Big Ten: Fred Glass

Indiana athletic director Fred Glass says he was only focused on his own university and not the problems facing college sports in general when he came up with the unique student-athlete bill of rights that the Hoosiers unveiled Friday afternoon. But if Glass' document ends up being like another famous bill of rights and becomes a model for others to follow, he would be happy to play the role of founding father.

"Our real focus was, frankly, more internal," he told ESPN.com. "But if the ancillary benefit is sort of like Macy's and Gimbels in 'Miracle on 34th Street' and other people embrace what we do because of the marketplace, that would be awesome. And if there are more conversations about how we can do even more, that would be great."

[+] EnlargeFred Glass
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana AD Fred Glass has fashioned a student-athlete bill of rights for his institution that could stand as a model for others.
How much more players should receive is the overwhelming hot-button topic in college sports right now. The NCAA is currently on trial in the Ed O'Bannon case, while Northwestern got the go-ahead to pursue a labor union earlier this year. Other lawsuits are brewing, and power conferences are lobbying to write their own rules so they can give more benefits to players.

Glass acknowledged that the current climate in college sports certainly played a role as he penned his first draft of the bill of rights while sitting poolside in Florida with his wife over spring break. Yet the overriding impetus, he said, was simply making sure his school made it clear and transparent to players and recruits what it would offer to them.

Those benefits include a guaranteed four-year scholarship for every athlete on campus; a "Hoosiers for Life" program that lets former players come back and finish their degree free of charge; a voice for players in the athletic department through a student-athlete advisory committee; comprehensive medical coverage during a player's career; and free iPads and tailored blazers.

Many of the points in the bill of rights echo the Big Ten's stance on reform, which the league's presidents and chancellors outlined in a formal statement earlier last week.

"I think the conference has been a huge leader on this," Glass said. "I was sort of amused that people would say the Big Ten presidents' statement was a reaction to the O'Bannon trial. [Commissioner] Jim Delany has been talking about these things for three years."

Glass, who was a successful attorney and civic leader before becoming the Hoosiers' AD in 2009, said he did not work with the conference while establishing his bill of rights. He did call Delany and a senior NCAA administrator the day before releasing the document to the public and said both were "very enthusiastic."

The cost of these initiatives, which went into effect immediately, are not insignificant. The lifetime degree guarantee, for example, was grandfathered in to include all former players. So it's possible that someone who played baseball in the 1960s or ran track in the 1970s could walk through Glass' door tomorrow and ask to resume his coursework. Indiana not only will cover tuition for all former players who left in good standing after two years without transferring, but those former Hoosiers also will receive access to all the tutoring and academic advising programs that current players receive.

"I think this really cuts against the sort of unfair caricature of universities where people say we take these kids, take what we can get out of them, and as soon as we're done with them we kind of wad them up and throw them away," he said.

The bill of rights echoes many of the demands of CAPA, the organization behind the Northwestern labor union push. One thing missing is the call for medical coverage for players after their careers have ended for injuries related to their playing days. Glass said Indiana officials believe that's a sensible benefit to explore but that the costs could be so high that "it would be beyond the ability of any one school. It's going to take a collective solution, probably involving NCAA reserve funds and maybe a broad-based insurance policy."

It's highly unlikely that this bill of rights will provide any sort of panacea to the many issues revolving around college sports. The document does not, for example, address the image and likeness rights that are being weighed in the O'Bannon trial.

The reason I think we care about intercollegiate athletics is that, to one extent or another, these kids are real students. Certainly in the Big Ten they're real students.

-- Indiana AD Fred Glass
But Indiana, which reaps many financial rewards from belonging to the Big Ten but does not make nearly as much money as other league schools that have successful football programs and large stadiums, could serve as a model for the rest of the conference to follow. Many Big Ten schools already are doling out several of the benefits Indiana spells out, and schools like Michigan and Ohio State not only can afford to do more, they want to do so. (And if not or until then, Glass admits, the bill of rights might provide the Hoosiers a small recruiting advantage).

Glass is not a revolutionary. He wants to see tweaks made to the college sports model and believes players should receive a bigger slice of the pie. But he does not want the entire system overhauled.

"I think we throw the baby out with the bath water in totally changing the intercollegiate athletic model and go to pay-for-play or become a developmental league," he said. "Then the special sauce is going to go out of the deal. The reason I think we care about intercollegiate athletics is that, to one extent or another, these kids are real students. Certainly in the Big Ten they're real students. And that's why we love it, because we were students at these schools. And if suddenly they become hired guns, that will start a fairly rapid decline, and suddenly people will not care that much about it."

Indiana's student-athlete bill of rights is not going to save college sports from itself. But it does at least represent a step in the right direction.
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Nick the Quick from Nashville writes: The B1G's programs are raking in the dough. The article Monday on B1G revenue should surprise no one. When will the lesser programs start making more solid and needed financial investments in their football programs? Seems so simple to me. Is it that simple or is this a case of jaded B1G fans desperately looking for answers on why these teams struggle but make money hand over fist?

Adam Rittenberg: Nick, this topic fascinates me, and I wrote extensively about it last season. It doesn't seem to add up: record revenues generated, but a football league that hasn't consistently been among the nation's elite. As Big Ten athletic directors told me, there are other factors to consider like sponsoring so many non-revenue sports, which is at the core of the league's broad-based philosophy but isn't the best business approach. Most Big Ten schools have made significant investments in recent years, whether it's facilities or coaches' salaries, but there's still a sizable gap in football budgets. As Indiana AD Fred Glass told me, Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, while Indiana made only about $4.5 million.

The money and investments definitely matter, but as B1G commissioner Jim Delany said, it's not a one-to-one relationship and doesn't guarantee success.


Glen from Minneapolis writes: Everyone has been saying the Gophers have become improved recently, including yourself. However, there always seem to be a caveat that follows (loss of Ra'Shede Hageman, Mitch Leidner's abilities to pass, etc.). I would like to know -- with your ranking of the Gophers' 2014 conference schedule as the second toughest in the league and first impressions post-spring game/practices -- will the Gophers make a bowl game? Should fans be as happy (or grateful) about a 6-6 record as they were with going 8-4 last season?

Adam Rittenberg: Asking college football fans to be pragmatic is akin to asking them to abstain from beer or charred meat on Saturdays. I get that. But I think it would serve Minnesota fans well this season. Minnesota very well could have a better team that ends up with a worse regular-season record. The crossover games are tough, and Minnesota has three very challenging league road games (Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan). But Gophers fans should expect at least six wins and a bowl appearance. Anything less would qualify as a disappointment from a fourth-year coaching staff that returns some nice pieces. Should fans be grateful at 6-6? No. But they also should be realistic about what Minnesota is up against.


Ethan from New Jersey writes: Do you think the B1G would ever allow permanent end-of-season rivalry games with either the Big 12 or the ACC like the SEC and ACC already do? (think Penn State-Pitt, Iowa-Iowa State, Nebraska-Oklahoma) I think if could give a true rival to some teams in the league without one and could sometimes prove the depth of the B1G by having consistent Power 5 play.

Adam Rittenberg: Ethan, the Big Ten really wants to make the final weekend about its own product, not out-of-conference games. The league wants to give Nebraska-Iowa time to grow. Maybe it evolves into a nice rivalry, maybe not. I hope the Big Ten considers allowing Penn State to play Pitt at the end of the season. There's no other league rival for PSU, and the Pitt series has a ton of history and typically took place between Nov. 19-30. I can't see Iowa-Iowa State moving to the end of the season. Aside from the 2001 game, it has taken place in September since the series resumed in 1977. Bottom line: The Big Ten wants to maximize its own rivalries that weekend, but it should be open to nonconference games involving certain teams.


Pete from Cincinnati writes: Agree with your assessment rating the strength of crossover schedules this coming season. This can't be an accident, can it? The conference knows the West needs credibility, and to get that it needs Iowa and Wisconsin to be successful. The conference's best shot at a title team is in Columbus. And while we're at it, let's do what we can to make sure the new guys don't wind up too high in the standings, lest people start talking. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Pete, while I appreciate your conspiracy theories and think Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to draw both Big Ten newcomers in Years 1 and 2, I don't know if the league is trying to achieve all the objectives you mention. Remember parity-based scheduling, which pairs historically more successful teams against one another more often? It should go into effect in 2016 and beyond. "You'll see Wisconsin and Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan," Jim Delany told ESPN.com last year. Wisconsin in 2016 has crossovers against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- in successive weeks, no less. Iowa has both Penn State and Michigan that year, in addition to Rutgers. So while I agree the West Division needs credibility, the initial crossover schedules aren't indicative of how things will be most years.


Punky's Girl from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Could Jabrill Peppers play as an occasional WR, like Charles Woodson did? If so, would he be a double threat?

Adam Rittenberg: He would be if he replicates what he did in high school as a two-way player at the college level. It could happen, but I don't think it will right away unless Michigan really struggles at receiver this year. Michigan coach Brady Hoke, asked in February about Peppers' potential to play offense, urged patience. Peppers first has to show what he can do at cornerback. "Could there be a play in there somewhere for him offensively?" Hoke said. "There could be. But let's let the kid walk on campus, go to a class during the summer and be a freshman."

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
5:00
PM ET
A big Monday looms with spring football wraps and spring game recaps. So I won't have a mailbag that day. But here's a full one for today:

Dan from Washington, D.C., writes: Brian, I'm sure you'll be getting thousands of comments on this point, so I'll add my two cents. You say, "You'd have to suffer from amnesia not to remember how close Bo Pelini came to losing his job at Nebraska last season." However, I don't believe you're [Nebraska athletic director] Shawn Eichorst (perhaps a FauxEichorst Twitter handle is in the works). No one outside of Eichorst and perhaps Harvey Perlman and Pelini knows "how close" Pelini came to losing his job. For weeks you, the Omaha World-Herald, and the Lincoln Journal Star lamented how tight-lipped Eichost was being about the whole situation. Then, lo and behold, he received a contract extension -- hardly something you give to someone you may not want around in a year or two. Now don't get me wrong -- if Pelini goes 5-7, he's toast -- but until he tanks, his job is safe.

Brian Bennett: Dan, you make a fair point that Eichorst's silence on the issue for so long means we don't know exactly how close Pelini came to being fired last year. But silence can also speak volumes, and not saying anything for weeks after the infamous audio tape leaked and while Nebraska lost some games said a lot as well. The pressure obviously got to Pelini in the regular-season finale against Iowa. Your timeline on the extension is a little off as well. Pelini said he signed received and signed the one-year extension in March. It would have been news had he not gotten it, since it covers him for the next five years. But don't think for a second that a one-year extension of his deal will have any bearing on whether Eichorst decides to make a change this fall -- Nebraska can easily afford to buy out of that extra year.

I think Pelini should be fine if he wins his usual nine or 10 games and avoids some of the embarrassing blowout losses we've seen. The Huskers also have a great chance to win the West Division. But anything less than that could prompt a coaching switch, which is why Pelini remains on the proverbial hot seat.


Aaron from Pittsburgh writes: Good ol' Tim Beckman is the B1G coach on the hottest hot seat, according to you guys. I fully understand this -- one conference win in two years, blah, blah, blah. But I honestly have some form of empathy for the man. He inherited a Ron Zook team so devoid of depth and talent that I think Year 1 should not be credited against Beckman's resume. Illinois isn't a powerhouse in the first place, so as long as Beckman's Illini don't regress in 2014, I think he might get one more year. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: The thing Beckman has going for him is that athletic director Mike Thomas hired him and probably wants to give the first major coaching hire of his tenure every shot to succeed. The Illini did show improvement last season, at least on offense, and Beckman has done a great job with off-the-field stuff such as academics. But Zook did take the program to back-to-back bowl games, so it's a little odd to hear he should be responsible for a 2-10 season. The biggest thing going against Beckman right now, I'd say, is the fan apathy. There were way too many empty seats in Memorial Stadium last season, and that gets an AD's attention more than anything. That's why it might be bowl or bust this year for Beckman.


Jason L. from Kansas City, Mo., writes: What's your take on Indiana replacing 2 games with South Florida with 2 games with Florida International? Doesn't this go against what B1G commissioner Jim Delany has stated that he wants (B1G teams scheduling tougher opponents)?

Brian Bennett: I've been a consistent proponent for toughest scheduling. Heck, I'm the guy who favors 10 Big Ten games and one marquee opponent every season. But for Indiana, I understand this move by athletic director Fred Glass. When you've been to one just bowl game since 1993, the first priority has to be finding any way possible to get back to the postseason. I thought the Hoosiers scheduled too aggressively last year, when they played Navy, Missouri and a good Bowling Green team. If IU, which finished 5-7 despite losses to Navy and Missouri, had played a dumbed-down nonconference schedule a la Minnesota's 2013 slate (or even Ohio State's), then the team likely would have gone bowling for the first time under Kevin Wilson. Think about the difference a bowl game would have made for the program, giving Wilson 15 extra practices and allowing for a little more offseason buzz.

The weird thing here is the idea that South Florida is too tough of an opponent. But especially when the Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016 and Indiana is competing in the stacked East Division, a more manageable nonconference schedule makes sense. Delany wants teams to challenge themselves and build up strength-of-schedule ratings for the playoff selection committee. Let's be honest here: The playoff is not exactly on the Hoosiers' radar.


Sam C. from Fargo, N.D., writes: Hey, BB, I was just thinking about the Gophers and recruiting and how one of the best in the nation is right here in our home state in Jashon Cornell. Is it a dream for me to think we have any shot of landing him? Getting Jeff Jones was nice, but even in the last couple of weeks no one thought we would get him, saying that he was gonna go to the SEC. Just wondering what your thoughts are. Thanks!

Brian Bennett: It would be an enormous coup for the Gophers and Jerry Kill to keep Cornell in their backyard, Sam. Too many top-level prospects (Michael Floyd and Seantrel Henderson as the most prominent examples) have left over the years. Kill and his staff have been working hard to build a relationship with Cornell, but they're going to be competing with not only the best programs in the Big Ten for his services but also many of the best in the country. The facilities and traditions at some of those places will be hard to top. It's crucial that Minnesota has a good year this season to show Cornell that staying home has its perks.


Rodney from Grantville, Pa., writes: I'm obviously excited about PSU hiring James Franklin, but is it clouding my judgment? He did a fantastic job at Vandy, and his first 100 days at PSU have been great, so why are so many saying we can't do well his first year? I personally see 9-3 being doable and 10-2 not out of the question. 7-5 at the worst. The coaches are touting a more aggressive defense and better special teams, which was probably our biggest issues last year. The offensive line is obviously our Achilles' heel, but there are ways to work around that and the offense only needs to score more than the defense allows. ... So what am I missing?

Brian Bennett: Rodney, feel free to get excited. Franklin has done nothing but create optimism so far with his energy and his early recruiting returns. Really good things are on the horizon for Penn State, I believe. But while I believe the Nittany Lions could be surprise contenders in the East Division because of their advantageous schedule -- Illinois and Northwestern as crossover opponents, Ohio State and Michigan State coming to Beaver Stadium -- I still worry about the depth on the roster because of sanctions, the lack of high-level defensive playmakers and that troublesome offensive line. Those are all real issues, and remember that Bill O'Brien did a fantastic job of getting this team to 7-5 the past two seasons. I think Penn State could match or slightly exceed that this season, but that the true brighter days are still in the future.
Last week, in response to a mailbag question from reader and Rutgers fan Ed, I came up with a hot-seat ranking for all the coaches in the Big Ten.

That list sparked a bit of discussion in some places, notably Nebraska. How accurate were my rankings, and what were some of the factors that went into them? I thought I'd bring Adam Rittenberg into the debate for a little bit of fact vs. fiction.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKirk Ferentz, who began at Iowa in 1999, appears to be secure heading into 2014.
Brian Bennett: Adam, I listed seven coaches as being completely safe, barring some unforeseen scandal: Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Penn State's James Franklin, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. While Ferentz hasn't won at an elite level of late, his contract keeps him basically unfireable. Fact or fiction on my Tier 1 of coaches?

Adam Rittenberg: Fact. It would truly take something disastrous, Brian, for one of these coaches to lose his job. Ferentz helped himself last season as another losing campaign would have placed more pressure on Iowa's administration to part ways with their highly paid coach. Unless the Hawkeyes take a significant step backward in 2014, which is tough to do given an extremely favorable schedule, Ferentz is on very secure footing. Minnesota awarded Kill a contract extension and a raise in February, and with facilities upgrades on the way, no change is imminent. The rest are as safe as you can get in this line of work.

BB: My second tier included three coaches who should be fine but could be sweating things out if they have a rough season: Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Michigan's Brady Hoke. Some might say Hoke is actually on a hot seat, but I think his first-year success, recruiting and support from athletic director Dave Brandon means he is at least a year away from feeling any substantial pressure. Fact or fiction on these guys?

AR: I would say fact on both Wilson and Hazell and possibly fiction on Hoke. Wilson has to make a bowl game fairly soon after IU squandered a great opportunity last season (eight home games). But Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, upon hiring Wilson in 2010, stressed the need for continuity at a program that hadn't had much since Bill Mallory. A 1-win or 2-win season could change things, but I can't see IU making another change, especially with recruiting on the rise and the offense surging. Hazell is a second-year coach, so unless Purdue lays another 1-11 egg, he's fine.

As for Hoke, his first-year success seems a long time ago. Michigan's recruiting has looked better in February than October, although some players still need time to develop. It comes down to this: if Michigan wins nine or more games, he's fine. If Michigan wins eight or fewer games, it gets interesting. Are the Wolverines losing close games to good teams or getting blown out? How do they perform against their three top rivals -- Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame -- on the road? Are the offensive problems being fixed? You're right that Brandon doesn't want to fire his guy. But if Michigan gets blown out in its three rivalry games and still can't run the ball consistently, Brandon might not have a choice. Remember, Hoke has set the bar -- Big Ten title or bust -- and he's not reaching it.

BB: OK, now we're down to the four guys I put on the hot seat. Let's take them individually, starting with perhaps the most controversial one. You'd have to suffer from amnesia not to remember how close Bo Pelini came to losing his job at Nebraska last season. But is it fact or fiction that he's on a hot seat?

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesBo Pelini is 58-24 as coach of Nebraska.
AR: Fact. I'm not sure where the pro-Pelini push is coming from. Does a bowl win and some Twitter fun with @FauxPelini really change anything? Nebraska has been a bigger national story during its spring game the past two seasons than when the games actually count. While it's nice to this side of Pelini, the only thing that matters is winning more games and getting Nebraska that elusive conference championship.

BB: I debated whether to include Randy Edsall from Maryland, who showed progress last season and has dealt with many tough injuries. But moving to the new league and not overwhelming fans for three seasons convinced me he needs to deliver a bowl game this year, or at least be very competitive. Fact or fiction?

AR: Fact. Athletic director Kevin Anderson has been supportive of Edsall, but Maryland needs to see continued progress this season, despite the transition. The injury situation has to turn around eventually, so we should get a better gauge of a team that, on paper, should be better. But the schedule isn't easy. It also doesn't help to have Franklin, once Maryland's coach-in-waiting, in the same division.

BB: The other Big Ten newbie also has a coach on the hot seat, according to my list. Kyle Flood is only in his third season and did win nine games his first season. But he was on shaky ground last winter and replaced both coordinators, which is a sign of a coach trying to hang on. Fact or fiction on Flood's seat being warm?

AR: Fact. A coaching shuffle like the one Rutgers had almost always precedes a make-or-break type season for the head guy. Although athletic director Julie Hermann must consider the upgrade in competition and a brutal initial Big Ten schedule (East Division plus crossovers against both Nebraska and Wisconsin), a bowl-less season could spell the end for Flood. Rutgers has reached the postseason in eight of the past nine years.

BB: And, finally, Tim Beckman. He has won just one conference game at Illinois. I'd be surprised if anyone disagreed with his placement on this list, but what say you in regard to fact or fiction?

AR: Fact. Although AD Mike Thomas hired Beckman, he'll face even more pressure to make a change if Illinois misses a bowl for a third consecutive season. The Illini showed improvement last fall, but they'll have to take another step for Beckman to secure Year 4.
Four years ago, the Big Ten clarified its November night games policy, saying that while a contractual provision exists between the league and its TV partners about prime-time games after Nov. 1, the games can take place if all parties are on board and planning begins early.

The message back then: We can do this, but we probably won't any time soon.

Last year, Big Ten coaches and administrators expressed greater support for night games, including those in November. League commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com he wouldn't stand in the way of such games.

[+] EnlargeGene Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsIf the matchups are right, Ohio State AD Gene Smith is open to November night games in the Big Ten.
But when the Big Ten prime-time schedule came out for the 2013 season, it included no night games after Nov. 1.

Will 2014 be the year we see Big Ten football kick off under the lights after Nov. 1?

We won't know for sure until ESPN/ABC and BTN announce their prime-time schedules this spring, but there's momentum for more night games and later night games, and talks are underway.

"We're more amendable to that first November Saturday," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told ESPN.com, "and I think some of us will be willing to look at that second Saturday in November if the contest is right."

Weather is still a potential deterrent for Big Ten schools to schedule night games later in the season, as it creates possible logistical problems for all involved (fans, game operations staff, police/security). But the temperature difference between late October and the first portion of November often is negligible.

The 2014 season includes Saturdays on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.

Here are the schedules:

Nov. 1

Indiana at Michigan
Maryland at Penn State
Illinois at Ohio State
Wisconsin at Rutgers
Northwestern at Iowa
Purdue at Nebraska

Byes: Minnesota, Michigan State

Nov. 8

Penn State at Indiana
Michigan at Northwestern
Ohio State at Michigan State
Iowa at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Purdue

Byes: Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska

The bad news: The Nov. 1 schedule doesn't feature too many big-time games, which could decrease the likelihood of a prime-time contest, especially on ESPN/ABC.

[+] EnlargeMichigan Stadium
AP Photo/The Ann Arbor NewsMichigan likes for its night games to be major events, which could rule the Wolverines out for an early-November game under the lights in 2014.
The good news: Several of the schools hosting games that day are among the most open in the league to hosting night games. Penn State and Nebraska welcome such contests -- in part because of their pre-Big Ten history -- and Ohio State, which is installing permanent lights at Ohio Stadium for the 2014 season, has become increasingly interested. Rutgers comes from a league where you played whenever TV asked you to, and a night game against a good opponent like Wisconsin would bring some nice exposure for one of the new Big Ten additions.

Michigan wants its night games to be major events, and facing Indiana doesn't exactly qualify. Iowa hosting Northwestern is a possibility, especially since the Hawkeyes play only one other home game (Oct. 11 against Indiana) between Sept. 15 and Nov. 1.

The Nov. 8 schedule includes arguably the Big Ten's marquee game of the year in Ohio State visiting Michigan State, a rematch of the 2013 league championship. I'd absolutely love to see this at night, and what a way to kick off November prime time in the league. It's definitely a possibility, but the game also could fill the 3:30 p.m. ET window, which many Big Ten athletic directors prefer (Purdue's Morgan Burke recently called it "the sweet spot").

The Penn State-Indiana game is another potential prime-time kickoff, mainly because Indiana has been so open to night games (six in the past two seasons, nine since the 2010 season).

"We've probably had more night games than most of our colleagues in the conference," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "We think it's a good thing for us, it helps our attendance. We're certainly open to that, and my guess is that will be more of a trend."

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas echoes the support for night games, noting that several Big Ten ADs and coaches previously spent time in the Mid-American Conference, where playing at night and on weekdays, especially late in the season, is common.

"We experienced all of that in our past lives," said Thomas, who served as Akron's athletic director from 2000-05. "We talk about the opportunities for the prime-time windows and where we are as individual schools and as a conference in having that kind of exposure.

"I would certainly support it."

Many of Thomas' colleagues seem to be on board. Smith said the athletic directors last week spoke about moving up the timetable for prime-time selections so they can begin promoting games. Prime-time schedules typically have been announced between April 20 and May 15.

"We're putting in lights because we've realized that we can handle night games," Smith said. "In 2006, we were a little bit skittish about it. We know our fans love it, so we've shared with the conference that we're amenable to having more. There's a novelty to it. That helps us with our atmosphere.

"It makes things really exciting."
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. We wrap up the series today with a look at the importance of coaching continuity in the Big Ten going forward.

It's no coincidence that a historic downturn in Big Ten football has coincided with a historic stretch of instability among the league's coaches.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesIowa's Kirk Ferentz has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach.
Think back to 2005, a season that ended with two BCS bowl wins and teams ranked No. 3 (Penn State) and No. 4 (Ohio State) in the final polls. Seven of the league's 11 coaches had been at their schools for six or more seasons. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, three years removed from a national title, logged his fifth season in Columbus. Three coaches -- Penn State's Joe Paterno, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Michigan's Lloyd Carr -- all had held their jobs for more than a decade (in Paterno's case, four decades).

The Big Ten coaches that year had combined for four national championships, five Rose Bowl titles and seven BCS bowl victories.

Since 2005, the Big Ten has gone through 17 coaching changes (not counting Nebraska's after the 2007 season). Seven teams have made multiple changes, including Penn State, which introduced new coaches earlier this month and in January 2011 after not doing so since February 1966. Last season, Indiana's Kevin Wilson was the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders division. He was hired in December 2010.

As the Big Ten invests more in its coaches, it also must ensure it has the right leaders in place for the long haul.

"If you believe strongly in the person you have," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com, "continuity is invaluable."

Few programs value continuity more than Iowa, which has had two coaches (Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry) since the 1978 season. Ferentz, who just completed his 15th year at the school, has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach. He's one of only four FBS coaches to start before the 2000 season (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Troy's Larry Blakeney are the others).

Iowa awarded Ferentz with contract extensions both in 2009 and 2010, the latter a whopping 10-year deal with a salary of $3,675,000. The Big Ten hasn't set the pace nationally in coach compensation, but Iowa's pledge to Ferentz, often the subject of NFL rumors, jumps out. Ferentz's salary is frequently debated and scrutinized, especially when Iowa struggles like it did in 2012, but Barta's loyalty to him hasn't wavered. Iowa rebounded to win eight games last season.

"Because of that commitment, we made our statement," Barta said. "We're going to fight through this with the person in whom we have great confidence and trust. There's no guarantees in life, but because of Kirk's past performance, because of his long-standing approach at Iowa and his proven success, it was a risk I was willing to take. Knock on wood, so far it has worked out terrific."

Barta sees a similar approach from Big Ten schools like Michigan State, which won Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles in Mark Dantonio's seventh season as coach. Dantonio in 2011 received a contract designed to keep him a "Spartan for life," and his newest deal is expected to more than double his salary from $1.9 million in 2013.

"Continuity breeds success," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said, "and that's the hardest part sometimes on the institutional side, to keep that commitment, keep that contract whether it's an assistant or a head coach. … It requires a high level of confidence and a high level of trust."

The day of playing musical chairs with coaches, of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon
There have been similar long-term commitments at other Big Ten schools. Northwestern awarded coach Pat Fitzgerald a 10-year contract in 2011. When Indiana hired Wilson, it gave him a seven-year contract, longer than the initial deals new coaches typically receive. Athletic director Fred Glass links Indiana's lack of continuity -- the school has had five coaches since 1996 -- with its on-field struggles (only one bowl appearance since 1993) and knows the school needs a more patient approach.

"Stability is an important thing in our league," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who applauded recent moves like MSU retaining Dantonio and Penn State hiring James Franklin. "The best example I'll use is men’s basketball where we're having tremendous success, in large part, because of the stability we have in a number of our programs. I think we need to get that in football."

While Big Ten football has struggled in recent years, the league is surging on the hardwood, in large part because of veteran coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo (19th year), Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (13th year) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (10th year). Six of the league's 12 basketball coaches have been in their jobs for at least five seasons.

Continuity doesn't guarantee success, but it often correlates. Barta has tried to create "an environment of longevity and long-term commitment" at Iowa, while also recognizing the pressure to win and, in some cases, the need to part ways with a coach.

"The day of playing musical chairs with coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said, "of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right."

After several years of transition, the Big Ten hopes it has the right men at the top -- and the ability to keep them there.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. Today we take a look at the rising salaries for assistants and whether a $1 million coordinator is on the horizon in the league.

In the days leading up to the Discover Orange Bowl earlier this month, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris received nearly as much attention as the head coaches in the game.

That was because of Morris' ties to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and the high-powered Tigers offense he engineered. Plus, Morris was already being paid like a head coach.

In part because of Meyer's reported interest in hiring Morris in December 2011, Morris is the nation's highest-paid assistant coach at $1.3 million annually. But he's not alone in the $1 million coordinator club. LSU's John Chavis and Alabama's Kirby Smart also made more than seven figures as assistants in 2013, and Louisville recently lured defensive coordinator Todd Grantham away from Georgia with a five-year contract worth $1 million annually.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsAt incoming Big Ten program Rutgers, head coach Kyle Flood barely makes more than at least one Big Ten coordinator.
The Big Ten has yet to take the plunge and cross the $1 million mark for an assistant coach. But there's little doubt that the pay for top coordinators is on the rise, and so is the league's investment in them.

"I think it’s imminent," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I don’t know when, but I think it’s imminent. Whether that's two years from now or four years from now, it’s highly possible you'll see that in our league."

Some are not that far away now. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant at $851,000 per year. The Wolverines recently hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama as their offensive coordinator, and while his salary hasn't been disclosed yet, athletic director Dave Brandon has said it won't exceed Mattison's. Nussmeier was making $681,500 at Alabama.

Those numbers are compiled through open records requests and public information. But Brandon told ESPN.com that because contracts often include things like performance and longevity bonuses and deferred payments, "under certain scenarios, we've got coordinators now who could make over $1 million [in 2014]."

The $1 million mark is an arbitrary one in many ways. Brandon does not see an issue with surpassing it.

"Coordinator positions are very important, and when you look at what they are being paid in the pro ranks and in other conferences, the market has taken those positions up," he said. "If you're going to make a big investment in your head coach, you’ve got to back that investment up with the people around him to really bring it all together."

The arms race in college sports used to center on facilities. But now that just about every campus has upgraded every building imaginable and the construction crews are running out of projects, pay for assistant coaches seems to be the new frontier.

Consider that in 2010, the highest-paid Big Ten assistant coach was Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, at just more than $475,000. The increased commitment can really be seen at Ohio State, where in 2008, the Buckeyes did not pay a single Jim Tressel assistant more than $275,000. Now, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell makes $610,000 and offensive coordinator Tom Herman earns $555,000. The Buckeyes just hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas as their co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at a salary of $520,000, and they're paying new defensive line coach Larry Johnson $400,000.

"It’s crazy," Smith said. "Stakes are higher. The revenue’s gotten bigger. So you see those assistant coaches who are extremely talented being compensated consistent with their skills. It’s blown up. And I’m not so sure it’s going to slow down.

"It’s just market-driven. It's really not unlike any other industry. Any industry or large corporation is going to pay whatever the market is for their top CFO or top COO or whatever the top positions are that they're trying to fill on their executive team. A head football coach is a CEO. And his executive team is his assistants."

That's fine for rich programs such as Ohio State and Michigan. Or Nebraska, which paid offensive coordinator Tim Beck $700,000 last year. But can every Big Ten school afford to reward its assistants like captains of industry? Consider that Clemson's Morris made more in base pay in 2013 than two Big Ten head coaches (Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Indiana's Kevin Wilson). Incoming Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood makes only $9,000 more per year than Mattison.

"It’s challenging, especially for a program like Indiana, where we have a smaller stadium, we don’t fill it," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told ESPN.com. "So it’s tough to compete."

"I guess one of the questions is, where does it level off?," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner told ESPN.com. "It depends on the revenue structure. If the revenue goes up and the investment causes a return that’s worthwhile, maybe things do continue to escalate, and particularly at schools that are able to financially support their programs so that it’s not a burden on the general funds."

Then again, few investments can have a more direct impact on the actual football product than paying top dollar for a truly elite coordinator. Michigan State surely doesn't regret the $558,000 it paid to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi last year; one could argue he would be underpaid even at $1 million.

It won't be long until a Big Ten assistant gets there.

"We’re going to see it," Smith said. "Especially at places like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State -- the big stadiums, so to speak. It’s going to end up being here at some point. "
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. First, a closer look at the increased investments Big Ten schools are making in their football staffs to keep up with the national market.

Two days before Michigan State ended its best season in nearly a half-century with a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Hollis stood outside a Los Angeles conference room and described the dilemma he and other athletic directors face with football coaches' salaries.

"I get concerned sometimes about where we're going with coaches' salaries as an industry," Hollis said, "but at the same time, you need to ensure that continuity is in place."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeNew Penn State coach James Franklin will make about $1 million more than his predecessor Bill O'Brien.
Michigan State ensured continuity by making major financial commitments for coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. Penn State, meanwhile, is paying new coach James Franklin about $1 million more than a coach (Bill O'Brien) it lost to the NFL. Michigan used its financial resources to attract an offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) from national power Alabama.

The recent moves underscore a greater willingness throughout the deep-pocketed Big Ten to invest more in the men charged to coach its flagship sport, one that has struggled for the past decade. The Big Ten didn't set the market for soaring coaches' salaries, but after some initial reluctance, the league seems more willing to join it.

"When you see an institution like Penn State and Franklin, it says we're going to attract the best talent that we can and in order to do that, we have to step up financially to procure that person's services," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I think that's great for our league. ... We need to have the best coaches, we need to retain the best coaches."

Ohio State in 2011 hired Urban Meyer for a salary of $4 million per year. At the time, the Big Ten had no coaches earning more than $4 million and only two making more than $3 million. Purdue was one of the few major-conference programs paying its coach (Danny Hope) less than $1 million. Bret Bielema cited the difficulty of retaining top assistants at Wisconsin as one reason he left for the Arkansas job in 2012.

The landscape has changed. Last year, both Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke made more than $4 million, while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz made just less ($3.985 million), according to USA Today. Franklin's deal at Penn State includes an annual salary of $4.25 million. Terms of Dantonio's new contract at Michigan State have yet to be announced, but it will put Dantonio, previously among the lowest-paid Big Ten coaches ($1.9 million), in the top salary tier. His staff also will receive nice pay bumps.

"I don't think we've been woefully behind," Smith said of the Big Ten. "We were not the first ones to drive the salaries up, but we weren't far behind in responding. Whenever we can attract someone who is really talented, we pay them."

They also must pay top assistants, many of whom command salaries well above those of head coaches from smaller leagues. The Big Ten, after lagging behind nationally in assistant coach pay, is catching up.

"The offensive and defensive coordinators, those decisions become critically important," Michigan AD Dave Brandon said. "You can have the greatest head coach in the world, but if you're not providing him with those leaders who can manage those smaller staffs ... it's hard to believe that the head coach is going to be successful."

There has been no Big Ten mandate to increase salaries, and athletic directors don't discuss financial specifics when they meet. These are institutional decisions, and Hollis, upon realizing Dantonio and his aides deserved an increase, first looked at what MSU could provide before surveying the Big Ten, the national college scene and the NFL.

Part of his challenge is verifying data, as some numbers, even those available through records requests, aren't always accurate.

"Every school pays individuals in different ways," Hollis said. "There can be longevity payments put in there, different bonuses."

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner expected to make a strong financial push for O'Brien's successor but didn't know exactly where the numbers would fall. Among the metrics Joyner used was the potential attendance increase a new coach could bring.

Despite PSU's on-field success the past two years, average attendance at Beaver Stadium has dropped by about 5,000. An increase of 1,000 fans during the season, including parking and concessions, adds about $500,000 in revenue, Joyner said.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana has put more resources than ever before into coach Kevin Wilson and his staff.
"If you believe [the coach is] going to have a very positive effect on your fan base and on your program and on your ability to put bodies in the seats," he said, "it doesn't take a lot of seats to cause a return on that investment."

Indiana AD Fred Glass also wants to fill seats, but he's in a different financial ballpark from schools with massive stadiums like Penn State, despite competing in the same conference. Glass notes that while Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, Indiana made only about $4.5 million.

But it didn't stop IU from doubling its salary pool for assistant coaches when Kevin Wilson arrived, or awarding Wilson a seven-year contract worth $1.2 million annually, or increasing the number of full-time strength coaches devoted to football from two to five, the NCAA maximum.

"There's a reason IU traditionally hasn't been where we want to be in football," Glass said. "We haven't really made the investments in it. We haven't stuck with continuity. We haven't stayed with a staff over a long period of time. That's what we need.

"Kevin understands we're making resources available, but it's not a bottomless pit."

Glass' last point resonates in the Big Ten, which generates record revenues but also sponsors more sports, on average, than any other major conference. The league believes in broad-based programs, which makes it harder to sink money into football, despite the superior return.

"We are a college program versus just a football franchise, and I think our football coaches not only understand that but really embrace it," Hollis said. "I believe in the Big Ten, maybe more so than others -- I've had the opportunity to see East and West -- [coaches] feel that the athletic department is part of their family."

But they also have to take care of their own families, and their assistants. They know salaries are rising everywhere.

Big Ten athletic directors know this, too. To keep up, you have to pay up.
Indiana fans should remember this date. It could mark the turning point for a defense that has been so bad for so long.

Or it could prolong the struggles for the Big Ten's weakest unit, and possibly cost another offensive-minded Hoosiers head coach his job.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsUnder coach Kevin Wilson, Indiana's offense has exceeded expectations, but the Hoosiers' defense has been abysmal.
No pressure, Brian Knorr.

Indiana's hiring of Knorr as defensive coordinator marks a pivotal moment for head coach Kevin Wilson and his goal of boosting the long-suffering program. Wilson has done his thing with the IU offense, a dynamic quick-strike unit with playmakers at every skill position. A mediocre defense or even a poor one would have been enough to get Indiana to a bowl game last season, when it had eight home games. But the Hoosiers were a notch below awful on defense, finishing 120th in yards allowed and 114th in points allowed.

Abominable has been the norm for IU's defense, which has finished 103rd or worse nationally in each of Wilson's three seasons and no better than 71st nationally in the past 15 seasons. Indiana has played a ton of young players and has upgraded its recruiting on defense. The unit returns 10 starters and could move forward during the 2014 season.

But Knorr is fighting a long track record of bad.

"There is a buzz about the direction IU football is headed in and I look forward to bringing some of the toughness and aggressiveness that I know Coach Wilson wants to implement on the defensive side of the ball," Knorr said in a statement.

The 50-year-old Knorr spent the past six seasons at Wake Forest, serving as the team's defensive coordinator for the past three. Just last week, Knorr had accepted the coordinator job at Air Force, replacing Charlton Warren, who left to become Nebraska's secondary coach.

Wake Forest finished 32nd nationally in total defense and 38th in scoring under Knorr in 2013. The unit excelled in takeaways in 2012 with 23 but finished 91st nationally in points allowed. Knorr ran a 3-4 scheme at Wake Forest and could bring it to Indiana, which used the 3-4 a bit toward the end of Bill Lynch's tenure as coach.

Knorr brings varied experience to Indiana and has flipped between defense and offense throughout his coaching career. He coached wide receivers at Wake Forest from 2008-10 before moving to defense. He started his career as an assistant offensive line coach at Air Force before becoming linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator at Ohio under Jim Grobe.

Knorr succeeded Grobe as Ohio's head coach in 2001 and went 11-35 before being fired. He then returned to Air Force, his alma mater, as a defensive assistant before reuniting with Grobe at Wake Forest.

It's an interesting hire. Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told me last week that he expected the school's next defensive coordinator to make more than Doug Mallory, who was fired Jan. 10. Glass also reiterated his commitment to Wilson and noted that Indiana has cycled through too many head coaches in the past 20 years.

But if the defense can't become at least adequate, Wilson's long-term future could be in jeopardy. Indiana in 2014 enters the East Division, which could be a meat grinder with Michigan State and Ohio State at the top, along with Michigan and Penn State. Making bowl games will get even tougher for a program that has made just one since 1993, especially when the Big Ten schedule moves to nine league games.

There's little doubt Wilson will produce quarterbacks and offenses that rank near the top of the Big Ten. He's the only true quarterback guru occupying a Big Ten head-coaching position right now, and history shows he'll get it done on offense.

Knorr's job is to change the history on Indiana's defense and write a new chapter for the program.

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 16, 2014
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We got through the Big Ten chat without any technical issues so that's a victory. We had a spirited discussion about new Penn State coach James Franklin, Michigan's 2014 outlook, Minnesota's expectations and other topics. Did you miss out? No worries. Check out the full transcript here.

To the highlights:

[+] EnlargePenn State coach James Franklin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesNew coach James Franklin should bring in talent, but depth may still be an issue for Penn State.
Adam from Orange County, N.Y.: Hi Adam. So far it seems as though Franklin is going to be just what Penn State needed to take Penn State to an Ohio State level. He is going to bring in some very talented players from all over the country in my opinion. Do you think Franklin will make PSU a 10-win team in the next two years, or do you think it could be closer to 3-4 years and this is more of a rebuilding project?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Adam. I agree the overall talent level will go up at Penn State with Franklin and his assistants on the recruiting trail. I also think there are some significant depth issues on defense that might not go away for a while. I think Penn State could win 10 games in 2015 and maybe compete for league titles after that point. But like Bill O'Brien, Franklin can't afford to miss on too many players or afford many injuries to starters.

Steven from MN: In my opinion, the competition level of college football is too top-heavy. And the reason for this is summed up well by the Jeff Jones situation. I don't expect Minnesota to keep him because top HS players are more interested in getting to the more "elite" programs, if at all possible. If the trend continues, fans of middling programs like Minnesota's might as well throw real expectations out the window, right?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think you should lower your expectations that easily, Steven. That said, it has to be discouraging for Minnesota to keep losing top in-state players to name-brand programs. Jeff Jones would be an excellent addition if Minnesota keeps him, but few would be surprised if he signs elsewhere. Minnesota has to make its program as attractive as possible for local prospects to stay home. That includes upgrading the practice facilities, which are outdated in the Big Ten.

Greg from Indy: I saw a list of possible DC candidates for IU, which among others, included each MSU defensive position coach. Wouldn't that be great for IU? Think they can pull any away from MSU?

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, Michigan State's defensive staff would be an excellent place for IU to start. Harlon Barnett (DBs) and Mike Tressel (LBs) would be the likely candidates for a DC opening, as Ron Burton is a new addition to MSU. I spoke with Indiana athletic director Fred Glass this week, and he said IU plans to pay the next coordinator more than fired DC Doug Mallory. It will take a nice offer to take Barnett or Tressel away from a good situation in East Lansing.

Bryan from Atlanta: It seems that the Big Ten is losing a lot of good receivers this year. If there is one area where Big Ten teams can improve, it is in the passing game. Whether it is due to QB play or the lack of play-makers at the receiver position, it seems to me that Big Ten teams, when compared to top-tier teams from other conferences, do not have explosive passing attacks. Which Big Ten team returns the best receiving corps and has the ability to have a dynamic passing game?

Adam Rittenberg: Bryan, I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on the lack of explosive passing attacks and top-level receivers in the Big Ten. You watch Big Ten bowl opponents like Clemson and South Carolina and realize what the Big Ten is missing. Looking at the league next year, I like the receivers from Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana (even without Cody Latimer) and Northwestern. The groups from Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State certainly could take a step forward. Michigan State's receivers really have made a dramatic turnaround.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again soon.

Big Ten's lunch links

November, 14, 2013
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Might be a good idea for Jordan Lynch to shop for flights to New York.
  • Connor Cook used the time during the bye week to watch extra film on Nebraska ahead of Michigan State's huge showdown on Saturday. It's a different approach than he used during the first off date this season.
  • The traditional option returns as a featured part of the Nebraska offense, much to the delight of at least one former quarterback who enjoyed plenty of success with that offensive style.
  • Michigan may have plenty of problems with its toothless rushing attack, but Brady Hoke isn't planning any changes to the top of the depth chart at tailback.
  • Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier loves to show off his speed, but the coaching staff has kept him from measuring it in races against his teammates.
  • What will it take for Penn State to consider this season a success? The Nittany Lions address what's ahead of them in the next three games.
  • The linebacker responsibilities suit Collin Link better in Purdue's "Jack" position, but he's picking up the defensive end duties quickly as well in the hybrid role.
  • November was a brutal month a year ago for Iowa. This season, it has a chance to make it much more memorable and potentially improve its postseason destination after missing out on a bowl completely in 2012.
  • Chris Gill could easily be in law school right now. Instead, the transfer offensive lineman is living out his dream of playing for Wisconsin.
  • Indiana athletic director Fred Glass chats about the importance of beating Illinois last week, victory fireworks and flying a winning flag.
  • The Northwestern offense is most effective when it is balanced, and finding a way to blend the run and the pass will be critical if it's going to knock off Michigan to break through in the Big Ten.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Mail time ...

Jeff from Midland, Mich., writes: I don't understand how you can agree that the pass interference penalties against Michigan State were awful, but say by scoring only 13 points "you don't deserve to win." The two worst PI penalties led to 10 points for ND. Should a team not be allowed to win a game 13-7? No matter how bad State's offense is, a team "deserves" to win on the combined effort of their defense and offense. Which they would have done, if not for the referees!

Brian Bennett: Jeff, they are two separate points. If I had told you before the game that Michigan State would only score 13 points in South Bend, would you have thought the Spartans would win with that number? The MSU defense is outstanding, but for the most part, offenses are so good these days that expecting to beat good opponents with only 13 points is nearly impossible. Even the best defenses are prone to give up a couple of big plays. Heck, Western Michigan scored 13 on the Spartans! It's the same story as last year, when Mark Dantonio's team played great defense but couldn't win key games. Sure, Michigan State has been on the receiving end of some bad calls of late, but if you think that's the biggest issue about this program, you're missing something.


JonB from Houston writes: Brian, coming into this season I thought, "Michigan is going to be good this year, but we're still a year off from being GREAT." Two weeks into the season I thought, "We're a year ahead of schedule and will easily make it to the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio." Now, I feel like it's a real possibility we could miss a bowl game. They can't be that bad, can they? These were just two fluky games, right? Never has it felt so bad to be 4-0. Talk me off the ledge here.

Brian Bennett: Jon, I think a lot of people shared your sentiment coming into this year, but the way Michigan played those first two games changed a lot of minds. The last two games caused another 180. The Notre Dame victory looks less impressive in hindsight because the Irish haven't played that great and are largely one-dimensional on offense. I do not think the Wolverines are nearly as bad as they have played against Akron and UConn, but there are real problems with Devin Gardner's turnovers and the offensive line, among others. I do think, however, that the bye week comes at a good time for Michigan. I remember two years ago, when the Wolverines steadily improved throughout the season until they wound up as Sugar Bowl champs. This coaching staff has shown that it can make adjustments, and there are some young players who should get better. Michigan is not going to miss a bowl game, and the schedule remains mostly favorable. I just don't know if this team can fix enough of its issues to win a very crowded Legends Division.


Andrew from Findlay, Ohio, writes: With Ohio State's poor nonconference schedule, I see that that OSU has to run the table and hope Oregon and Clemson lose. My question is can the conference schedule be enough to boost OSU over a one-loss Oregon or one-loss Clemson and one-loss SEC team if they run the table again?

Brian Bennett: It's going to be awfully tough to exclude an undefeated power conference team from the championship game if there are not more than two such teams. Ohio State's biggest problem could come if, say, Oregon or Stanford winds up undefeated and the SEC champ has one loss. Let's say Alabama loses a close game to LSU but goes on to win the SEC at 12-1. The respect people have for the Tide means they probably wouldn't drop far in the polls with a loss, and if Alabama came back and beat a highly-ranked team from the East -- say, Georgia -- in Atlanta, there would be a lot of public outcry for Nick Saban's team to have a chance to three-peat. Certainly Ohio State's nonconference schedule would then come under heavy scrutiny -- not that Alabama's is far better with the way Virginia Tech is playing, but the Tide and the SEC have earned more cachet than the Buckeyes and the Big Ten.


Greg from South Bend, Ind., writes: Before the season began, I thought Indiana had a pretty legit shot at six or seven wins and a bowl game. Four weeks in and now I'm not sure that they can match last season's four wins, and next season the schedule is more difficult. Why should Hoosiers fans believe that we'll see a bowl game anytime soon? Also, with as much money as they are putting into football, how patient should Fred Glass be with this staff?

Brian Bennett: Let's address the last part first. Kevin Wilson has shown that he can put together a dynamite offense, and this staff has recruited as well as any group that has come through Bloomington. So there's every reason to have patience with these coaches. That said, the defense has been a major problem for going on three years now. Yes, there are still some young players on that side of the ball and incoming talent should help. But at some point that just simply has to get better for the Hoosiers to truly compete for bowls and in the Big Ten. You say the schedule gets harder next year, but I'm not sure that's true, especially from the nonconference angle. Indiana goes to Missouri and Bowling Green but gets Indiana State at home and trades Navy for North Texas.

I'm a huge proponent for challenging nonconference schedules, but the Hoosiers' situation is such that they should probably take Minnesota's approach and schedule four very winnable nonleague games. Getting to a bowl really seemed to speed the Gophers' progress, and IU needs the same thing. Scheduling Navy for this year looks now like a big mistake.

The good news is Wilson's team still doesn't have a lot of seniors, so he should have a very veteran group next year. That's not to write off this season, because the Hoosiers could be favored against Illinois and Purdue at home and could pull off a couple of surprises. But the 2-2 nonconference record sure put them in a tough spot.


Patrick from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: Brian, which is better for the Big Ten: (1) Ohio State beats Wisconsin, wins the rest of its games but loses in a very close game to Oregon/Alabama in the BCS title game; or (2) Wisconsin beats Ohio State, both win the rest of their games, Wisconsin beats Stanford in a Rose Bowl rematch, and Ohio State beats LSU in the Sugar Bowl?

Brian Bennett: The two BCS wins over strong opponents would be very nice. But I think getting to the BCS title game and being extremely competitive would work out better for league perception. That would show people that at least the Big Ten's best is not that far off from winning a national title; it's been a while since we could say that. Either scenario, though, would provide a big boost. Going into the four-team playoff next year, the league needs to prove it can go toe-to-toe with the elite teams from other power conferences.


Tony from Iowa City writes: In Monday's chat, you asked for suggestions on when was the last time the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry was this relevant. I would venture to say that the 2003 game would probably be your best bet. Both teams went 10-3, both won their bowl games, and both finished the season ranked in the top 25. Now that win went the way of the Hawkeyes, but I would bet if it had gone the other way, Minnesota would've gone to the Rose Bowl. Just a general observation.

Brian Bennett: Good call, Tony. Minnesota entered that game 9-2 and ranked No. 19, while Iowa was 7-3 and ranked No. 20. As an indication of how much times have changed in just 10 years, the Gophers beat Oregon in a bowl that year and the Hawkeyes defeated Florida. Not sure these two teams are quite as good as they were in 2003, but I'm still greatly looking forward to the Floyd game this weekend and think the winner will be in pretty good shape moving forward.


Lone Wolf McCaw from Syberia, USSR, writes: Brian, I have two concerns going forward with college football. Next season we will have the four-team playoff, with the four teams being selected by a panel, but why? Why not just select the four teams based on a points system? I get that this is how the computer rankings work, but let's make it transparent. You greatly reward teams for playing and winning nonconference games against AQ schools and punish teams by playing FBS teams, and if you lose, you get destroyed. At the end of the season you could add up the total amount of wins from the teams you beat and give those points to the team. So what say you, hope that the selection panel gets it right and no one fights about the team that gets left out? Or have a points system fans can follow and have complete transparency with?

Brian Bennett: A points system? You mean like the great BCS system we have now? The one that has computer rating systems with no accountability and has in the past used computer formulas that failed to enter all the scores? Or like a points system that put 2001 Nebraska in the title game despite the Huskers not making the Big 12 championship game? No thanks. Give me some rational human beings who can make informed choices based on some agreed-upon principles like strength of schedule and conference championships. I'll live with some arguments about who should be No. 4.

Indiana athletic director Fred Glass talks about being in the Big Ten's new East division, football scheduling and the program's progress under coach Kevin Wilson.
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten is steeped in history and tradition, but the conference needs something more to connect with the target audience of football recruits and regular students.

It needs to be cooler, especially on game days. And whether it's perception or reality, many don't view Big Ten football as very cool at the moment. Legends and Leaders certainly didn't help. Neither does the continued absence of November night games. The league still boasts amazing venues and plenty of pageantry, and programs have seemed more open to new marketing tactics, whether it's alternate jerseys (hated by some traditionalist fans, incredibly popular with recruits) or more prime-time games.

But something is lacking. Coaches, such as Ohio State's Urban Meyer, have noticed it. So have Big Ten athletic directors.

Whether it's more night games, night games in November, larger scoreboards, better Wi-Fi service, stronger acoustics or broader concessions, the Big Ten has to do more.

"Part of that is to make the league be perceived in reality what it is, and that's a little bit more hip, a little bit more cool," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "I have three kids that are age 14, 18 and 20, and they're a great resource for me to bounce ideas off from a Michigan State perspective. But I think we need to take that as a league a little bit as well.

"It's not your grandfather's conference any more. There's so much greatness and so much tradition that needs to be continued and talked about, but also try to add a little unique freshness that's unique to young kids."

[+] EnlargeTCF Bank Stadium
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsEven Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, the Big Ten's newest football arena, isn't the gem planners intended when students don't show up.
Hollis is one of the most innovative athletic directors in the country, masterminding events such as outdoor hockey at Spartan Stadium and a basketball game on an aircraft carrier. Last winter, he proposed playing four simultaneous basketball games at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Veterans Day.

And yet even Hollis has seen recent examples of young people tuning out on game day, such as last fall when Michigan State hosted Iowa on a dreary day in East Lansing.

"One of our biggest no-show rates in football was the Iowa game," Hollis said. "And I'd go out and walk the streets and start talking to kids, 'Why didn't you go?' And they said, 'We couldn't text because it was raining.' They couldn't have their phones out.

"That kind of hit me pretty hard."

Michigan State put in new massive video scoreboards at Spartan Stadium last year, but Hollis knows he needs to do more. Part of a $20 million renovation to the stadium will include some new restrooms and concession stands at the north end of the stadium. The addition also will include a recruiting room.

"We need to make sure we continue to deliver in our venues what's being delivered, and then some, on television," Hollis said. "What's that going to look like? A more comfortable place. It shouldn't be a hassle. … We're putting in more bathrooms, we're looking at a $2 million Wi-Fi system that allows more interaction. We're going to have to deliver wider seats, more comfortable seats. It's making our concession stands more presentable."

Student attendance for early kickoffs has been a problem at places such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Michigan AD Dave Brandon this week called student turnout "unacceptable," and coach Brady Hoke is offering free doughnuts to all students who show up before noon kickoffs this fall.

Minnesota has the Big Ten's newest stadium but still struggles to get students to show up in droves.

"They're the centerpiece of the fan experience," Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague told ESPN.com, "so getting them there changes everything that goes on. We're a new stadium, so we have an unbelievable video board. A lot of the problems that plague other stadiums, we don't have. Our [public-address system] is perfect.

"We've got to do more and more, but our top priority right now is student attendance."

Teague had a group from Minnesota's Carlson School of Management study student attendance at the school. They found that students want a gathering place before games, so the school is providing an entire parking lot near the stadium, Teague said, which will be monitored.

The recruiting component also can't be ignored.

While many interpreted Meyer's post-signing day comments to a Columbus radio station as a direct shot at the recruiting efforts of other Big Ten programs, his fellow league coaches viewed it more as a call to upgrade the game-day experience during the fall.

"It was more, how can we continue to further our brand? How can we make our in-game experiences improve? How can we make our pregame experiences improve?" Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the coaches met in February. "All those things in the vein for our fans, the game-day experience of Big Ten arenas and for recruiting."

Indiana athletic director Fred Glass has made football game days a priority since his arrival, adding more night games, a kids' area in the south end of the stadium and other features. Attendance is on the rise, but Glass is still seeking ways to make upgrades.

He turned down Adidas' offer of new uniforms for IU's men's basketball team in the NCAA tournament, but would be more open to a wardrobe shakeup for the football squad.

"More highlights, more scores, more fun, coloring outside the lines a little bit," Glass said. "We'll play to our strengths -- the band, the cheerleaders, the pageantry of college football, flags and color, engagement of students -- and spent a lot of time really trying to enhance that. That's not only a great thing for our fan experience, it translates into the cool factor for recruits who come in."
CHICAGO -- Indiana athletic director Fred Glass oversees a football program that has made one bowl appearance in the past 19 seasons.

The Hoosiers soon will take up residence in the Big Ten's East Division, which includes traditional powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, as well as Michigan State. Like every other Big Ten team, Indiana also will begin playing nine conference games instead of eight beginning in 2016.

Although Indiana took a step last fall in Year 2 under coach Kevin Wilson, it has won six or more games just 11 times since 1967, when it shared the Big Ten championship and went to the Rose Bowl.

If given the choice between keeping the minimum wins requirement for bowls at six versus increasing it to seven, Glass seemingly has an easy decision.

"Perhaps the surprising answer is I'd probably favor going to seven [wins]," Glass told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We're a program that's trying to build, and you might say it's in our best interest to stay at six, but there's something about enthusing your fan base with a winning season, being 7-5. Maybe that might help limit the number of bowls out there, too, so it's a real positive experience."

At last year's spring meetings, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany came out in strong support of increasing the bowl requirement from six wins to seven.

"For us, it means redefining a successful year at 7-5 from the standpoint of a bowl season," Delany said last May. "We argued for 6-6. We've experienced 6-6. Now we're suggesting that it's in our best interest, the bowls' best interest as well as the other conferences that might benefit by these open slots to look at a 7-5 standard."

Ultimately, other major conferences weren't on board with the push to increase the requirement. The Big Ten had three 6-6 teams -- Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota -- make bowl games in 2012 and four 6-6 teams (Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern) go in 2011.

"We think the bowl system would be better off with a 7-5 situation," Delany said Wednesday. "We thought for a while we were heading in that direction, but it's obvious that we're not."

The Big Ten's move to nine league games means a team would have to win at least three conference contests to reach the six-win minimum, giving it a little more credibility. Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said many coaches, especially "those building programs," are in favor of keeping the requirement at six victories.

But ADs still hope that seven can be the magic number some day.

"Seven wins is what you should have; always felt that," Ohio State AD Gene Smith said. "I still think we have too many bowls. I just think 6-6 is not the level, but I know that's not something that appears to be reversing at this time. I just don't want to be there again."

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