Big Ten: 2011-B10-May

Jerry Kill hasn't coached a game as Minnesota's coach, but he's recording victories in other ways.

Kill has made a strong effort to reach out to Minnesota fans and former players during his first few months on the job. It's no surprise that after attending Big Ten spring meetings Monday-Wednesday in Chicago, Kill spent Thursday making three speaking appearances around the state.

His decision to open spring practices resulted in increased media coverage and attention for the program.

"I knew he could coach," Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said. "I didn't realize what a rock star he was with the media and others. He's won people over, and I'm really excited that he's our football coach."

Kill wasn't Minnesota's first choice to replace Tim Brewster, and his hiring disappointed some Gophers fans hoping for a bigger name. But his efforts to unite a fan base disappointed with the program's direction aren't going unnoticed.

"The people have been great to me, they really have," Kill said. "We've reached out, from lettermen to the history of Minnesota football all the way back to coach [Murray] Warmath's era. We certainly have studied it."

Maturi notes that "long-term decisions are based on winning and losing," which is hardly a revelation for Kill. To help get Minnesota back on course, Kill has relied heavily on former players.

"It's kind of fitting with the Legends and the Leaders [divisions]," he said. "I've gone back to the legends to find out what we need to do better. Hopefully, we can build our program back to where it once was.

"I've had plenty of feedback. It's been inspiring and a good learning experience for me."

Video: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald

May, 19, 2011

Adam Rittenberg talks with Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald at the Big Ten spring meetings.

Video: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

May, 19, 2011

Adam Rittenberg talks with Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema at the Big Ten spring meetings.

CHICAGO -- The 2011 Big Ten spring meetings are in the books at the antiquated Palmer House Hilton.

There wasn't a lot of major news coming out of the meetings, although league officials, athletic directors, coaches and faculty representatives discussed many topics during the three days. Nebraska officials were on hand, and while the school doesn't become an official voting member until it enters the league July 1, folks like AD Tom Osborne played an active role in the meetings.

Let's take a look back at some nuggets coming out of the Palmer House:

No resolution on nine-game conference schedule

Despite a lot of discussion, the league had no definitive answer on if and when it will implement a nine-game conference schedule. Athletic directors approved the nine-game schedule in February, but the vote was taken with the knowledge that further talks would take place.

Commissioner Jim Delany reiterated Tuesday that the biggest factor toward cementing a nine-game conference schedule is ensuring most league members will have at least seven home games per season. Coaches weighed in on the debate this week and while most if not all of them would rather have the schedule remain at eight league games, they know the decision ultimately rests with others.

"The onus is back on us," Delany said, referring to his staff. "We've got some scheduling information in the out years. We've got to be able to put that together in a way so all 12 athletic directors, they can get seven [home] games."

The general feeling coming out of the meetings is this: The nine-game schedule remains a strong possibility but not until the 2017 season at the earliest.

"I've gone from the eight-game philosophy to the nine-game philosophy because it benefits the entire conference," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Selfishly, for Ohio State, the eight-game [schedule] is better financially for us. But for the overall health of the league, it's better to go nine as long as we have time to transition into that."

Recruiting issues

One of the issues Big Ten coaches discussed this week was the rise of traveling 7-on-7 high school all-star teams. Coaches are concerned about the increasing influence on recruits by people outside of their high school coaches and don't want their sport to end up like basketball, where AAU teams often take precedence.

"We signed a tight end from Dallas who played with another guy from Kentucky and this guy on those teams," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I understand that because of the skill development and, I guess, the showcasing or whatever. But at the same time, you want them to be with their high school. It would be like if our guys were getting with a bunch of guys from somewhere and doing 7-on-7 without us being there."

For similar reasons, Hoke says he is against an early signing day in college football, even though he has racked up a lot of early commitments so far with the Wolverines.

"I want kids to enjoy their high schools and play for their high school teams," he said. "The whole process is getting pushed more. If you don't push the process, you may lose out on some guys. We're all doing it. I always worry about maybe a kid getting distracted and not being focused on what's important, which is his teammates and his high school where he's playing."

Wisconsin gears up for spotlight

Wisconsin will play make four ABC/ESPN primetime appearances this fall, more than any other Big Ten team. Coach Bret Bielema joked that while he had a good idea about Wisconsin's two primetime home games (UNLV and Nebraska), he didn't know his team would be playing back-to-back night games on the road (Oct. 22 at Michigan State, Oct. 29 at Ohio State).

Despite the late October challenges, Bielema appreciates the national exposure and so do his players.

"A couple kids texted me and commented on the exposure we're going to be able to have," Bielema said. "It makes everybody excited."

Final nuggets
  • Coaches can't publicly discuss potential transfers, but there's some mutual interest between Wisconsin and NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. While the SEC still appears to be the likeliest destination for Wilson, don't count out the Badgers, who might be a quarterback away from another Big Ten title.
  • Michigan will host its first night game in team history Sept. 10 against Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium. Hoke called the Notre Dame game "a special one," and while he's used to plenty of night games from his time at both Ball State and San Diego State, he prefers noon kickoffs. "I hope not to play a bunch of 'em," he said, "but we're going to play them, so you just adjust." One game Hoke doesn't envision ever moving to prime time is Michigan-Ohio State. "No, not that one," he said, smiling.
  • Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner said the league has no plans to move games to Sundays this fall if the NFL lockout is still ongoing. He also said that while some Saturday kickoff times could be moved around, most Big Ten non-primetime game will begin at noon ET or 3:30 p.m. ET.
  • League officials said the decision of whether to put a rivalry trophy at stake in the Big Ten championship game rests with the respective schools. For example, rivals Iowa and Wisconsin don't play during the regular season but could decide to put the Heartland Trophy on the line if they clash Dec. 3 in the Big Ten title game.
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten is flush with money thanks to its lucrative TV contract and other sources. During the league's spring meetings this week, conference officials discussed whether some of that cash should go into athletes' pockets to cover the full, real cost of their education.

And if that gives the Big Ten a clear advantage over other conferences that aren't as rich? Some league administrators feel that's the way it should be.

An athletic scholarship pays for tuition, fees, room and board and books. But it doesn't cover such items as transportation, clothing and other living expenses -- the so-called full cost of attendance. Studies have suggested that there's a gap of about $3,000 per player between the scholarship allotment and the cost of attendance.

There have been calls to close that gap. In 2003, former NCAA president Myles Brand publicly favored a proposal to use men's basketball tournament funds to give athletes more pay. Current NCAA boss Mark Emmert has come out in support of the same idea and brought the issue up at the NCAA's April board meeting.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Dave WeaverBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany wants to explore a "regulatory system that is based more on student-athlete welfare than it is on a level playing field."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said his league talked about such a model this week in Chicago.

"Forty years ago, you had a scholarship plus $15 a month laundry money," Delany said. "Today, you have the same scholarship, but not with the $15 laundry money.

"How do we get back more toward the collegiate model and a regulatory system that is based more on student-athlete welfare than it is on a level playing field, where everything is about a cost issue and whether or not everybody can afford to do everything everybody else can do?"

It's that line about "level playing field" that might make some other schools and leagues nervous.

Thanks to the Big Ten Network and other deals, league schools are reportedly raking in $20-22 million each in TV revenue. So it's not a stretch to think they could pay an extra $3,000 per athlete. If the Big Ten limited that to 85 football and 13 men's basketball scholarship players, it works out to an extra $294,000 per year. The cost would be significantly higher to do it for all scholarship athletes -- Ohio State, for example, has more than 400 varsity athletes on campus and the Big Ten as a whole has 9,500 -- but it still would be financially feasible.

"The reality is that schools can afford it more than you realize," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Just look at some of the television contracts that have come out recently."

That's fine for the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and perhaps even the other BCS AQ leagues and Notre Dame. But what about the MACs and Sun Belts of the world? How much more of a disadvantage would they face if they could offer $3,000 less to recruits? That takes us back to Delany's level-playing field quote.

"There are some conferences and some institutions that have higher resources than others," Delany said. "I don't know if there would be any interest around the country for that."

But maybe it's time, as Smith suggested, to fully embrace the notion of haves vs. have-nots at the FBS level. A former athletic director at Eastern Michigan, Smith knows what it's like to try and chase the big boys from the mid-major world. He said he advised his coaches and players there not to worry about Michigan and Michigan State but to focus on beating Akron, Kent and Toledo. At a place like Ohio State, he said, the stakes are simply higher.

"The reality is, if there's cost of attendance and you can't afford it, don't do it," Smith said. "The teams you're trying to beat can't do it either. Don't do it because Ohio State's doing it. That's one of the things schools at that level get trapped into thinking."

It almost sounds as if Smith is suggesting a split between the AQ teams and the rest of the FBS.

"That's a logical thought," he said, "but I don't know about that. That's higher education at a different level than me. But we have to begin to recognize that we are diverse in our membership."

None of this is imminent. Delany said that while the proposition of extra scholarship money was seriously discussed within the Palmer House Hilton conference rooms this week, "there's a long way between the talk and the action." But he added that the Big Ten is interested in talking to other conferences about the idea.

The Big Ten has a lot of money. There are worse places those funds could go than toward athletes' living expenses. The ramifications of that idea, however, could lead to radical changes in college sports.
CHICAGO -- When Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema served as Kansas State's defensive coordinator in 2003, the Wildcats opened Big 12 play with back-to-back losses against Texas and Oklahoma State.

Bielema assumed K-State's league championship hopes were finished.

"I remember being depressed as a young coach, I didn't really know what to do," Bielema said. "[Head coach Bill Snyder], who's been through it a million times, came in and said, 'Hey, we still have a chance to win our division, get to the championship game and get to a BCS game.' And that's exactly what happened."

Kansas State won its final six league games, including all five against Big 12 North division opponents. The Wildcats advanced to the league championship game and crushed Oklahoma to advance to the Fiesta Bowl.

"If [the losses] had been against two teams from our division, it would never have happened," Bielema said.

While Big Ten fans have to familiarize themselves with the divisions and the increased importance of division games in the championship race, Bielema has a firm grasp on it from his Kansas State days. Illinois coach Ron Zook knows the drill, too, after serving as Florida's boss in the SEC East division.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson comes to the Hoosiers from Oklahoma, which won a Big 12 South division tiebreaker last year and faced Bo Pelini's Nebraska Cornhuskers in the championship game. Wilson and Pelini both enter the Big Ten with knowledge of division play.

"I'm coming from a conference where for seven years I was in a championship game, and I thought it was pretty exciting," Wilson said. "A couple years from now, with two weeks left, instead of two or three teams jockeying, there are going to be four or five or six teams, two or three in one [division], two or three in another, maybe one or two teams controlling their destiny, maybe one or two big matchups coming.

"That's a pretty good deal."

Will Big Ten fans catch onto the difference with division play?

"They're going to want to win every game," Bielema said. "They're not going to change the way they think. But the fans who take the time and look at the details of how you've got to get to a championship game and hopefully to a BCS game will benefit."
CHICAGO -- Like many folks, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will be watching the Longhorn Network when it debuts in August.

The University of Texas will launch the 24-hour network with ESPN. The network will feature 200 events per season.

Of all the Big Ten athletic programs, Ohio State is likely most similar to Texas in terms of size, regional/national appeal and visibility. I've received more than a few questions asking whether Ohio State will ever branch off and start its own network.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMIOhio State AD Gene Smith called the Big Ten's revenue-sharing plan the "healthiest" model.
But Smith has no plans to go down that path.

"We're going to watch them, obviously, but we've really bought into the overall health of the conglomerate," Smith told on Wednesday at the Big Ten spring meetings. "How do we optimize all of our assets, how do we aggregate it and maximize everything for everybody? We've kind of got a little bit different philosophy from the Big 12, because they share revenue differently, they're philosophically different. That's understandable, it works for them.

"But for us, we like to aggregate things and see how we can rise the whole ship."

The Big Ten's media rights package is no small potatoes, especially given the success of the Big Ten Network. Ohio State benefits from the plan, just like some of the league's lower-profile programs.

But Ohio State also has the potential to be like Texas some day.

Is it hard for Smith to take a populist approach?

"If you want to think selfishly, it's hard, it really is, to say that I'm going to give this up when I could probably on my own do this," he said. "But then you've got to take a step back and say what does that do for you long term? Really look at that from a holistic point of view. The larger stadiums can help the smaller stadiums, and it really rises the whole ship.

"A restaurateur would like competition close by -- not next door, but would like it on the same block because he realizes it rises their ships."

Smith also relies on his previous experience as a former athletic director in both the Big 12 (Iowa State) and the Pac-12 (Arizona State) as a guide for this issue.

"I've seen all the different revenue-sharing plans," he said. "[The Big Ten's] is the healthiest because of the collegiality. The discussions are easier. There's no real contention."

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini

May, 18, 2011

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks at the Big Ten spring meetings.

Video: Michigan coach Brady Hoke

May, 18, 2011

Michigan coach Brady Hoke discusses a nine-game schedule, night games and more at the Big Ten spring meetings.
The Big Ten has narrowed down its options for future football championship games to Chicago and Indianapolis.

The league will choose between an indoor facility (Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium) and an outdoor facility (Chicago's Soldier Field). This is comfort versus cold, the safe bet versus Big Ten weather.

Now it's time for you to weigh in on where the Big Ten should play its championship games in 2012 and beyond.

Adam Rittenberg talks with Purdue coach Danny Hope at the Big Ten spring meetings.
CHICAGO -- There's a feeling that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has been distancing himself from embattled coach Jim Tressel in recent weeks.

Smith noted last month in an interview with the Associated Press that Tressel should have apologized at the infamous March 8 news conference. Smith talked about the high legal costs Ohio State is dealing with and called the ongoing NCAA situation "a nightmare."

The Buckeyes' AD declined to discuss any details of the NCAA situation Wednesday at the Big Ten spring meetings, but he reaffirmed his support for Tressel.

"Oh, definitely, no question," Smith said. "I haven't changed, I haven't changed. But I'm not talking about the case beyond that."

Tressel has received support at the spring meetings from fellow coaches like Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, as well as from Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, a longtime friend.

"Coaches are great," Tressel said. "They understand all the challenges everyone has. It's good to be with them."

Tressel addressed reporters for less than a minute Tuesday morning, but he did talk about new Michigan coach Brady Hoke and the fuel Hoke has added to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

"Brady's awesome," Tressel said. "Anything that's good for the Ohio State-Michigan game, I'm for it. And Brady's good for it."

Video: Kirk Ferentz from spring meetings

May, 18, 2011

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz talks about some of the issues being discussed at the Big Ten spring meetings.

Video: Jim Delany from spring meetings

May, 18, 2011

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany updates some league issues at the spring meetings.
The competition to host future Big Ten football championships is down to two cities: Chicago and Indianapolis. The news that broke early Tuesday night set off quite a response from Big Ten fans on my Twitter page.

The overall reaction is split pretty evenly between the cities, and some good points are made on both sides and for both stadiums (Lucas Oil in Indy, Soldier Field in Chicago).

Let's take a look at some of the comments:
  • @LawrenMills: Indy should be the choice--hands down.
  • @Bobby_BigWheel: Calling Indy. Big Ten would never do anything cool
  • @Husker68347: Chicago. Football is meant to be played outdoors. Chicago also has Shaw's.
  • @OmahaBoilermakr: Indianapolis, I dont want to see a game played in Chicago in late fall. Best team should win & that happens in a dome.
  • @twitchkoff: Chicago. Alumni fan bases culminate in the city. B1G fans talk smack on 'playing in the conditions" #walkthetalk
  • @PittScript: What is the obsession w Indy? Like BE having tourn in Newark.
  • @kgoingglobal: Chicago all the way!!!
  • @AJarena: Chicago. You ever been to pequods pizza? Enough said.
  • @HaydenK9: Lucas Oil > Soldier Field. Not debatable. Put the basketball in Chicago.
  • @Iowoodka: Hmm, which airport would be easier, O'hare or Indy?
  • @JoeBucsFan: Chicago please, not a soulless dome. B1G 10's home in Chicago roots in Chicago.
  • @coachtoddy: chicago is closer but I really like the central bar/restaurant area in Indy, you get the feeling that the B10 owns the the town

Great stuff so far. Keep it coming. This smells like a poll question.