Big Ten: Big East

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

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Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.
Big Ten expansion talk has quieted down just a bit during the last six weeks or so, but things are about to pick up.

Real fast.

As first reported by the Chicago Tribune, top Big Ten officials will meet beginning Saturday in Washington to discuss expansion. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany confirmed in a text message to ESPN.com that he's in D.C., and the Tribune reports that Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro and University of Illinois interim chancellor Robert Easter also will attend. I'm still trying to confirm whether other Big Ten leaders are there, particularly Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon, the chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors.

The gathering coincides with a three-day meeting of the Association of American Universities, beginning today in Washington. All 11 Big Ten schools are AAU members, and the top expansion candidates, with the notable exception of Notre Dame, also are part of the AAU.

AAU members include Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas. Connecticut and Boston College are not part of the AAU.

It's also very significant that the BCS annual meetings take place later this week in Phoenix. Remember that in its Dec. 15 statement about expansion, the Big Ten said it will notify the commissioners of affected conferences -- or Notre Dame top administrators -- before engaging in any formal discussions with institutions.

If I were Big East commissioner John Marinatto or Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, I'd worry about a tap on my shoulder during the BCS meetings. From what I've been told from coaches and officials around the Big Ten, Delany wants to get something done, and the commish usually gets what he wants.

Two other dates to remember:

  • The Big Ten holds its meetings of coaches (football, men's basketball, women's basketball) and athletic directors in Chicago from May 17-19
  • The Big Ten holds its meetings of presidents and chancellors in Chicago in early June

Translation: the Big Ten could finalize an expansion plan, and quite possibly rock the college sports landscape, in the next two months. So much for the 12- to 18-month plan outlined in the league's initial statement.

As the Tribune points out, "The fiscal years of universities end on the last day of June, 'so if you go past July 1, you have to wait an extra year,' one source said." So if the Big Ten wants to be a 12-team, 14-team or 16-team league for the 2011-12 academic year, it needs to act quickly.

I've had the chance to visit seven Big Ten schools for spring football practice, and the buzz among coaches and officials is that the Big Ten will expand, and there's a strong likelihood the league will add more than one team. Almost everyone I spoke with thinks the league will go to 14 or 16.

I'm still skeptical about a 16-team super conference, which sounds great in principle but hard to successfully execute. I still believe that if the Big Ten can add Notre Dame as a 12th member, there's absolutely no need to do anything else.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, by the way, had this to say on Saturday: "Our highest priority is maintaining football independence."

Swarbrick can say what he wants, but he still has to at least listen if the Big Ten comes calling. Major changes could be coming to college sports, and Notre Dame can't be left on the sideline, clinging to a football independence that seems to mean less and less with each passing year.

I still think the Big Ten has to make a push for Notre Dame before moving on to schools like Pitt, Rutgers, Missouri and Nebraska. If the Irish ultimately say no, the likelihood of a three-team or five-team expansion goes way up.

The next few weeks should be very, very interesting, so stay tuned.
As we all know by now, NCAA bylaws state that in order to hold a championship game in football, a conference must have 12 members.

So for the Big Ten to hold its title game in Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago or Sheboygan, a 12th member must be added.

But rules change all the time, and many of us have wondered whether a league could simply hold a championship game without expanding to 12 teams or more.

New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is thinking the same way.

Scott tells CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd that he has had discussions with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Big East commish John Marinatto about holding championship games without expanding to 12 or more. The prospect obviously would interest the Big Ten (11 members) and the Big East (eight members).

"That's a possibility," Scott said. "Initially, it doesn't make much sense but I've had a couple of conversations."



Dodd goes on to write: "NCAA bylaw 17.9.5.2 (c) states that a conference must have at least 12 members to stage a championship game. NCAA legislation would be needed to change that bylaw. Supposedly, such a change would be non-controversial."

Hmmm, very interesting.

Delany has stated multiple times that a football championship game won't be the driving force behind expansion, but it's obviously a big factor to many folks involved in the process. As I've repeatedly reminded blog readers, the Big Ten is healthy at 11 teams, but it could be even stronger if the right addition or additions are made.

If the Big Ten can't land a slam-dunk expansion candidate (Notre Dame), and the requirements changed for a football championship game, this might make a lot of sense for the league. Of course, the lack of a round-robin schedule in the Big Ten makes things tricky. The top two teams in the league could take very different paths to a championship game.

Still, it's interesting to see that we aren't the only ones thinking about alternative ways to have a title game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A peek inside Big Ten media days last week served as proof that the debate about conference strength is alive and well.

It seemed like Big Ten coaches received more questions about the league's struggles against the SEC than anything to do with their own teams. Illinois' Ron Zook, who coached in the SEC at Florida, addressed the speed argument. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz praised the SEC but didn't think the gap separating leagues is that great.

Still, by almost any measure, the Big Ten has slipped behind the SEC, which has won the last three national titles, two against Big Ten member Ohio State.

The SEC has become the nation's preeminent conference, but how many other leagues separate the Big Ten from the top?

I put the Big 12 at No. 2 in my conference power rankings, but well behind the SEC and not far in front of the Pac-10 and Big Ten. The Big 12's quarterback play is superb and the offensive innovation from Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas and others is fun to watch. But the Big 12 was less than impressive during the postseason. Though the Big Ten went 0-3 against the Big 12 in bowls, two of those games (Fiesta and Alamo) easily could have gone the other way.

Still, the Big Ten's putrid postseason performances can't be overlooked. Six consecutive BCS bowl losses. Six consecutive Rose Bowl losses. A 1-6 record last year. The Big Ten's bowl lineup is harder than that of any other league, but teams have got to start winning again. 

No team has hurt the Big Ten more than USC, and other Pac-10 teams, including Oregon, have notched key wins against the Big Ten. The Big Ten has dropped its last six bowl matchups against the Pac-10. Geography undoubtedly plays a major role in these games, but I'm giving the Pac-10 a slight edge entering the fall. Both leagues have some depth questions, and things could go either way. 

The Big Ten finishes No. 4 in my power rankings, ahead of the ACC, Mountain West, Big East and WAC. A lot of folks love the ACC this year, but the league plays a flimsy bowl lineup, nothing resembling the Big Ten's, so it's hard to get a good read there. 

Conference Rankings

1. SEC
2. Big 12
3. Pac-10
4. Big Ten
5. ACC
6. Mountain West
7. Big East
8. WAC 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Joe Paterno wants a Big East team to join the Big Ten. He probably won't get his wish any time soon, but the next best thing takes place this fall. Syracuse will face three Big Ten teams -- Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State -- in the first three weeks of the season. It's rare when another BCS team not named Notre Dame plays two games against squads from another BCS conference, much less three.

To help educate us on the Syracuse Orange, I consulted Big East blogger Brian Bennett, who boasts plenty of expertise on the league. Get your notepads out and prepare to learn something as Brian fills us in on Syracuse as well as Cincinnati, which hosts Illinois on Nov. 27.

Also, check out my thoughts on how the Big Ten matches up with the Big East.

Adam Rittenberg: So BB, Syracuse is clearly trying to join the Big Ten with this schedule. Three Big Ten teams? Wow. Do Minnesota, Northwestern or Penn State have much to worry about with Doug Marrone's team?

Brian Bennett: Well, Adam, if this were hoops, then the Orange might well go 3-0. As it stands, the 'Cuse will more likely go 0-3. I really like what Marrone is doing in rebuilding the program, but the simple fact is that he's got a huge repair job on his hands. There just isn't much in the cupboard after the disastrous Greg Robinson tenure. That said, I think Syracuse could potentially put up a fight at home against Minnesota and Northwestern. Going to Penn State looks like a massacre waiting to happen.

AR: Hey, Penn State won the NIT last year! They might give the Orange a game in hoops (or not). What can Big Ten teams expect from Marrone scheme-wise this fall?

BB: You'll see a much more diverse offense than what Syracuse brought against Northwestern and Penn State last year. Marrone was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, who had one of the most creative and varied attacks in the NFL the past couple of years. The offensive system should be predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly, with some spread elements. The rushing game should be decent with Delone Carter, Antwon Bailey and Averin Collier. The offensive line is a question mark right now. On defense, former Michigan coordinator Scott Shafer is in charge, so Big Ten fans should be familiar with his schemes. Syracuse hopes he has more success than he did in his short stint in Ann Arbor.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm still in an All-Star mood the day after the Midsummer Classic, and I was excited to read an excellent post by colleague Brian Bennett over at the Big East blog. BB took a look at the home run hitters in the Big East, guys like West Virginia's Noel Devine who can take one to the house at any given time.

 
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire  
He hasn't scored much, but Arrelious Benn averaged over 15 yards per catch in 2008.  

The Big Ten has taken heat in recent years for a lack of speed and explosiveness, but the league certainly has its share of game-changers. Here are a few of them.

Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn -- His lack of career touchdown catches is puzzling (5), but Benn remains extremely dangerous with the ball. He averaged 15.7 yards per catch last season and can gash a defense as a rusher or a return man.

Ohio State running back Brandon Saine -- Dan Herron likely will get the first shot as the Buckeyes' starter, but most fans can't wait to see a healthy Saine get more carries. Injuries have limited Saine so far in his college career, but he's an extremely explosive back who can do damage in space.

Minnesota wide receiver Troy Stoudermire -- Stoudermire excelled as a return man last fall -- he led the Big Ten with 1,083 kick return yards -- and performed well as a receiver during spring drills. Defenses have to respect his downfield speed, but they could be so occupied with Eric Decker that the sophomore will get free.

Penn State running back Stephfon Green -- It remains to be seen how Green responds from ankle surgery, but opposing defenses better not forget about him, even if Evan Royster becomes more of a featured back. Green dazzled his teammates last spring and summer and should have a more productive sophomore season after some ups and downs in 2008.

Michigan State wide receiver Blair White -- White ranked ninth in the league in receiving average despite doing almost all of his damage in the season's second half. The speedy senior averaged 15.3 yards per reception and will enter the fall in a more enhanced role.

Wisconsin wide receiver David Gilreath -- Gilreath might not be a starter this season, but his top-end speed as a receiver, rusher and return man will get him on the field. He averaged an absurd 16.8 yards per catch last fall, finishing second on the team in receiving yards (520), to go along with 11.4 yards per rush.

Purdue wide receiver Aaron Valentin -- The junior college transfer had only 11 catches last year but racked up 224 yards (20.4 yards per reception). He'll take on a much bigger role this fall as Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy depart. Keith Smith should be Purdue's top possession wideout, giving Valentin the chance to attack defenses down the field.

Penn State wide receiver Derek Moye -- Moye is a prototypical outside receiver who brings top-end speed to the mix this season. He had only three catches in 2008 but will have every chance to establish himself as Penn State's primary deep threat.

Michigan wide receiver Darryl Stonum -- Expectations will be higher for Stonum this year as he enters his second season in what should be an improved offense. Stonum averaged 12.6 yards a catch in what many described as a disappointing freshman season, but he still has the skills to be explosive.

Also, keep an eye on these freshmen with home-run ability:

  • Michigan running back Vincent Smith
  • Iowa running back Brandon Wegher
  • Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray
  • Michigan wide receiver Je'Ron Stokes
  • Wisconsin wide receiver Kraig Appleton

Big Ten mailbag

June, 2, 2009
6/02/09
5:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Craig from Northville, Mich., writes: Adam, A quick note about minority hiring (which, please note, your premise, as a whole, is sound and well written.) Coach Rod does not consider himself Hispanic. His paternal grandfather was born in Spain and immigrated to West Virginia. It was all in John U. Bacon's article in Michigan Today back in November. In as much as this is the case, while Coach Rod may fit the definition of a minority coach, he does not self-identify as Hispanic, which I think is an important distinction. Keep up the great work.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the note, Craig. There has been some debate about Rich Rodriguez's ethnic background. The Black Coaches and Administrators doesn't consider him a minority, and like you said, he doesn't identify himself as Hispanic. But his boss definitely considers him a minority coach. How do I know? When I asked Michigan athletic director Bill Martin about the lack of minority coaches in the Big Ten last month, he specifically pointed out that Rodriguez qualifies because he's Hispanic. So if Martin considers Rodriguez as Hispanic, it's good enough for me. The general point of my post wasn't about Rodriguez as much as that the Big Ten doesn't have many minority coaches in key positions. Though the number is steadily increasing, it would be nice to see more of these men in important roles.


Adam from Pittsburgh writes: Adam, love your blog and congrats again on the wedding! Going back to the whole Notre Dame/Big 10 expansion issue; what would be UND's stance to joining the Big 10 if the BCS did indeed disband [through congressional ruling]? They might not have guaranteed clauses in bowl contracts for getting a bid anymore. What do you think? (Would this spur Army/Navy to join conferences too?)

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Adam. First off, it would be hard to envision any playoff/bowl system without some pretty solid guarantees for Notre Dame to appear in those games. Like it or not, Notre Dame has an enormous fan base that is willing to travel and spend money, and those things always go a long way in college football. The new rules for Notre Dame would need to be pretty restrictive for the school to cave and join a league. It probably would also take the termination of the NBC television contract for Notre Dame to look elsewhere. Here's a good breakdown of why it doesn't make sense for Notre Dame to join any league right now.

(Read full post)

Big Ten mailbag

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
10:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With all the St. Patrick's Day fun, there was no room to squeeze in a mailbag Tuesday. So here it is, a day later than usual. 

Craig from Northville, Mich., writes: Adam, I'd like to play off your non-conference scheduling post and ask your opinion of something: The Big Ten has the three of the largest stadiums in FBS in Michigan, Beaver, and Ohio Stadium. I know that Coach Rodriguez has noted the difficulty in finding teams that will do "one and done" guarantee games, even in FCS (see Michigan playing Delaware State this year.) Will the size of Big Ten stadiums become an ironic hindrance the quality of the Big Ten's non-conference schedule, or will we start seeing more Big Ten teams look at things like neutral site games (like the Alabama/Clemson opener in Atlanta last season) as a means to get the guaranteed money without having to go on the road?

Adam Rittenberg: Stadium size certainly plays a major role in scheduling, and the bigger the stadium, the less willing schools are to give up home games. So the fact the Big Ten has so many large venues definitely contributes to the lack of sexy nonconference games. I remember talking with commissioner Jim Delany about this last year and he mentioned how hard it was to schedule games with SEC teams because both the Big Ten and SEC have big stadiums and both don't want to give up the home dates. 

The economic problems only make schools more concerned about giving up home games. Michigan State switched a neutral site contest against Western Michigan from Detroit's Ford Field to Spartan Stadium this fall. 


Dan from Denver writes: Adam--Regarding PSU's conference affiliation, forget the Big East, as well as the Big Ten for that matter. As a lifelong Penn State fan and alum, I firmly believe that our football program has taken a step down by joining the Big Ten. Here's my argument: as an independent, we used to rule the Northeast, annually beating out Syracuse, Pitt, BC, Maryland, etc, on the field, on the recruiting trail, and in terms of exposure. Now, by playing the vast majority of our games either in the Midwest or against teams from the Midwest, we have decreased our exposure to the Northeast, our primary recruiting region, where as an independent we had significantly less competition for the best recruits than we do now as a member of the Big Ten. Also, we have lost our greatest rivalries (Pitt, ND, Syracuse). Other PSU athletic teams may have benefited some by joining the Big Ten (though this is debatable--Men's B-ball has not improved much as far as I can tell), but I feel that the most prestigious, most important team has suffered. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up some interesting points, Dan. Recruiting certainly has been an issue at times for Penn State since it joined the Big Ten, although the efforts of Larry Johnson and others seem to have stabilized the recruiting base. I'm not sure I buy your argument that Penn State has lost exposure to the northeast. The Big Ten remains one of the more exposed conferences in the country, and Penn State still carries cache as a national program. Also, quite honestly, Penn State should beat out Syracuse and Pitt for recruits most of the time, regardless of its conference affiliation. 

I know it's hard to break habits in recruiting, but it's not like there aren't enough talented players in the Big Ten region for Penn State to sign. Penn State needs to do a better job of building new relationships in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and other Big Ten areas. Johnson still recruits the Maryland/Washington D.C. area extremely well.


Mark from Parts Unknown writes: Hi Adam: Thanks for the blog. I live in Chicago and am a season ticket holder at Northwestern. Two questions: Any idea why NU football gets no coverage in Chicago newspapers? I believe Coach Fitzgerald is building a solid program where NU could occasionally contend for the Big 10 title - am I dreaming?

Adam Rittenberg: Chicago has been and always will be a pro town, and Northwestern is competing with five pro teams and several other colleges (Illinois, Notre Dame) for media coverage. I think the newspaper coverage picked up quite a bit last fall as the Wildcats had a strong season. As for your second point, you're not dreaming, but the key phrase is "occasionally contend." Northwestern always will be fighting uphill battles in recruiting, talent and facilities, but Pat Fitzgerald has things headed in the right direction. The key for the Wildcats is avoiding losing seasons, making bowls year in and year out, actually winning bowl games and contending for the Big Ten title every 3-5 years. 


Peter from Washington D.C. writes: Mr. Rittenberg: I usually like your stuff, but come on, man. The Rodriguez buy out story is now well over a year old. There are plenty of other things that Big 10 fans want to hear about. I am assuming you have been to Michigan spring practice and seen how their QB play is doing. Is Tate Forcier going to be good? How is new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is getting along? You could write stories for a couple weeks about Michigan on those topics and lots of people would read it.

Adam Rittenberg: That's a fair point, Peter. I haven't been out to Michigan yet, but the quarterback competition is in its early stages. Forcier certainly fits the profile of what Rich Rodriguez wants at quarterback, but so does Denard Robinson, who arrives this summer. Check the blog Thursday for more on Robinson. Rodriguez also announced Saturday that Greg Robinson will coach outside linebackers and defensive ends in addition to being the coordinator. I'm interested to see how Robinson works with Brandon Graham, who could be the league's top pass rusher this fall. 


Jon from Clinton, Iowa, writes: Considering how Iowa coaches are able to get as much as they do out of thier "mediocre" players. Wouldn't you think that Ohio State or Michigan would be envious with thier high profile athletes performing below ability?

Adam Rittenberg: Nice try, Jon. Iowa certainly has done more with less during most of Kirk Ferentz's tenure, but Ohio State owns a 4-1 mark against the Hawkeyes this decade and Michigan is 4-2. I don't think those programs are envious of Iowa right now. What's more important for the Hawkeyes is to maximize their talent in the 2005 recruiting class, which ranked up there with Michigan and Ohio State. So far, that class hasn't materialized, and this season marks the final chance for those players to step up. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Friday mailbag comes a day early, as I'll be taking most of Friday off and you guys sent in some real good e-mails. Keep 'em coming.

A popular issue this week seemed to be Penn State and whether the Lions would be better suited in the Big East than the Big Ten. This is a fascinating topic and one that will be discussed more on the blog in the coming weeks.

Joe from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Hey, thanks for the post about the Big East and Penn St. It's an often over-looked point that Penn St. is a very unnatural fit for the Big 10 -- and we continue to search for an identity in this conference. Besides the new-born rivalry with Ohio State, nothing about PSU in the B10 really fits: Geographically, historically, storied rivalries, etc. It's really sad to imagine what could have been: a conference with PSU, Pitt, BC, Miami, FSU, WVU, and more all playing one another every season. Suddenly the landscape of college football would be dramatically different, because a strong unified eastern conference such as that would certainly alter history as we know it: Bowden and Paterno would go head to head every season. The PSU Pitt rivalry would still exist. Paterno may have 3 national championships. The B10 would be able to have the championship game they desperately need. Had Syracuse not spoiled the deal back in ?82, I think college football would have been a lot better off.

Adam Rittenberg: I certainly don't object to having Penn State in the Big Ten, but you bring up some pretty valid points. The geographical gap between Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten is significant. Penn State and its fans are more Northeast-based than Midwest-based, so I can understand if they feel like outsiders at times. And though a rivalry is brewing between Penn State and Ohio State, it wouldn't compare to built-in rivalries like Pitt.

Who knows if the addition of Penn State would have kept Miami and Florida State in the Big East, as Mike Tranghese said, but it would make it harder for those schools to leave. The Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden matchups would be a lot of fun.


Derek from Baltimore writes: Re: Your piece on Penn State and the Big East... I'm taking a big leap into the deep end of hypothetical-land, but I'd trade Penn State to the Big East for ND and Pitt, provided ND plays football in the Big Ten. Quite honestly, I'd even go for a Penn State-Pitt trade with the Big East, provided we pick up Iowa St. or Mizzou from the Big 12. Then the Big 12 could grab TCU and be even again. Split into 2 divisions (Pitt, MSU, Michigan, OSU, Indiana, Purdue; Illinois, NW, Wisc. Minn., Iowa, Iowa St.) It could be done. How the mind whirrs on this issue :)

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting take, Derek, though this would once again split up Penn State and Pitt. Notre Dame is the natural fit that will never happen for the Big Ten, and I'm not so sure Pitt wants to give up its Big East affiliation in basketball. The divisions argument is always tricky in the Big Ten because of Michigan and Ohio State, but adding a school to the west (Iowa State, Missouri) seems logical. Then again, as Jim Delany said Wednesday, expansion isn't even on the back burner.


Jareth from Mount Pleasant writes: Love the blog keep it up!! I was just wondering what you think about the situation at Michigan and the quarterback position? I know that Threet is gone and he was the better of him and Sheridan but with Forcier coming in early and Robinson this summer that will help with depth and competition. The biggest thing that I think will help, even if they have a true freshmen start is the supporting staff of all the OL, RBs, and WRs returning so who ever starts will have more weapons and more experience surronding them. That should take a little bit of the pressure off of them. Just wondering what you think? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jareth. I'll touch on this more in Friday's blog, but you're absolutely right in identifying the other positions as a benefit for the starting quarterback. Rich Rodriguez basically has said the position competition under the previous regime wasn't where it needed to be, and he wants to increase it everywhere this spring. There will definitely be good competition at wide receiver and offensive line, and running back might be Michigan's deepest position next fall.

This is still a quarterback's game and Michigan must get better at that position, but the 2009 starter will have a lot more help surrounding him. It should be easier to move the ball and sustain drives.


Tom from Charlotte writes: Adam, really liked the post on "Comparing Big Ten football and hoops identities." It reminded me of the LeBron James hype around playing for the Browns. What recent Big Ten hoops player would make the best transition onto the gridiron? Do you project OSU's Greg Oden at TE? Or maybe Wisconsin's Mike Flower's at CB? It almost goes without saying that Northwestern's Brett Basanez could probably dunk from the free throw line.

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question, Tom. I think most Big Ten secondary coaches would take Michigan State's Kalin Lucas as a cornerback right now. As far as recent Big Ten hoopsters, I'd take Terence Dials on my defensive line. I'm sure we could find a spot for Oden, maybe as a pass-deflecting defensive tackle. Luther Head could play wide receiver. So could Devin Harris. And Deron Williams would be a load at running back. As for Baz dunking from the foul line? I'd highly doubt that.


Jake from Hampton, Va., writes: Adam i was just wondering with all the experience we have returning on sides of the ball i think Iowa has a good shot at the big ten title this year whether you look at Jewel Hampton replacing green or Klug and Binns filling in at DT. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Hampton should be able to step in nicely for Shonn Greene. I wouldn't expect another season like Greene had, but with Hampton, Jeff Brinson and a very good offensive line, Iowa should be able to run the ball. My bigger concern is the defensive tackle spot. Karl Klug won Big Ten Player of the Week honors last year, but I don't see much else returning at that position. You can't undervalue what Mitch King and Matt Kroul meant to that team, and I'd expect a pretty significant drop-off there.

Big Ten mailbag

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
4:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Hours before national signing day, let's see what's on your mind.

John from Mansfield, Ohio, writes: Adam, I have just read in the paper today that the Athletic Department at Ohio State will be in the "Red" for the first time. They intend to raise ticket prices for football and men's basketball. Two questions: 1. What do you attribute this failure to at least break even? The excessively high salaries? 2. Do you think this could be the start of a trend in major college athletics?

Adam Rittenberg: John is referring to this article in The Columbus Dispatch. I'm not an economics expert, but it seems as though the financial crisis is hitting mega athletic departments with large numbers of varsity sports. Stanford, a regular contender for the Director's Cup, also reported major financial problems because of the economy. Ohio State and Stanford both carry a ton of sports. Escalating coaching salaries certainly play a role, and Ohio State has two very highly paid coaches in Jim Tressel and Thad Matta, but having to fund so many varsity sports really takes a toll at times like these. I definitely see this becoming a trend in major college sports, and other so-called factories will be hit hard.


Brian from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: I was reading the signing day preview and it says they asked the bloggers to fill out the "best" section. You picked Michigan as having the best uniform? I can see them being in the running for best helmet, but overall uniform has to go to Iowa's home attire.

Adam Rittenberg: I love the Hawkeyes' look at home, but Michigan boasts a more recognizable and traditional feel. I probably would have put Penn State second behind the Wolverines for best unis. Iowa is certainly among the Big Ten's top half, but I'm pretty sure most people outside Des Moines would pick Michigan's threads over the Hawkeyes'.


Derek from Glen Gardner, N.J., writes: In your last mailbag you mentioned that you thought the BigEast was deeper than the MWC. I have to agree with you, but what I believe you forgot was that BigEast teams have the ability to tell recruits that they can contend for a BCS game year-in and year-out. If the MWC was able to do that for the next 5 years, do you think the BigEast would still be deeper?

Adam Rittenberg: Having a BCS berth as a carrot for recruits certainly would help the Mountain West's bottom rung. I've never understood why San Diego State couldn't be a powerhouse, given its proximity to top recruits. Wyoming and UNLV seem like tough places to win, but both programs have shown flashes of promise. There is potential throughout the Mountain West, but the same can be said for the Big East. Syracuse won't be down for much longer, and Louisville has shown an ability to win in the past. The two leagues would be pretty close in the scenario you present, and the Mountain West might get the edge.

(Read full post)

Big Ten Friday mailbag

January, 30, 2009
1/30/09
2:18
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I'm looking at Penn State's schedule for the fall, and then Iowa's. Do you think Iowa has a chance to knock off the Lions at home due to being tested prior to the game? Like you said, Penn State doesn't play anyone in the nonconference, and this game will be the conference opener for both teams. Iowa has two tough games at Iowa State and home versus Arizona leading up to the showdown at Beaver Stadium. What are your thoughts? Is the winner of this game the favorite to win the conference?

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa certainly will be better prepared for the game, but Penn State is extremely tough at home and remains mostly a veteran team in 2009, led by quarterback Daryll Clark, linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee, and others. Despite the rivalry factor, I wouldn't call Iowa State a tough game next year. Arizona, on the other hand, should provide a really nice test for Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa really didn't have a signature road victory last year, so this game certainly qualifies. Penn State obviously wants revenge after the loss at Kinnick on Nov. 8. Should be a great one. As for the winner being the Big Ten favorite, there still is a team named Ohio State to consider. Last I checked, the Buckeyes know how to win Big Ten road games. Iowa must follow suit in State College.


Todd from Wilmington, Ohio, writes: Adam, first I just want to thank you for your blog, you give me my daily Big Ten news fix. I just had a few comments regarding your article about Penn State's schedule for next year and the Big Ten's 2009 schedule in general. You mentioned that several Big Ten teams have solid non-conference schedules next season, but you didn't list Ohio State among them. They play USC and Navy, as well as a neutral site game against Toledo, an in state FBS opponent who historically contends for the MAC title on a regular basis. New Mexico seems to be the lone bomb on the schedule. Any insight into why you don't count the Buckeyes schedule among the strong?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Todd. I certainly wouldn't put Ohio State at the bottom of the Big Ten in nonconference schedule strength, but I have mixed feelings on the Buckeyes' scheduling philosophy. Though I love the one marquee game every year -- Texas in 2005 and 2006, USC in 2008 and 2009, Miami in 2010 and 2011 -- the other three games are usually unexciting. Navy is sort of an exception next year, but you can't really sell me on the Toledo argument. Sure, they beat Michigan last year and had some excellent teams in the early part of the decade, but Toledo is in rebuilding mode and Ohio State will stomp them in Cleveland. Sometimes I wonder if Ohio State would be better off scheduling two decent, above-average BCS teams instead of the one top-tier team. It could create some problems with having enough home games, but what if Ohio State played, say, Kansas and Arizona State every year. Or North Carolina and Rutgers. The Buckeyes would almost always be favored in those games, and having two solid BCS opponents might change the perception held by some that their nonconference slate isn't tough enough.


Zeus from Mt. Olympus writes: If you got a chance to do it all over again, which Big Ten campus would you spend your four (five?) years?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Zeus. Love it. Hmmmm ... sadly, I wouldn't go back to Northwestern for four more years. I'd have to say Wisconsin. Madison is an awesome city and reminds me a bit of where I grew up (Berkeley, Calif.). Sports are certainly big enough at Wisconsin with football, basketball and hockey, and there's a lot going on in town. After Wisconsin, I'd put Michigan (fun town, big-time sports) and Indiana (great campus). I haven't spent much time at Penn State yet, and my list might change after a few more trips to State College.

Tim from Columbus, Ohio, writes: This is just out of frustration of falling in maybe the past four big games, but since it is assumed that the Ohio State coaching staff will remain intact, what will it take for new assistants and/or ideas to be introduced to the program? Something is wrong.

Adam Rittenberg: It will take administrators or high-level boosters to force Jim Tressel to make changes. Or it will take assistants leaving for head-coaching jobs. Tressel is extremely loyal to his assistants, and Ohio State has created some good continuity in recruiting, so I don't see him making many changes any time soon. There has been a lot of vitriol directed toward offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman. If the play-calling is the problem, though, the blame really rests with Tressel himself. If the offensive line play has declined, which you could argue it did this past season, Bollman is at fault. It's an interesting situation because Ohio State has won so much and done so well in the Big Ten. A change or two might be in the program's best interest, but I don't see it happening.


Derek from Glen Gardner, N.J., writes: I know I send you my 2-cents more often than you care for. But. In your recent mailbag you mentioned Zug and Brackett and 'somebody with speed to replace DWill' (to paraphrase.) You forgot Chaz Powell, who will probably be their #1 receiver next year (maybe not statistically, but he will be their 'DWill' for their offense next year).

Adam Rittenberg: Keep 'em coming, Derek. I appreciate your interest. Powell could play a bigger role next year as Penn State looks for a speed receiver. But he only had two receptions for 37 yards this season. That doesn't scream No. 1 receiver to me, but the competition at that position certainly will be wide open come spring ball. Powell will have a chance to step up, as will Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and some of the incoming freshmen.


Jeremy from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hey Adam. I assume you have seen the argument about Big East vs. Mountain West. No offense to Brian Bennett, but he's the blogger for the Big East. So, I want to ask your opinion on the situation, sans bias. Do you think the Mountain West is a better candidate for as a BCS conference then the Big East? And can we take in officiating crews into consideration? The Big East officiating crew should be reffing junior high ball.

Adam Rittenberg: First off, Brian does a great job with the Big East blog and provides a sound opinion on this subject. The Big East's relatively strong performance in BCS bowls legitimizes the league as a worthy BCS member. On the other hand, the Mountain West has progressively become stronger over the years, with programs like Utah, TCU and BYU regularly in the Top 25 and top-15. I'm still not sold on the bottom of the Mountain West, however, and while several Big East teams have been down (Syracuse, Louisville), there's still more solid programs top to bottom in that league. If I had my way, both leagues would be part of the BCS in some way. Unfortunately, a lot of this comes down to money and market size, and the Big East, much like the Big Ten, still occupies a stronger market than the Mountain West. What could change all of this is if Boise State joins the Mountain West, which has come up before. With Boise State, Utah, BYU and TCU in the same conference, the argument for BCS inclusion would be even stronger.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As Ohio State inches closer to a BCS at-large berth, the Motor City Bowl inches farther away from having a Big Ten representative in Detroit on Dec. 26. 

Unfortunately for Motor City Bowl executive director Ken Hoffman, this scenario has been the rule rather than the exception.

Since becoming a Big Ten tie-in bowl in 2002, the Motor City has hosted only two Big Ten squads, Northwestern in 2003 and Purdue last year. Should Ohio State reach a BCS bowl as expected, the Big Ten won't have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill its Motor City spot for the fifth time in seven seasons. 

"We would certainly like to have Big Ten representation here," Hoffman said Thursday. "That's why we signed the contract with the Big Ten. We share the same geography as the Mid-American Conference and the same fan base, essentially. But the good news is we have lots of other, positive, very strong options, and that's what we'll do this year if Ohio State gets a BCS at-large spot."

One of those options appears to be Rutgers. If Ohio State goes to the BCS and Rutgers beats Louisville tonight, the Motor City Bowl could swap choices with the International Bowl and take the Scarlet Knights. It would set up a possible matchup with No. 12 Ball State, which plays in the MAC Championship Game on Friday night (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). 

Since 2002, the Big East has placed the same number of teams as the Big Ten in the Motor City Bowl, with Boston College going in 2002 and Connecticut in 2004. 

"We have a verbal agreement with [the Big East]," Hoffman said. "We're going to have to see what the results are of the game tonight and Saturday, but there's a very good chance that it could happen."

If Ohio State is somehow left out of the BCS, the Motor City Bowl would select the seventh Big Ten team, most likely Minnesota. 

The lack of Big Ten representation in the Motor City Bowl over the years doesn't concern Hoffman, who noted that last season the Big Ten had 10 bowl-eligible teams and two (Iowa and Northwestern) stayed home. 

"It's just one of those situations," Hoffman said. "This year was 30 percent fewer bowl-eligible teams out of the Big Ten. Next year could be 10 again. You just don't know from year to year." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Tim Brewster would rather spend this week in the film room and on the practice field than inside airplanes and rental cars. 

The Minnesota coach shares the opinion of many Big Ten fans, who would love to watch their favorite teams in action Saturday.

Despite the addition of a bye, the Big Ten finished the regular season a full two weeks before the other five BCS conferences. So while the college football spotlight shines on championship games (SEC, Big 12, ACC) and BCS bowl contenders (USC, Cincinnati), the Big Ten has nudged itself backstage. 

It doesn't help that the Big Ten doesn't have a team in the BCS title mix, but it has become the forgotten conference right now. 

"I would like to play on, to be quite honest," Brewster said. "I don't mind playing a game the week after Thanksgiving at all. It's something I've been accustomed to. I don't have any problem at all with playing on as long as you have a bye [week]."

Before taking the Minnesota job last year, Brewster usually spent Thanksgiving week and beyond immersed in game preparation.

He came to Minnesota after spending five years in the NFL, which always plays through December. Brewster previously worked on Mack Brown's staff at Texas, which played Texas A&M on Thanksgiving or the day after and participated in the Big 12 championship in 1999 and 2001. 

"Nationally televised games at this time of year are very special," Brewster said. "People right now are watching college football with tremendous anticipation and excitement. To me, playing right now, playing this time of year, the most important thing is playing meaningful games, playing against a big rival opponent. That creates tremendous excitement for your football team, for your fans, for everybody."

The Big Ten sacrifices the excitement and attention to uphold its tradition of finishing the regular season before the Thanksgiving holiday. Only when Big Ten coaches demanded a bye week did the league relent and agree to have games after Thanksgiving.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I wanted to see the good in the Big Ten's nonconference schedule.

There was the annual Illinois-Missouri opener, which has gone from irrelevant to must-see faster than a Jeremy Maclin touchdown return. Michigan State started off on the road against a Pac-10 foe (Cal), and Oregon State makes the reverse trip Saturday when it visits Penn State. Week 3 brings a bunch of appetizing matchups sure to make people forget about games like Iowa-Florida International and Indiana-Murray State.

But the longer I looked at the Big Ten scheduling landscape, I came to the same conclusion many others reached before the season. It stinks. Take this coming Saturday. Penn State and Northwestern are the only teams facing BCS foes, and Northwestern barely qualifies with Duke (though the Blue Devils beat the Wildcats last season).

From my mailbox, I can see many of you are also thinking about the scheduling issue. Non-Big Ten fans are united in their criticism for the league's soft scheduling. Big Ten fans are somewhat torn, a bit like me.

I understand the reasons why teams from the Big Ten and many other BCS schools schedule the way they do. Home games keep athletic budgets afloat. The Big Ten has three mega stadiums -- Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State -- and several other sizable venues that can rack up revenue. Even though the price of guarantee games is rising, teams would rather go that route than consent to the increasingly dreaded home-and-home series with a more competitive team. Penn State doesn't have to return its game against Oregon State, but that's a rarity between two BCS teams.

As e-mailer Chris from Philadelphia writes:

I am a Penn State alum and it does not matter if Coastal Carolina or Miami are in Beaver Stadium, they will still get at least 105,000 fans packing the place regardless. With the huge cash cow a big time football program has become that feeds the smaller programs of a university, ADs need to schedule a minimum of 7 home games to hit their budget goals. ... All of my friends from Penn State wish we institute regular games every year with West Virginia, Pitt and ND but that will never happen because it will cut into the amount of home games per year Penn State needs. People get too caught up on the wins when the bottom line is really the dollars.

I get it, but it'd be nice if Big Ten teams stepped up a bit for the sake of better competition. I would like to see each Big Ten school schedule two of the four nonleague games against BCS teams (Notre Dame included, of course). Only five of the 11 Big Ten teams did so this season, and neither Indiana nor Minnesota face a single BCS foe outside the league. I'm a huge non-BCS fan and enjoy seeing Big Ten teams face strong squads like Utah (Michigan), Fresno State (Wisconsin) and Central Michigan (Purdue, Indiana), but beef it up a little more.

When I asked league commissioner Jim Delany about scheduling in late July, he identified four programs -- Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue -- that don't have lengthy postseason histories and benefit greatly from any bowl appearance, regardless of status. After covering Northwestern for several years, I understand what it means for that program and its fan base to get to bowl games. Northwestern fans are much more inclined to attend a bowl game than nonleague home games, which draw poorly. Finding any way possible to the postseason becomes paramount, even if it's four wins against weak teams and a sub-.500 record in Big Ten play (hello, Minnesota). But coaches always talk about striving to be great, to be champions. They never say, "Let's just get to seven wins, men. The Motor City Bowl beckons!" Shouldn't the schedule reflect a better message?

I'm not suggesting Big Ten teams should follow Washington, which continues its get-our-coach-fired tour Saturday against BYU. That's just stupid. And as much flak as the Big Ten takes, other leagues are just as bad (Pac-10 excluded). This week's Big 12 slate features one matchup with a BCS foe (Oklahoma-Cincinnati). Same goes for the Big East.

If the Big Ten just gave a little, it could go a long way.

Will things change next season? Here are the nonleague games we know about for 2009 (as you'll see, some schedules are incomplete).

ILLINOIS

vs. Missouri (at St. Louis)

Illinois State

IOWA

Northern Iowa

at Iowa State

Arizona

Arkansas State

INDIANA

at Akron

South Florida

MICHIGAN

Notre Dame

MICHIGAN STATE

at Notre Dame

vs. Western Michigan (at Detroit)

MINNESOTA

Air Force

California

South Dakota State 

NORTHWESTERN

Miami (Ohio)

Towson

at Syracuse

Eastern Michigan

OHIO STATE

Navy

USC

vs. Toledo (at Cleveland)

New Mexico State

PENN STATE

Syracuse

Temple

Eastern Illinois

PURDUE

Toledo

at Oregon

Northern Illinois

Notre Dame

WISCONSIN

Central Florida

Fresno State

at Northern Illinois

at Hawaii

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