Big Ten: Big Ten May meetings

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- There weren't many big-ticket proposals or key decisions at the Big Ten meetings this spring, though the league's coaches and lead administrators discussed several important topics, including the recruiting calendar, the impact of the APR reports, the bowl lineup, the possibility of a ninth conference game and, oh, yes, expansion. 

As Joe Paterno told me in the hotel lobby before he went back to State College today, these meetings are, more than anything else, a starting point for discussion. Different leagues have different agendas, and getting a new rule or policy through the NCAA gauntlet is never easy.

Getting back to JoePa for a minute, it was pretty amusing to watch him sit at the hotel bar by himself while I did my chat today. There aren't too many places in America where Paterno can enjoy a drink without being bothered. A few folks approached the coaching legend outside when he dropped off his bags, but it was clear to me that the spring meetings are one of the few times when these high-profile men can blend in easily.

Before putting the meetings to bed, a few notes from the last two days:

  • It won't happen until at least 2012, but the push for a ninth conference game really seems to have some life right now. Most athletic directors favor the addition, and it's just a matter of working out the logistics, which are far from easy. Of course, adding a 12th team would allow every Big Ten member to play nine league games. Ah, to dream.
  • Speaking of expansion, Paterno's decision to back off his earlier comments about the need to add a 12th team was interesting. He has earned the right to express strong opinions, and he usually doesn't ease up. Expansion wasn't a strong possibility even before Paterno spoke out, but it would have been interesting to see him continue the crusade. 
  • Most Big Ten coaches want to see official visits moved up to June of a prospect's junior year, which makes a lot of sense, given the current recruiting calendar. This idea certainly has legs, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a change sometime in the near future.
  • Negotiations for bowl agreements won't begin until the fall because of the shaky economy, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the Capital One Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl. If there's really no hope for a Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation, I could see the Big Ten look elsewhere for one of its top teams. 
  • Iowa athletic director Gary Barta reiterated that he expects to complete the new contract for head coach Kirk Ferentz before the start of the season. The two parties have agreed in principle, but Barta delayed the final steps so Ferentz could complete recruiting and spring practice.
"I don't have concerns," Barta said. "Kirk is a man of tremendous character. It's one of the reasons he's a perfect fit at Iowa. We were comfortable when we came to an agreement. We'll have it down before the season begins." 
  • There were some discussions about equipment, and whether players should be allowed to wear more protection during the first few practices of the spring and preseason, which are required to be in shorts and shells. Though there isn't much contact during the early workouts, extra padding could reduce the risk of injury. 
  • League commissioner Jim Delany said the league's budget will remain fixed for next year, and though expenses are being reduced in several departments, additions also have been made. For example, league is investing in a new Web-based system to evaluate officiating.
  • Teams throughout the league are exploring ways to reduce expenses, which include not having non-revenue sports teams stay overnight on road trips. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith mentioned that reducing the number of official visits prospects can take from five to three would be a good cost-cutting measure.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- The movement to add a ninth conference game in the Big Ten appears to be gaining steam.

Big Ten athletic directors have discussed ways to play a nine-game league schedule for several years, and while nothing is imminent, the plan appears to have a good deal of support. League members currently play eight games and have two conference byes that change every two years. 

"We talk about that at every meeting," said Michigan athletic director Bill Martin, who added that the drive for nine is getting more support. "As the guarantees [for nonconference games] go up and up and up and the fans want to play our sister institutions in the conference, to me it's a no-brainer. Play 'em."

Martin ideally would want to play a true round robin in the Big Ten, but he admits it's "not realistic" because of the revenue from home games that league members need to sustain their athletic programs. The Michigan AD said he has even tried to schedule the two teams Michigan doesn't play during the Big Ten schedule as nonconference opponents.

A nine-game conference schedule in an 11-team league presents an inherent problem. One team would be limited to eight conference games.

"It is a revenue hit to you," Martin said, "but you have to balance that with the responsibility to give your fans some quality opponents." 

There also could be headaches in determining a league champion, a process the Big Ten already struggles with to some degree.

What if two teams finish with one loss but one had an extra victory? What if the team that finished 8-1 loses its only game to the team that finished 7-1 but boasts a better conference win percentage? Which team gets the Big Ten's BCS berth?

Big Ten teams often played an uneven number of conference games until 1983. In 1982, Ohio State beat Michigan in the regular-season finale, but a Wolverines squad that went 8-1 in league play headed to the Rose Bowl ahead of a Buckeyes team that went 7-1. 

The league had a true round-robin format for just two seasons, 1983 and 1984, and the 1983 Illinois squad remains the only team in Big Ten history to go 9-0 in conference play.

Despite the potential problems, Big Ten athletic directors are trying to find ways to make the schedule work. 

"The majority of us would like to find a way where it would be comfortable for us to play more conference games," Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said. "I do believe some day that you'll see more games played within the Big Ten."

The league schedule is set through the 2012 season, and Martin is hopeful there will be some action taken by that point.

"By [2012], you'll probably see it," he said. "It's hard, but we all understand the need for it."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany would like to see Citrus Bowl Stadium renovated in the near future, but he's not issuing any ultimatums to bowl organizers in a rough economic time.

The Big Ten plays two postseason games in the stadium, the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports, and agreements with both bowls expire after the 2009 season. Both the Big Ten and the SEC have expressed concern about the condition of the facility, and plans for a $175 million renovation are on hold for the foreseeable future.

"It's our priority to play in great venues, and it's a venue that has fallen behind," Delany said of Citrus Bowl Stadium. "That doesn't mean, in and of itself, that we're not going to consider it. We're going to consider it, but listen, whether you're working in media, whether you're working in the television area, whether you're working in municipalities, it's a tough time.

"I'm not insensitive to what their priorities are. We've always tried to work with them to help them to build their facility to a better level."

Five of the Big Ten's bowl agreements expire after 2009, but Delany said negotiations won't take place until a later date because of the struggling economy and its impact on sponsorship, television, etc. Delany expects to start hammering out deals this fall.

Though the Big Ten wants to see improvement in Orlando and will undoubtedly have other bowl destinations, Delany said, "There's no ultimatum, not from me."

But how long will he be willing to wait?

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan and several Orlando city officials agreed it could be 10 years before a renovation takes place. It would be hard to see the Big Ten wait around that long, especially with other bowls (Cotton, Gator) potentially vying for a tie-in. 

Wisconsin has played in an Orlando bowl game in three of the last four seasons and hopes to see the relationship continue.

"They were first class," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "Our kids have absolutely enjoyed every minute of the visits there. As a player and a coach, I've always had great experiences."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Like many parents of college-bound high school students, Illinois head coach Ron Zook made the college tour with his daughters in June of their junior year.

He wonders why football prospects can't do the same.

Zook and several of his Big Ten colleagues are discussing whether football recruits should be allowed to take official visits during June or even May of their junior years. Recruits currently cannot make official visits until after the first day of classes during their senior year.

"What's happening is these kids are making a lot of unofficial visits, which they're having to pay for," Zook said Wednesday. "Some of them quite frankly can't afford it. So you're helping that way as well."

With so many recruits making verbal commitments as juniors -- Michigan already has 10 commits for 2010, while Ohio State and Penn State have five -- their official visits become more of a formality. Many players also make impromptu unofficial visits throughout the summer, which place an added burden on football coaches and their staffs.

The Big Ten debated a proposal at last year's meetings that would have added a two-week dead period to the summer recruiting calendar to give the coaches more time off. 

"I'm concerned for the work-life balance of our coaches," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Student-athletes are now touring in the summertime. For us, they go to Michigan, they go to Michigan State, they come to our place, they go to Notre Dame, or reverse. So our coaches have to be there.

"Normally [coaches] do their summer camps in June or some in July and then they disappear. That's gone now."

Smith favors an early signing date for football, a topic discussed at the Big Ten meetings and around the country. He also thinks the NCAA should reduce the number of allotted official visits from five to three, which would save athletic departments some money in rough economic times. Smith noted that most prospects don't need all five official visits to make their selection.

Several Big Ten coaches favor moving up the start of official visits, but it's far from a consensus nationally. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said some coaches from other leagues want to push back official visits until December of a prospect's senior year.

Basketball prospects used to be allowed to take official visits during their junior years, but the policy was rescinded.

Zook opposes the early signing date but sees value in having prospects take official visits earlier, as money will be saved and coaches won't have to always balance their in-season responsibilities with entertaining recruits.

"It's what normal people do," he said. "I'm definitely in favor of June visits."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Regular visitors to Ron Zook's Twitter page might have wondered what was going on when the Illinois head coach sent out some odd tweets in the early morning hours Saturday. 

Zook sent out two tweets that read, "Please. Come Here" and "Is that all U got," around 3:45 a.m. Central time Saturday. The tweets have since been removed from his page.

Asked about the Twitter situation Tuesday at Big Ten meetings, Zook explained he was trying to send test messages to two of his assistants during the day Friday as they continue to learn the Twitter software. In the process of checking to see if the networking tool was working, the messages went out on his general Twitter page.

How they ended up being posted at 3:45 a.m. remains a mystery, but Zook said he was fast asleep at the time and had sent those messages as texts to his assistants during the work day.

The glitches are still being worked out, he said, but things seemed to be back to normal Tuesday, as Zook tweeted, "been up in Chicago today at the Big Ten coaches' meetings. very productive day."   

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- It was a fairly eventful day at the Big Ten meetings despite no major announcements from the league about votes, policy changes or proposals.

This is truly a great setting to interact with the league's coaches and athletic directors, who are removed from the grind of the season and seem much more relaxed. Wednesday could produce some more news as the coaches and athletic directors meet as a group.

My highlight was a discussion with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who is as sharp and as entertaining as ever.

Sure, he backed off his push for Big Ten expansion and addressed the status of linebacker Navorro Bowman, but it was more interesting to hear him talk about working at Ebbets Field as a kid and attending one of Jackie Robinson's first games. He also thumbed his nose at technology, wondering what "goggle" (Google) and "twister" (Twitter) exactly were and proclaiming somewhat proudly that he didn't own a cell phone or an e-mail account so that no one bothered him.

Other lighter moments included Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez carrying a small shopping bag into the hotel. Rodriguez said he left his running shoes at home and needed to buy some new ones, presumably on Michigan Avenue. Purdue head coach Danny Hope also seemed to be in good spirits, perhaps sensing the decision of quarterback Robert Marve to transfer to the school.

Recapping the day:

  • Big Ten coaches discussed expansion with league commissioner Jim Delany, but Paterno backed off his crusade and the item seems to have returned to the back burner.
  • I'll get to this more in Wednesday's blog, but several recruiting issues were discussed, including an early signing date, whether head coaches should return to the road in May and if prospects should be allowed to take official visits much earlier, in May or June rather than during their senior years. There's also talk about reducing the number of official visits so schools can save money during tough economic times.
  • Delany said the Big Ten has pushed back its bowl negotiations to a later date because of the economic situation. Agreements with five bowl games, including the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl, expire after the 2009 season. The Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation remains an issue, but Delany hasn't given the organizers of the Capital One Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl an ultimatum and understands the economic difficulties there.

Tom Crean just told me I was working too hard, so I'm heading home. Much more to come Wednesday from the league meetings, including my chat with new coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Penn State head coach Joe Paterno indicated Tuesday that junior linebacker Navorro Bowman won't face further penalties from the team after having his probation revoked and reinstituted last month.

Bowman, originally on probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, received a year of probation April 22 after admitting to smoking marijuana once between late December and late April. He also must perform 100 hours of community service, a portion of which he might have already completed. 

Paterno has met with Bowman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2008 who led Penn State with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. The coach said Bowman had completed some of his community service working alongside Paterno's wife, Sue, with the Special Olympics, but there was no record of what he'd done. 

"Now he's got a probationary officer who he's got to report to," Paterno said. "I said, 'You mind your p's and q's and you're fine.'"

Asked if Bowman would practice and play without any further penalties from the team, Paterno nodded. Paterno brought up the fact that Bowman has struggled with the passing of his father last summer.

Under the terms of his new probation, Bowman must submit to monthly drug and alcohol testing and cooperate with any recommended counseling. A judge told the Nittany Lions junior that any violation of the probation would result in six months of jail time. 

"I think he's OK," Paterno said. "He's got to do what they tell him, but I think he's OK." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- So much for Joe Paterno's expansion crusade.

The Penn State head coach on Tuesday backed off his previous position regarding the need for the Big Ten to add a 12th member and a league championship game. Paterno expressed surprise that his prior comments had created such a stir and reassured his fellow coaches at the Big Ten meetings Tuesday that he had no expansion agenda to push.

Though Paterno still thinks a shorter gap between the end of the regular season and the bowl season would help Big Ten teams from a competitive standpoint, he's leaving expansion  up to Delany. 

"You're wasting your time coming to me about it, honestly," Paterno said. "Delany's the guy. ... He knows more about it than anybody. He knows what the problems are with scheduling, he knows the problems with anything the Big Ten may want to do with expansion. I have confidence in him.

"If it's good for the conference and he can figure out a way to make it happen, he'll probably do it. If it's not good for the conference, that's a dead issue."

It was surprising to see Paterno ease up on expansion Tuesday, especially after he addressed it twice in recent weeks. But it's clear that the 82-year-old has plenty of respect for Delany, and the feeling is mutual. 

"I'm the newest guy in the league," Paterno said. "I've never been in a conference before. A guy like Delany that's been around the conference as long as he is, he's run this conference as long as he has, for me to come in here and tell him, 'Hey, Delany, this is what you've got to do,' I don't know." 

Delany on Tuesday told a great story about walking with Paterno from a hotel in Midtown Manhattan to Madison Square Garden to watch Penn State's basketball team play in the NIT semifinals in March. People stood in awe as the college coaching icon walked toward the arena.

"It was one of the most remarkable walks I've ever taken in my life," Delany said. "So recognizable, really beloved. Black, white, poor, rich, homeless, whatever, traffic stopping. And he wanted to walk. After the game, [Delany said] 'Let's get a cab to go back.' He wanted to walk back. 

"He's a really bright guy, he knows his history. He and I disagree on a playoff, but he hasn't forfeited his First Amendment right on this or any other issue."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- The recent announcement that a Nov. 7 game between Ohio State and Penn State won't be played at night because of a league policy prohibiting November night games created quite a stir within Big Ten Nation.

And after watching the Big 12 play four Saturday night showcase games last November, who can blame Big Ten fans? Especially Penn State supporters who live for night-game Whiteouts at Beaver Stadium.

Big Ten relevancy in November and December certainly is a healthy debate these days, but it's important to know the reasoning behind the policy.

Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's associate commissioner for television administration, explained the November night games policy to me before today's league meetings got under way. Though I don't agree with the league's position, it's important to understand get the full picture.

Some key points:

  • This is not a new policy. It has been in place for quite some time and probably wouldn't be a big deal if it didn't affect what looks like the marquee conference game of the 2009 season. The Big Ten has no plans to revisit the policy, and any change likely wouldn't be made until the league renews its TV contract in the distant future.
  • Weather certainly is a factor, but it's not the only factor. The Big Ten is simply not a conference that traditionally plays games at night, and that tradition still matters. There's no Tiger Stadium At Night in the Big Ten. Rudner noted that the league still plays night games in September and October -- 14 in all -- and sees the value in doing so, but it doesn't lose much exposure because all of its games are nationally televised. He also really values the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff time, which has become the Big Ten's showcase game in recent years. 
  • Night games present a logistical nightmare that most fans can't fully comprehend. From getting fans in and out of mammoth stadiums to policing the areas -- all in potentially lousy weather -- these events present some tough obstacles. Though many of the same challenges are present with September and October night games, the November weather compounds things. 
  • Expect the Big Ten to start scheduling potential marquee games like Ohio State-Penn State in October, like last year's game (Oct. 25). The league schedule is set through 2012, but don't expect to see Ohio State-Penn State in November many more times beyond that point. End-of-season rivalry games like Ohio State-Michigan, Iowa-Minnesota and Purdue-Indiana won't move out of the noon ET or 3:30 p.m. ET time slots.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After a quick trip to the mothership in Bristol, I'm back to Big Ten business today with the league's annual meetings of coaches and athletic directors. The meetings actually kicked off Monday, but since I'm a day behind, they're still worth previewing.

Several big-ticket items are likely to be discussed this week, including the biggest one, expansion. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently said the expansion issue is on "back burner," but it undoubtedly will be brought up by Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and others.

Here's what's on the menu this week in downtown Chicago:

1. Bowl lineup -- Five Big Ten's bowl agreements expire after the 2009 season, and the league likely will consider some changes to its lineup. The Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl are sure to come up this week as the Big Ten, along with the SEC, has legitimate concerns about Citrus Bowl Stadium and whether renovations will actually take place. Delany isn't the type to wait around for a renovation, and despite the Big Ten's recent performance in major bowls, the league remains extremely attractive to other games such as the Cotton Bowl.

2. Recruiting calendar -- Last year, Big Ten coaches floated a proposal that would add a two-week dead period to the summer recruiting calendar. This year, the coaches seem more interested in increasing their time on the recruiting trail. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema told me last week that several head coaches want to get back on the road during May (only assistants can recruit right now).

3. Early signing date/official visits -- Like their colleagues around the country, Big Ten coaches undoubtedly will discuss an early signing date in recruiting. Bielema also mentioned that the coaches will debate whether to allow prospects to take official visits in May of their junior year of high school. Recruits currently can only take official visits during the fall of their senior year.

4. Rule changes -- New Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo takes over this season, and he will discuss several ideas regarding rules, instant replay and officiating evaluation. Carollo wants to incorporate computer technology into the way coaches identify questionable calls and how the officials grade their own performances. An automated evaluation system should be a more efficient one. Carollo expects timing rules to be discussed, and the Big Ten will review its 2008 points of emphasis on safety and sportsmanship.

5. Expansion -- Paterno continues to bang the drum for a 12th member and a league championship in the Big Ten, noting that the league disappears from the national spotlight in late November and December. He will once again bring up the issue this week, and it will be interesting to see if the "snickering" he received in the past continues. Expansion might not be a hot-button issue for Delany, but Paterno remains an extremely well respected and influential voice, and he's not the only Big Ten football coach who wants a 12th team.

Check the blog throughout the next two days for updates from the Big Ten meetings.

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