take pride in all of their teams. I think it is awesome that PSU has one of the best all-around sports programs in the country. While as a football writer you could care less about non-revenue sports, the broad sports programs most importantly provide opportunities for more student-athletes to get a quality education while fulfilling dreams of playing at the college level. Yes it takes some money away from football but I am pretty sure none of the large Big Ten football programs are struggling for facilities, revenue, etc.
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, there's definitely value in having a truly broad-based athletic program, and many Big Ten fans like you celebrate all the teams, not just the ones generating revenue. The broad-based programs and the opportunities provided are integral parts of the Big Ten's athletic culture and won't change. It's why Nebraska has been such a good fit in the league so far. I also agree the different program models can't be used as an excuse for the Big Ten's football struggles. There are other factors involved. But it makes it tough for the Big Ten to catch the SEC when the SEC has such a clear football focus plus more elite recruits living in its backyard.
Travis from Madison, Wis., writes: I have a question pertaining to the love OSU is getting for next season. Are we, and by we I mean you (ESPN), overlooking their losses on defense? I understand they have Roby and Shazier, both excellent players, but otherwise they will be wading in uncharted waters. Clearly they have talent coming in to replace the departed starters, but the instances of talented replacements not panning out are endless. I'm not trying to be a hater, I'll be the first to admit their offense looks to be extremely good and Braxton Miller is deserving of his Heisman chatter, and seeing how their schedule might be the easiest schedule I've seen in recent memory, I too would declare them favorites to win the B1G. However, we saw plenty of squeaker games by OSU last season against teams that look to be much improved, so I'm just wondering if those who are crowning OSU B1G champs are doing so while considering their lack of experience on defense.
Adam Rittenberg: Travis, Brian and I recognize Ohio State's question marks on defense and the fact that, despite a 12-0 record, the Buckeyes easily could have dropped a few games last season. Ohio State wasn't a dominant team in 2012. There are some significant challenges on defense, especially with the defensive line, and losing Shazier and, to a lesser extent, Roby to injury could be devastating for Ohio State. But when you look at the schedule, which includes Wisconsin and Penn State in Columbus, plus the returning firepower on offense and another full offseason under Urban Meyer and his staff, Ohio State's potential for 2013 can't be ignored. The Buckeyes' recruiting has been exceptional, especially along the defensive line, the No. 1 area of need right now. When you take everything into account, it's hard not to pick Ohio State to win the league. We're not crowning anyone at this point and recognize the challenges Ohio State faces on defense, but the Buckeyes have a leg up on the rest of the league entering the fall.
Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, being a CA boy may be clouding your judgement a little. Switching from 3 B12 bowls and 1 P12 bowl to 3 P12 bowls and maybe no B12 bowl doesn't improve variety and it makes for much longer bowl trips. That's fine for the Rose Bowl, but who wants to travel 2000 miles to SF for a mediocre bowl? In addition, the B10 lost a bastion of alumni in AZ. At best this is a wash to me. I'd rather see a balanced slate of 2 each versus the ACC, B12, P12 and SEC plus 1 MAC game (1 CA, 1 AZ, 2 TX, 2 FL, NY, MI, other).
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, you bring up an important point about the Big Ten-Big 12 games going away in the new lineup. I liked the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and so did Big Ten fans who attended the game, but I hear that a lower payout stemming from the Fiesta Bowl mess turned off the Big Ten from continuing the agreement. More of a business move than anything. Overall, I haven't loved the Big Ten-Big 12 matchups because it always seems like the Big 12 team is a huge favorite (i.e. Oklahoma State-Purdue). If there's a way to create more evenly matched postseason pairings between the two leagues, I'm all for it. But my main point is that the Big Ten has much more in common with the Pac-12 than any other league. The Rose Bowl matchup isn't enough, especially when the traditional champion vs. champion pairing is happening less and less often. That's a fair point about the travel distance for smaller bowls, but the Holiday Bowl isn't a small-potatoes game, and the Kraft Fight Hunger will increase its profile by moving to the 49ers' new stadium in 2014. Plus, there are major clusters of Big Ten alumni in California who can easily attend both games.
Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: When Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst left Wisconsin to become Pitt's Head coach for the 2012 season many fans were concerned that Wisconsin had lost the man that was most responsible for the team's success. The 2012 Wisconsin team complete with an overhaul of new assistant coaches struggled on offense. Wisconsin now has a new head coach after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. Will Wisconsin return to their dominating offensive ways? Will Bielema duplicate the offense that he had at Wisconsin at Arkansas? Will Paul Chryst prove to be the best coach of the three?
Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, time will tell whether Christ, Bielema or Gary Andersen proves to be the best coach, but Chryst is off to a rocky start at Pitt. The Panthers went 6-7 in his first season, endured multiple off-field incidents and had a key player transfer this spring. Chryst needs to stabilize things on the hilltop. He's a tremendous offensive coach, but whether he can be a great CEO and leader for a program remains to be seen. Most Wisconsin fans can't stand Bielema, but the guy had a lot of success and navigated the Badgers through a difficult stretch in 2008 to get back to the top of the Big Ten. He'll keep a similar offensive structure at Arkansas under Jim Chaney. Wisconsin also won't fundamentally change on offense under Andersen and coordinator Andy Ludwig, who runs a similar West Coast system to Chryst. Will the Badgers put up the numbers they did in 2010 and 2011? Probably not. But if they continue to recruit dynamic running backs and massive offensive linemen, they should be fine on that side of the ball. I also think Andersen could take the defense from solid to great over time through his recruiting efforts.
Chris from Traverse City, Mich., writes: It is very costly to get to Florida, let alone California Adam. 3 bowl games in California? Really? This eliminates the little guy for those bowl games but let's the rich enjoy California I guess. However, I like the history of the Holiday Bowl, but wish we could have added another East Coast bowl like the Belk or Military, or even the Liberty Bowl.
Adam Rittenberg: I hear ya, Chris, but the Big Ten will have the Music City Bowl in Nashville in three of the next six years as well as the Pinstripe Bowl (I know New York is expensive, but it's closer) and most likely the new Detroit Lions Bowl. The other thing to keep in mind is Big Ten fans/alums are really spread out nationally, so I don't know if it's just the "rich guys" who can get to Florida and California. There are a lot of people already living in or close to those states.
Spartan Fan from the Sunshine State writes: Adam, my question is more of a comment. With the schedule set up as it is, at least on paper it would appear the Spartans should have a pretty good shot at going undefeated in regular season play. What do you think? Bye weeks after N.D. and Michigan should set them up nicely.
Adam Rittenberg: Love the optimism, Sunshine State, although you might be getting a little too much sun. Michigan State lost six games last season, and while five were close losses, it's hard to imagine all of those will swing in the Spartans' favor this season. The good news is Michigan State once again boasts a nationally elite defense. The semi-good news is Michigan State doesn't need its offense to be like Oregon's or Texas A&M's to be in position to win most games. The bad news is the offense has a ton of question marks, from quarterback to running back to receiver to tight end. Michigan State still must travel to Notre Dame, to Nebraska and to Northwestern. All three of those teams recorded double-digit wins a year ago. I also put very little stock into the timing of open weeks. Although they can help teams get healthy, they often don't translate to wins on the field. Can Michigan State win the Legends division? Sure. Will the Spartans be better this season? I think they will. But they aren't going undefeated.
John from Houston writes: Just wondering, how do Michigan and MSU divide up the state? As in: is Michigan more popular in the southern parts and MSU more popular in the north parts? Or is Michigan more popular in the cities while MSU is more popular in the rural areas? Or do they both divide up the state exactly equal?
Adam Rittenberg: As Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio often says, you're either green or blue in that state. Michigan State is more popular in the western half of the state, which includes cities like Grand Rapids but obviously isn't as populated as the Detroit area. Michigan has a bigger cluster of fans closer to its campus in the eastern portion of the state, although there's a growing pocket of blue in the Grand Rapids/Holland area. If you split the state along Interstate 69 and include the Lansing area in the west/MSU portion, you can get a fairly good idea of how the allegiances break down.