Big Ten: Jim Delany
- Urban Meyer senses an improved mood for Ohio State as it turns the page to the Discover Orange Bowl, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had high praise for his upcoming opponent.
- With another season in the books, the conversation at Penn State will shift to Bill O'Brien's future with the program, as likely suitors again line up for his services.
- Taylor Lewan has no regrets about returning to Michigan for another season, and he doesn't believe his draft stock has changed since last year.
- Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi spurned an offer to take over at UConn, and now his full attention is on getting the Spartans ready for a bowl game.
- Early in the season, Nebraska was desperately searching for a field general on defense. It appears to have found one in middle linebacker Michael Rose.
- After getting benched late in a loss to Penn State to end the regular season, Wisconsin tackle Tyler Marz is looking for redemption.
- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Rutgers' transition into the league is going smoothly at every level.
- Controversy won't be going away when college football shifts to a playoff, with Tom Osborne joking that the selection committee will succeed if it doesn't "get lynched."
- Cody Webster is rubbing elbows with the nation's best football players, and the Purdue punter is thinking about asking to snap a picture with Johnny Manziel.
- Silver Football candidate Braxton Miller had everything change for him when he was almost sent to the bench in October. Now he's on the brink of a historic accomplishment.
No, we’re not talking about Ohio State's winning streak. It was the closing of the first chapter of division alignment in the Big Ten. And you know what that means: Goodbye, Legends and Leaders.
(Go ahead and grab a hankie. We'll wait).
OK, the truth is that hardly anyone is going to miss those haughty division names. The Big Ten decided to scrap the three-year alignment and names after adding Maryland and Rutgers, with commissioner Jim Delany saying in January that "obviously, we got some acceptance [with Legends and Leaders], but not as much as we would have liked."
The league opened itself up to several easy jokes with those names, and it also suffered from unfortunate timing. The two most prominent teams in the Leaders (Ohio State and Penn State) did not show a lot of leadership by getting themselves embroiled in scandal and landing on probation. The two schools most befitting of legendary status in the Legends (Michigan and Nebraska) didn't win a Big Ten title during the three-year span.
The "Building Leaders, Honoring Legends" motto made for a decent slogan, but as I always argued, division names aren't really an ideal marketing opportunity. The league put itself in a bind by not aligning along geographic lines and therefore not creating easy solutions for what to call the divisions.
That all changes in 2014, when the conference will split into simple East and West groupings. There will no longer be confusion as to which teams are on what side. The division names are boring and predictable instead of billboards. Thankfully.
Proponents of Legends and Leaders always said people would get used to the names over time, and I suppose that was true. We didn't hear too many cracks about the divisions this season, and it started to feel more a little more natural to say and write those monikers.
The league's goal was to promote balance, and that worked out pretty well. The Leaders won two Big Ten titles thanks to Wisconsin's back-to-back championships, while Michigan State gave the Legends its first win last weekend. That could have easily gone 2-1 the other way if not for a wild finish in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The Leaders might have been a little stronger at the top this year with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but the Legends was deeper.
The Big Ten must hope for similar balance in the East/West alignment, especially with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State all in the East. The West has Wisconsin and Nebraska but needs teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota to make pushes for division titles.
There wasn't much signage promoting Legends and Leaders last week in Indianapolis as the league seemed ready to move past those names. They may wind up as merely a footnote to history, something future college football fans can discover in record books and chuckle over.
But for now, so long Legends and Leaders. We won't have you to kick around anymore.
The Big Ten finally has a championship game that rivals the SEC's in national significance.
Unfortunately, the Big Ten is following the SEC's lead in another area: handing out discipline.
A league that considers itself a cut above in every area, including player conduct, had an opportunity to make a statement in the wake of Saturday's fight in the Ohio State-Michigan game. Instead, the league went soft, ensuring that its championship game, and Ohio State's national title hopes, would be unaffected by the ugly and embarrassing incident.
Here's what we learned from the Big Ten's ridiculous response Monday night: Fighting doesn't have long-term consequences. Twisting a helmet? Go right ahead. Just conduct yourself like a gentleman afterward.
After spending two days reviewing the officials' report from the game and the video of the fracas, the Big Ten decided to hand down no additional discipline to the Ohio State and Michigan players involved. The league merely issued a public reprimand -- the wussiest punishment possible -- for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall and the Buckeyes' coaching staff after Hall gave the crowd a double-bird salute following his ejection from the game. No other players were named by the league, which praised both coaching staffs for defusing the fight.
Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Michigan's Royce Jenkins-Stone also were ejected Saturday, but they and others -- like Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas and Michigan defensive back Delano Hill -- were spared any blowback from the conference.
The Big Ten is falling back on the NCAA's fighting policy, which calls for players ejected in the first half of a game to miss only the remainder of that game. Although the league has issued suspensions before for throwing punches, they have come for players who weren't ejected during the game.
The league had an opportunity to do more and show that behavior like Saturday's, even in a bitter rivalry game, is unacceptable and has long-term consequences. Monday's wimpy response will be seen as an effort to protect the league's title game and one of its biggest brands in Ohio State.
Criticize Ohio State coach Urban Meyer if you want for not tacking on additional playing-time penalties for Hall and Wilson. Honestly, I don't know many coaches who would have. They're trying to win championships and can impose some internal discipline. Michigan State didn't suspend William Gholston for his actions in the 2011 Michigan game, so the Big Ten stepped in with a suspension. The league should have done the same in this case.
Even a half-game suspension, which the SEC probably has trademarked, would have shown some teeth here. Instead, the Big Ten protects its championship game from being affected, and its biggest brand from being impacted in its quest to reach the national title game.
Monday's response will add to the widely held belief by many Big Ten fan bases that the league goes all out to protect Ohio State and Michigan. The response will bring more heat for league commissioner Jim Delany, who still gets ripped for going to bat for Ohio State's "Tat-5" to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
The championship game is a national showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, a chance to display its best product and the values it holds so dear. You'll hear a lot about honoring legends and building leaders, and big lives and big stages.
Then Wilson might return the opening kickoff, and Hall will take the field with Ohio State's starting offensive line. Are those the images the Big Ten wants to present?
"As bad as it was, we're fortunate the incident did not escalate any further," the Big Ten's SECtatement reads. "More can, and should, be done by both coaching staffs in the future to prevent similar incidents."
The Big Ten could have and should have done more, but chose to do the bare minimum.
It's OK. It's what we do in a sport shaped so largely by subjectivity. Whether it's the polls, the BCS standings or the selection process for college football's final four, opinions will differ and verbal arrows (hopefully, just verbal ones) will fly. Several committee member choices, namely former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, are already sparking controversy.
Alvarez is the Big Ten's representative on the committee -- the five major conferences all have a sitting AD in the group -- while Osborne is one of the at-large choices. Both have strong ties to Nebraska -- Osborne coached there from 1964-97, guiding the Huskers to three national championships; Alvarez played linebacker for Big Red from 1966-68. Alvarez has spent most of his career in the Big Ten, coaching Wisconsin from 1990-2005 before taking over as AD, while Osborne helped Nebraska transition from the Big 12 to Big Ten and spent his final years as an administrator attending league meetings.
More important, both men have the ability to see the bigger picture, which is a challenge in a sport that often becomes ridiculously provincial.
I caught up with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to discuss Alvarez's and Osborne's appointments to the selection committee.
Delany on Alvarez: "He's played the game, he's from a football-rich part of the country in Pennsylvania, played it at Nebraska, coached it at Iowa and Notre Dame and successfully built a program at Wisconsin, [where he] won three Rose Bowls. And beyond that, he’s a straight shooter. He's a guy who has a lot of credibility among his peer coaches and his peer athletic directors, not just in the Big Ten but nationally, as do many of the other athletic directors who are in the mix.
Delany on Osborne: "Tom's credentials are outstanding as a coach, as a player, three national championships, a Congressman, an athletic director, a person of terrific integrity and a calm decision-maker."
Alvarez was the obvious choice to rep the Big Ten on the committee. You said so yourselves in a poll we ran in July. At the Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who wanted no part of the committee, said of Alvarez, "He'd be the perfect pick. I'm promoting Barry."
Unlike others, Alvarez never shied away from the opportunity to serve, telling ESPN.com in March, "If I were asked, I would serve."
"If it's going to make college be football better, you can bet he wants to be part of it," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "He wants to be involved and he wants to do everything he can to make sure it upholds the credibility of college football as a whole, not just Wisconsin. That's why still, at this point in his career, he wants to be involved in anything he possibly can. He doesn't have to do that.
"He does that because he wants to, because he has such a care factor for the game and such a care factor for the whole system of college football."
Osborne also is a steward of the game and one of its most respected figures. Although he no longer works in athletics, he keeps a close eye on the gridiron happenings.
"Coach Osborne understands football, has a lot of knowledge and that's a plus for everybody," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I also know that he still spends time and he watches the game, he’s still into it, he's been around it. It's a really good thing for the committee and for college football."
In assembling the committee, conference commissioners looked for football knowledge, integrity and sound decision-making skills. Perhaps above all, the committee members needed to have thick skin because of the inevitable criticism that will come their way.
"They’ve all been around the block," Delany said. "They're not people who have written about decision-making; they're people who make decisions. There's a real big difference between quarterbacking and armchair quarterbacking, and they're all quarterbacks in their own right.
"They have all made difficult calls in their careers."
Alvarez and Osborne have similar football roots at Nebraska, but they're different men with different leadership styles. The candid Alvarez always lets you know where he stands, whether he's discussing Big Ten expansion, the league's decision to avoid scheduling FCS teams or Wisconsin's recent coaching search, when he gave us the unforgettable line: "I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me."
Osborne also has strong opinions, but he's more reserved, which should translate well in the committee room.
"One of the best listeners I've ever been around," Delany said. "Here's a guy who has accomplished so much, not only as an athlete and a coach, but also as a congressman and an athletic director, and brings in decades of experience and thoughtfulness. And he listens, he defers, and he also articulates candidly his points of view.
"Sort of like E.F. Hutton, when Tom speaks, people listen."
According to Delany, more than 100 potential committee members were recommended and vetted, and the 13 who made the final cut have unanimous support from the leagues. But certain names kept popping up over and over, including Alvarez's and Osborne's.
There will be controversy with the committee, both now and next fall, when the selections actually begin. It's a tough job and a largely thankless one.
But Big Ten fans should feel at ease. Alvarez and Osborne will get the job done right.
Don't forget: Twitter!
To the inbox ...
Eric from Los Angeles writes: Hi Adam, love the blog. Is this the most open you have ever seen the Big Ten? Call me crazy, but I'm not completely sold on OSU this year. I could see up to 6 teams with a legit chance of winning the Big Ten Championship. OSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Eric, I'll have a better answer for you in two weeks, as Ohio State will have played both Wisconsin and Northwestern. If the Buckeyes blow out both the Badgers and Wildcats, it's hard not to consider them the clear-cut favorite to win the league, as we all thought entering the season. If Ohio State loses one of the next two games, the race should be pretty wide open. Every Big Ten team has some type of flaw, but Ohio State could have fewer than the others, as well as more talent. We'll soon find out.
Georgie from Augusta, Ga., writes: Adam, As a nuclear engineer, and I appreciate how close your name is to "Atom". As much as I am completely against paying the student-athletes, do you think it might be prudent to pay student-athletes for revenue generating sports a flat salary of, let's say, $9.00 an hour for practice and game time? That way, the student-athletes get a bit of money, and the school has a way to keep a cap on the amount they are paying the players. Using this method, the football players would cost the school $1,080,000 (on top of all the other money spent on them) assuming the student-athletes put in 25 hours of 'work' a week, there are 120 players on the football team, and practice 40 weeks of the year. Your thoughts?
Rittenberg: Maybe I'll change my name to Atom. Sounds cooler. The problem with your plan is limiting the salaries only to athletes who play revenue-generating sports. Leagues would open themselves up to Title IX issues, potential lawsuits from athletes who play other sports, etc. Those athletes, by the way, put in a lot of time, too. It's why if and when scholarship values increase, it will be for all full-scholarship athletes. The leagues clearly can afford this and the Big Ten has been on board with it for a few years.
Brian from Raleigh, N.C., writes: On Jim Delany's comments on paying student athletes, isn't there something inconsistent about heralding a century-old student-athlete model, and simultaneously wielding the Big Ten conference as a money-making machine? He's saying student-athletes shouldn't be able to make money off of football or even control their own images after graduation, but the Big Ten conference and schools can make as much money off the athletes as the market will support. Isn't there something morally shaky about that argument? I'm all for an NFL D-league that offers a for-pay alternative to talented athletes. That seems to solve a lot of problems, and take a lot of pressure off academic institutions. But so long as the schools and major conferences are enjoying unprecedented revenue from the Big Ten Network and other TV deals, there are going to be students who feel that they have earned some portion of that revenue. If Delany isn't willing to negotiate on that point, he needs to be prepared to give up his cable network, give up the league's exposure in other sports media, and impose coaching salary caps and facilities spending caps to keep Big Ten athletics affordable. The alternative-- "We can make as much money off of you as we want but you have to live out the ideals of student athletics"-- is incredibly disgusting and hypocritical.
Rittenberg: Some good points, Brian. Delany's response would be that there were great college players in the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and so on, just like there are great players today. They come and go. The reason the Big Ten makes money is because of its brand and the brands it represents. The platform is the reason revenues are going up, not because players are so much better now than they were 15 years ago. He would say the Big Ten gets rich because of what Big Ten football means, because of what Big Ten football has created over the years. If you want to be a part of this platform, you have to agree to the collegial model. If you want to go pro, you can. He also is willing to negotiate on the value of scholarships, but he doesn't want a system with agents and contracts and endorsements. It would get out of hand.
Cory from Dallas writes: How do athletes and their families not realize how much they are actually getting? Everyone is constantly complaining about increased tuition and costs associated with school and these athletes don't have to worry about that but they are still complaining. I am all for giving kids getting access to the school supplies and textbooks they need but handing a kid extra money will only lead to more problems. The amount of benefit these kids are obtaining by getting a scholarship is huge and I just don't understand how they don't see that. I wish I didn't have school loans to pay for now but I chose to walk onto a team because I wanted to play a sport. If a kid wants to get paid that bad go straight to the pros, find a semi-pro league or get a trainer. Going to college on a scholarship means a free education, free room and board, free access to a trainer and high end weight room, the chance to play in front of thousands and also a laundry list of other benefits (which includes getting some of their laundry done for them). People need a reality check.
Rittenberg: Cory, thanks for your perspective. I think the value of a scholarship can go a bit further, and by increasing it across the board for every full-scholarship athlete, male or female, you satisfy Title IX and prevent further fairness issues. The big, rich conferences can do this and shouldn't be held back by the smaller, poorer ones. There are some costs currently not covered that should be, to help out the athletes and their families. But beyond that, I don't see a pay-for-play system being feasible.
Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, since (Barry) Alvarez arrived at WI, OSU is 12-6-1 against WI but only 12-10-1 against MI. In addition, OSU is 13-7 against PSU. WI has been the 3rd biggest threat to OSU over that period. There have been years when WI was the bigger threat, but overall it is still clearly MI.
Rittenberg: Some good numbers to present, Brian. If you're going solely by head-to-head, Penn State is probably the biggest threat to Ohio State, as the Lions have performed better against the Buckeyes in recent years than either Michigan or Wisconsin. But if you go by conference titles won, Wisconsin clearly has been the biggest threat in recent years. The Badgers have won or shared three consecutive Big Ten titles and boast five titles since 1998. In the same span, Michigan has won or shared four titles and none since 2004. Penn State has only two titles (both vacated). I think you have to take both factors -- head-to-head, overall league titles won -- when sizing up which team is Ohio State's biggest threat.
John from Las Vegas writes: One of the bright spots of the Husker Defense this year has been SJB's knack for intercepting the football. His size (ESPN has him listed at 6'3" and 220lbs) is abnormal for a corner…do you foresee him continuing his success in Big Ten play? Or even projecting to the NFL like Richard Sherman in Seattle?
Rittenberg: John, you're absolutely right that Stanley Jean-Baptiste has been a bright spot for a mostly porous Nebraska defense this season. The former wide receiver is tied for the national lead with four interceptions. Although I still put SJB a notch below Bradley Roby and Darqueze Dennard in the ranks of Big Ten cornerbacks, his stock undoubtedly is on the rise. I think he'll continue to make plays during the Big Ten season, although quarterbacks might think twice about challenging him. I like the Sherman size comparison and will see if Jean-Baptiste looks to Sherman as a model for getting to the next level.
Dave from Whitehall, Mich., writes: My question is the OC Position at Michigan State. Given 2 facts - 1) MSU has floundered offensively since his departure and 2) no real progress or success for Treadwell as a head coach, is it out of the question to bring him back as "THE" OC at MSU? Maybe that would keep Narduzzi around until MD retires and be promoted to the head coaching job in E Lansing?
Rittenberg: Dave, don't you think Michigan State's offense downturn has more to do with Kirk Cousins than Don Treadwell? Nothing against Treadwell, but the Spartans were fine offensively in 2011 when Cousins led them to the Big Ten championship game. I thought Treadwell did some good things at MSU, especially after Mark Dantonio had his health scare in 2010. But I've always felt Michigan State's offensive issues go back to a middling line and the inability to develop enough perimeter weapons. I believe going to the spread offense would help Michigan State close the talent gap in some areas. Treadwell could be looking for a new job if things don't turn around fast at Miami, but I'd be surprised if Michigan State brings him back. And I don't think Treadwell's presence has any bearing on whether Narduzzi stays or goes. Narduzzi wants to be a head coach and should get an opportunity soon.
Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, in a recent article regarding Penn State's sanctions reduction, there was mention that the B1G Conference in conjunction with Sen. Mitchell proposed to the NCAA to reduce the sanctions, per Sen. Mitchell's initial recommendations. If that is true, at what point might the B1G decide to lift their own ban on PSU from being eligible to play for the Conference Championship? If the NCAA decides, down the road, to reduce the post season sanctions, is that the key driver for the B1G conference following suit and reducing the ban on playing in the Conference Championship game. Seems to me the conference reacted to follow the NCAA's punishment, now that the B1G may have been at the forefront of helping to reduce the sanctions, might they be proactive in reducing the number of years PSU is banned from playing in the conference championship game, without waiting on the NCAA to decide down the road if they will allow PSU to play in bowl games?
Rittenberg: The Big Ten championship penalty is directly tied to the postseason ban penalty, Rob. When listing the requirements to appear in its first championship game in 2011, the Big Ten noted that any team ineligible for bowls also could not appear in its title game. So once the NCAA ends the bowl ban, the Big Ten will allow Penn State to play for a league championship. It's not a matter of being proactive. The Big Ten doesn't want to see its league champion end its season in Indianapolis because of a larger postseason ban. It would look horrible. What might be more interesting to watch is whether the Big Ten starts giving Penn State its bowl revenue share a little earlier. But right now the Big Ten is following the NCAA's lead on this.
- Nick Saban talks about why Alabama nixed the Michigan State series. More on the series cancellation from Joe Rexrode. The Spartans bolster their kicking game in recruiting.
- Some more takes on Jim Delany's pay-for-play comments here and here and here.
- Tom Dienhart previews Week 5 in the Big Ten.
- A great look at Kenny Guiton's evolution with Ohio State. Ohio State's run game is based around power. Urban Meyer calls Wisconsin the king of the Big Ten, but his Ohio State players disagree.
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda talked with two former Badgers assistants to help prep for Ohio State. Center Dan Voltz is ready for his chance at Ohio State. Badgers nose guard Beau Allen wants to rush the passer. TCF Bank Stadium is sold out for Floyd. Wisconsin's defense is getting healthier.
- A video look at the Iowa-Minnesota series. An excellent profile of Iowa CB B.J. Lowery from Marc Morehouse. Hawkeyes offensive linemen Brett Van Sloten has molded himself into a Big Ten player.
- QB Philip Nelson and RB Donnell Kirkwood don't appear on Minnesota's latest injury report. Minnesota has played disciplined football so far.
- The USA Today crew makes its national Week 5 picks.
- A good look at Illinois' versatile offensive weapon Josh Ferguson. Illini LB Jonathan Brown mentors the defense. Former Illinois AD Ron Guenther, who will be honored Saturday, hasn't been forgotten in Champaign.
- A good breakdown of the Purdue-Northern Illinois matchup. The Boilers defense will be tested by NIU's Jordan Lynch. Purdue needs a win before it can regroup during the open week.
- Some Michigan nuggets from offensive coordinator Al Borges. Nick Baumgardner's Michigan mailbag. Michigan and Michigan State have time to fix their flaws, Bob Wojnowski writes.
- Three good things and three questions for Penn State after the first four games. Lions safety Ryan Keiser (hand) likely will miss next week's game at Indiana. After the NCAA amended Penn State's sanctions, USC is looking for the same thing.
- There's no real rift between Kain Colter and Northwestern over the APU movement.
- Indiana is anxious to return to the field after last Saturday's loss.
- Nebraska plays the waiting game in recruiting. The Huskers' Spencer Long says it's time to hit the gas pedal as Big Ten play looms.
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- You already know Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is among the most vocal opponents of a pay-for-play system in college sports.
You also should know Delany is among the more vocal advocates for increasing the value of athletic scholarships so athletes can cover basic costs and enjoy their college experiences more, while putting their families more at ease. He was the first power broker to propose them in May 2011. These types of changes should come soon, as major conferences are on the verge of a significant restructuring. In fact, Delany said he expects a restructuring plan to be in place by next spring.
What you probably don't know are Delany's expanded thoughts on the pay-for-play debate, which he believes threatens a collegiate model that has been around for more than a century. He shared his views with myself and three other reporters Wednesday night following the Conference Commissioners Association meeting at the Big Ten's new office. Delany and other major-conference commissioners met about the upcoming College Football Playoff, which you can read about here.
Delany's major point Wednesday night: If athletes want to cash in, they should go pro right out of high schools. Go to the NBA developmental league. Go to some type of minor league for football (it would help if the NFL established one).
If you don't want to be a part of college sports, don't be.
Here's a sampling of what Delany had to say. I think you'll find it as interesting as I did, especially in light of the ongoing Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA.
Mr. Delany, the floor is yours
- "Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness, and establish it on your own. But don't come here and say, 'We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.' Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it."
- "We've been training kids for professional sports. I argue it's the color, I argue it's the institution. If you think it's about you, then talk to John Havlicek about that, you've got to talk to Michael Jordan about that. These brands have been built over 100 years."
- "I don't view it as a labor force. I view them as athletes, as students. I view the universities and the brands that have been here for 118 years. It's built by predecessors, from Isiah Thomas to Magic Johnson to John Havlicek to Archie Clark to Red Grange."
- "You don't have to play for the Redskins or the Bears at 17, but you could develop [at] IMG. My gosh, there are lots of trainers out there. There are quarterback coaches teaching passing skills, guys lifting weights, guys training and running. They can get as strong and as fast in that environment as they can in this environment. Plus, they don't have to go to school. Plus, they can sell their likeness and do whatever they want to do. We don't want to do that. What we want to do is do what we've been doing for 100 years."
- "I think we ought to work awful hard with the NFL and the NBA to create an opportunity for those folks. We have it in baseball, we have it in golf, works pretty good, we have it in golf, we have it in hockey. Why don't we have it in football, basketball? Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports."
- "We can't do Title IX and have professional sports in basketball and football, and have lots of opportunities. It's not going to work. It just doesn't fit. But we should do what we can do, which is kids are full-time students, which means they want to be here, which means they prefer to be here. If you would prefer to be somewhere else, we should encourage the sports organizations that benefit from that to find a way to change it. I don't know if they will or they won't. That's not my call. But we could be successful if there were minor-league football and basketball, if there were kids who decided to go that route."
- "Would you rather be in the D-League in the Dakotas or would you rather be playing here? I think some kids would rather be in the D-League, where that's all they'd focus on. We'd be better off in a lot of cases. We would have less tension about kids who are in school who maybe don't want to be there."
- "If the only way is pay-for-play, then the courts will decide that. Congress will have to figure that out. I'm not worried about it. What I'm worried about is get a restructure, get a deal, get an outcome that is more sensible for the 21st century."
- "I'm willing to give up the benefit. If there's so much value here, let them handle that value. Let them extract it. I think I can be very successful because I think what we offer, for most kids, is superior to what the minor-league experience would be."
- "Being a full-time student is basic, providing opportunities for women is basic, providing Olympic sports opportunities for men is basic. The expectation they should graduate at or about the same rate is basic. I don't want to give those things up. Why? Because we're wildly successful in football and basketball? Now, if a judge says, 'You must pay,' I said, 'OK. Tell us what to do now.'"
The comments from the Big Ten commish blew up my Twitter feed earlier tonight. I'm interested in your thoughts, too, so send them here.
How the Big Ten got to this spot is complicated -- recruiting/population trends, coaching turnover and resource distribution all play a role -- but the solution is pretty simple. It's the same thing a post-comatose Adrian tells Rocky in "Rocky II."
A Saturday like this one.
We talk about conference perception and compare different leagues year round, but we rarely get a comprehensive assessment on the field, especially not in the regular season. There's no ACC/Big Ten Challenge in football, and although schedule upgrades are on the way, both in the Big Ten and elsewhere, there still aren't enough exciting, meaningful, image-shaping games.
That's why Week 3 in the Big Ten is so refreshing and important. After two weeks of mostly unappealing games, the Big Ten has four -- four! -- matchups against Pac-12 programs, kicking off with No. 23 Nebraska hosting No. 16 UCLA at noon ET and ending with No. 20 Wisconsin visiting Arizona State, a contest that will spill into Sunday in Big Ten country.
There are two in-state rivalries on the docket -- Purdue hosting No. 21 Notre Dame and Iowa visiting Iowa State -- as well as some sneaky-good games like UCF-Penn State and Bowling Green-Indiana. Sure, there are your standard non-league sleepers (Western Illinois-Minnesota), but they're finally in the minority.
"There's certain weekends of the year that you can change the perception," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "As you look at the schedule, this is one of those weekends."
Fitzgerald's team did its part by defeating two major-conference teams (Cal and Syracuse) in the first two weeks. With a late kickoff Saturday against Western Michigan, the Wildcats will watch from their hotel as teams like Nebraska carry the Big Ten banner.
"We want to win all the out-of-conference games," Pelini said. "Our conference, I think it's very good, it's deep, and that’s going to show itself as the year goes on. We have a lot of respect for the Pac-12 and their conference.
"It's going to be a challenge. It always is."
Traveling West always presents a huge challenge for Big Ten teams, which had gone 5-20 in the previous 25 true road games against Pac-12 schools until Northwestern beat Cal. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen noted Tuesday that no Big Ten team has beaten Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium in eight tries. He'll take his team to the desert on Thursday to provide extra prep time.
The Badgers have yet to allow a point and ran all over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. But Arizona State can light up the scoreboard with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four games and faces a Wisconsin secondary using three new starters.
UCLA poses a similar problem for Nebraska with standout quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranks fourth in QBR and shredded the Huskers for 305 pass yards, 53 rush yards and four touchdowns last season.
While no one confuses UCLA and Arizona State with Stanford and Oregon, wins against two upward-trending Pac-12 programs would boost the profiles for Nebraska and Wisconsin, not to mention the Big Ten. The SEC is the measuring stick for every conference, but the Big Ten recently has had more chances to gauge itself against the Pac-12, both in the regular season and in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State has more to lose than to gain against a young Cal team, but the Buckeyes look for a complete performance on the road. Illinois, meanwhile, can further validate a surprisingly strong start by upsetting Washington in its Chicago homecoming game at Soldier Field.
"We understand that these types of games are very important for building a program," Illini coach Tim Beckman said.
Purdue's Darrell Hazell could echo Beckman, as his tenure is off to a shaky start following a blowout loss to Cincinnati and a narrow win against Indiana State. Few expect much from the Boilers against the heavily favored Irish, but they have a big opportunity at home against a rival on national TV.
Arguably no Big Ten team needs a Week 3 boost more than Iowa, which, like Purdue, is an unimpressive 1-1. Iowa has dropped its last two against Iowa State, and a loss Saturday in Ames could cripple the Hawkeyes' hopes of a turnaround, especially with a taxing Big Ten schedule ahead.
"Everybody wants our conference to do well," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're all united on that front. Our jobs are to really worry about our teams and how we perform. We've got enough on our plate right now."
Last season, the Big Ten's horrendous Week 2 showing -- a 6-6 record, including an 0-3 mark against the Pac-12 -- cast a negative light on the league, one from which it never escaped. The stakes are similar Saturday. It's the league's first and only chance before the bowls to show the nation that things will be different this year.
Will the Big Ten emerge with arms raised or suffer another early knockout? Tune in Saturday to find out.
Those days, thankfully, are over.
Rejoice, Big Ten fans, as the league today announced that its schools can show an "unlimited number of replays on football stadium video boards." Yes, even the highly controversial calls can be replayed over and over.
The Big Ten's gameday experience subcommittee also approved schools to show multiple replays at any speed. Previously, institutions could only show a replay at no less than 75 percent of real-time speed. This means when a call goes against the home team, the stadium video crew can show it over and over in slo-mo.
Those poor, poor officials.
"Our goal on game day is to blend the best parts of an in-stadium experience with the best parts of an at-home experience," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a prepared statement. "Enhanced replay is just one way to do that, and we look forward to making it available to our fans this year."
The subcommittee also is encouraging all institutions to provide full Wi-Fi in their stadiums as well as enhanced video content such as locker-room video that can be played on the video boards. They are also encouraging more coverage of Big Ten and other NCAA games on the video boards. The league also wants its institutions to explore having social media lounges in their stadiums, much like the ones recently set up at professional sports venues.
The Big Ten clearly is concerned about upgrading the game-day experience. Last season, the league had its lowest average attendance figure since the 2008 season, although Big Ten teams occupied six of the top 20 FBS spots in average attendance.
Today's announcement undoubtedly will be a hit with the fans, and it should be. Bad calls shouldn't be hidden from fans in the stadium when those at home see them replayed over and over.
If you have a suggestion for improving the gameday experience in the Big Ten, contact Big Ten staffer Kerry Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kerry, I hope you have some space in your inbox.
The Big Ten continues to take a proactive approach toward the most important safety issue in all of sports.
A year after joining forces with the Ivy League for an unprecedented research initiative on concussions and other head injuries in sports, the Big Ten today is announcing a partnership with USA Football to address and advance player safety at the youth and high school levels. The Big Ten has put its support behind USA Football's "Heads up Football" program, which provides players, coaches and parents with resources and techniques designed to "take the head out of the game."
Big Ten coaches will appear in public-service announcements during the 2013 season, encouraging participation in the "Heads Up Football" program, which already includes nearly 2,800 youth and high school teams. The PSAs will air during television broadcasts of Big Ten games, on stadium video monitors and on websites for the Big Ten, USA Football and the Big Ten's member institutions.
USA Football officials met this winter with the Big Ten coaches, who unanimously signed off on the partnership.
"Football is not a concussion problem," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald told ESPN.com. "Bad technique playing the game of football is a concussion problem waiting to happen. Playing any contact sports without proper technique and not being coached properly is why those things happen. Sometimes they happen randomly and outside of your control, but more times than not, it's not reinforcing the proper habits and technique.
"As USA Football came in and presented to us where they see the organization going of really being the educational piece of our great game, it was from our perspective as coaches an easy decision to support them."
Fitzgerald serves on USA Football's tackle advisory committee and has an 8-year-old son, Jack, who plays for a team certified in the "Heads Up Football" program.
The program includes:
- Tackling techniques approved by medical experts that teach players to keep their heads up and away from the point of contact
- Certification for both youth and high school coaches, who learn and are tested on concussion recognition and response procedures from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Coaches, players and parents learn the protocols at the beginning of each season
- A player safety coach for each participating program who is trained by USA football to implement safety procedures. The coach also leads safety clinics for players, coaches and parents.
- Education for players, coaches and parents on the proper fitting for helmets and shoulder pads
"I watch it firsthand as I've gone out and watched my son practice," Fitzgerald said. "I see it in the way the coaches coach. He's loving the game, and that's what it’s all about. Hopefully, that stamp of approval, that these coaches have been USA Football-certified, will give parents great confidence that their young men are going to be taught with the best practices and the No. 1 priority to keep them healthy and safe."
Fitzgerald has seen an improvement in tackling techniques and fundamentals in the past five seasons, but the instruction and retention varies from player to player.
"Every day, you're hearing our coaches at our practices talking about, 'Heads up, eyes up, take your head to the side,'" Fitzgerald said. "That's not only when you're talking about tackling, but it's the same thing in blocking and taking on tackling. The initiative here is all about education, about giving the technique, the fundamentals and the resources to the grade-school coaches, who are the lifeblood of our sport, as [players] move forward from grade school to high school, high school to college, college to Sunday."
The Big Ten last month hosted a head injury summit with the Ivy League to narrow down the strategies of the concussion/head injury study. Although the research component is key, the on-field education might be even more important as players move up through the game.
"It is extremely important to promote the proper instruction of tackling at all levels to ensure the well-being of young athletes as well as our student-athletes," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a prepared statement. "Nothing is more important than their health. 'Heads Up Football' reflects the innovation that is woven into football’s heritage by changing for the better how our game is played and taught."
- Penn State's quarterback battle is drawing near its conclusion, though Bill O'Brien says it's still very even. True freshman tight end Adam Breneman will play this season.
- Wisconsin coaches are debating whether to use a pair of talented freshman linebackers now or redshirt them. Defense dominated a Badgers scrimmage, so much so that Gary Andersen called out the offense. Jim Delany was impressed by Wisconsin's updated facilities.
- Analyzing the competition at cornerback for Nebraska. Defensive lineman Avery Moss had his indecency case continued. Aaron Curry is focused on getting better in a heated defensive tackle competition.
- Shoulder surgery will likely end the career of Ohio State's Adam Griffin. The Buckeyes' defensive linemen don't act like freshmen. A closer look at freshman safety Vonn Bell.
- The pressure is on Michigan's defensive line to get more sacks. James Ross played on instinct last year but is striving for perfection this season at linebacker.
- Loren Tate tries to get at the root of the problem for Illinois football. Some Illini camp updates.
- Purdue's Jordan Roos likes to eat and could help the offensive line be more physical. Notes from the Boilers practice on Thursday. USA Today makes a camp stop in West Lafayette.
- Michigan State's Micajah Reynolds was instrumental in saving a shooting victim's life, police say. Andrew Maxwell continues to look like the Spartans' starting quarterback. MSU's receivers have played well so far in camp.
- Minnesota's Jon Christenson has given up social media and is concentrating on playing center. The Gophers feel good about their progress. The offense is ahead of the defense right now for Jerry Kill's team.
- Tyler Scott is now the veteran mainstay on the Northwestern defensive line. Ifeadi Odenigbo benefited from redshirting last year.
- A preview of Iowa's opening opponent, Northern Illinois. A Hawkeyes season preview.
- Linebacker Flo Hardin could be a key part of Indiana's defense (subscription required). The defensive line must improve for the Hoosiers to move forward.
Brad from Cleveland writes: Brian, with this being the last season of the BCS before the 4 team playoff let's run a hypothetical by you. Let's say that both Ohio State and Louisville run the table and go undefeated. Alabama wins the SEC again but has 1 loss to a top 10 team, and the Oregon/Stanford Winner wins the Pac-12 but also has 1 loss to a ranked team. Of those 4 teams who do you feel the BCS formula would rank 1 and 2? I would imagine a 1 loss SEC champ is in. But would a 1 loss Pac-12 Champ trump both an undefeated OSU and undefeated Louisville? And if not, who would have the edge of the 2 undefeated teams based on their schedule to take on the SEC champ?
Brian Bennett: I honestly don't think Louisville beats out any of those teams in your scenario. I mean, my goodness, have you seen that schedule? I also don't envision any way an unbeaten Ohio State gets left out. What the Buckeyes really have going for them is that they will start the season at No. 2 in the coaches' poll. As we've seen, voters have a real reluctance to move teams down when they keep winning. I also think a one-loss SEC champion -- especially if it's two-time defending champion Alabama -- gets the nod in every scenario against another one-loss conference champion, and rightfully so. Oregon's nonconference schedule (Nicholls State, Virginia, Tennessee) isn't that much better than Ohio State's, and outside of Notre Dame at home, Stanford's isn't all that impressive, either (San Jose State, Army). At least not impressive enough for the Cardinal to jump an undefeated Buckeyes team that would have won 25 straight at that point.
Ken C. from St. Louis writes: Jim Delany and the Big Ten desperately want to be elite again. And they believe the easiest way to accomplish this task is to have their better teams play dreadfully inferior teams through the month of September. Other than Michigan, who last year played both ND and Bama, no other strong Big Ten teams are willing to take a chance on playing a marquee game out of conference. Yet the voters will reward, for example, OSU if it wins all of its games regardless of its schedule ease. OSU and the entire Big Ten should be called out for this strategy, a strategy which was underlined when they added powerhouses Rutgers and Maryland.
Brian Bennett: Ken, I forgive you if you've been too busy following the Cardinals this summer to stay up on the news. Yes, this year's nonconference schedule is pretty dreadful. No one can successfully argue otherwise. But it's hardly the strategy of Delany and the Big Ten, which more than any other conference right now is taking the lead in scheduling very aggressively for the future. Take a look at some of the planned opponents for Big Ten teams:
Michigan: Arkansas (2018-19), Virginia Tech (2020-21)
Michigan State: Oregon (2014-15), Alabama (2016-17)
Nebraska: Miami (2014-15), Oklahoma (2021-22)
Northwestern: Notre Dame (2014 and 2018), Stanford (2019-22)
Ohio State: Oklahoma (2016-17), Oregon (2020-21), Texas (2022-23)
Wisconsin: LSU (2014 and 2016), Alabama (2016)
And again, that's just a sampling of some of the opponents the Big Ten has on the books. So get your shots in now at the league's nonconference schedules, because they're about to be as tough as anybody's. Speaking of which ...
Erik from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Brian, as a Penn Stater living in Florida, I was really hoping to travel to Orlando for an away game at UCF, but it looks like Ireland was the best move for everyone. The non-conference slate has been looking more interesting lately, especially with the newest addition of Virginia Tech albeit a decade away, but the only match-up I'm really looking forward to in the sanction era is 2016 @ Pittsburgh. I know two years isn't that much breathing room in college football, but the addition of San Diego St. to finish off the 2015 non-cons seems a bit of a let down. How realistic would it have been to fit a marquee game into that spot, knowing it would either be a one game series, or the return trip wouldn't be for a while (a la PSU vs. Virginia)?
Brian Bennett: Just to be clear, you're not actually calling Virginia a marquee opponent, right? Anyway, the 2015 schedule (Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State) is pretty boring right now, but the Nittany Lions do still have an open date to fill that year since the nine-game Big Ten schedule doesn't kick in until 2016. Let's see if the school adds an interesting team to that mix. But if not, it's hard to blame Penn State for playing it safe with the 2015 schedule. That will be the second year of the 65-scholarship limit and the third year where the team can offer only 15 initial scholarships in recruiting. That's where we could see the effect of these sanctions kick in, and with the bowl ban lifting for 2016, there's no real need to try and schedule a headliner for 2015.
David from Minneapolis writes: There has been a lot of news and articles going around about scheduling in the Big Ten. The strength of the opponents the time between scheduling and playing. PSU just scheduled a series with VaTech for 2021. UW pushed it series back with them to 2019-2020. Will there come a time when we can see our schools make their non-conference schedules only a couple years out rather than almost a decade? I like that UW booked Alabama and LSU in the near future. I'd like college football to be able to schedule like this for more marque match ups for us fans.
Brian Bennett: David, it's difficult to do because there are so few open slots and so many teams. For example, many Big Ten schools have their schedules mostly set for the next 3-5 years, with a couple of holes to fill. But I share your feelings on the timing of these scheduling announcements. It's hard to get too excited about a Penn State-Virginia Tech series that starts in 10 years. Who the heck even knows who will be coaching those teams, much less whether either will be good? Plus, all it takes is for one school to change its priorities or head coach or go through a downturn and suddenly the series is bought out or postponed. I'm sure Ohio State thought it was getting an interesting series with Cal when that was set up a few years back. One of the best benefits that would come with a potential breakaway into a new division by the larger schools is the pool of teams would be shrunk, and perhaps more sanity with future scheduling could result.
Thomas from Omaha, Neb., writes: So Maryland can't afford to give its athletes three meals a day but somehow they are so valuable the Delany had to snap them up? The preferential treatment that Maryland is receiving a few short years after Nebraska left a long relationship with the Big 8/12 is quite frankly disgusting and has a lot of folks in this area questioning Nebraska's move to the B1G. Hopefully the SEC will decide to form a Super Conference and NU can leave the B1G. Which would be too bad because I like you and Rittenberg.
Brian Bennett: Don't go, Thomas. Nebraska in the Southeastern Conference? Now that would really be stretching the definitions of geography. Anyway, I couldn't blame the Huskers for being a little upset that Maryland is getting some Big Ten welfare while Nebraska still waits to receive a full share of revenue. But remember that the reason the Big Ten added Maryland (and Rutgers) had far less to do with the actual programs and much more to do with their locations. The league is betting that expanding into the D.C. market will help its existing schools get better exposure and access to new recruiting grounds. Whether that was a sound strategy remains to be seen. But if Maryland were located in, say, Idaho (I realize that sentence makes little to no sense), the Terrapins would never have been invited.
Jason from Seattle writes: Hi, Brian. Illinois alum... concerned it may be a tough watch this season. From what you have seen, could we get to mid-pack Big Ten in 2013?.. Or is there true hope on the horizon for 2014 & 2015?
Brian Bennett: Jason, I'm glad you wrote in. Haven't had many Illinois questions here for a while. I can understand why Illini alumni might be laying low, but it's always good to hear from you. I do believe that Tim Beckman's team will show improvement this year. I like that an offensive identity is being established under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit; I think some of the jucos will help and the offensive line simply can't get much worse. But there's still a talent deficit at play here, and the schedule is rather unforgiving. I think Illinois will be better and more competitive than it was in 2012, but we could still be looking at something like a 3-9 record. Perhaps Wes Lunt can lead the program back in '14, but it's a long climb.
Mike from Cincinnati writes: Looking at the UM backup QB situation, if the race is so tight what do you think of just giving the nod to Brian Cleary and red shirting Shane Morris? If Devin Gardner comes back for his 5th year and we burn Shane's redshirt this year he really only has 2 years of eligibility left. I don't think it's any secret that a lot of the hype around Shane is on pure potential. Why not give it an extra year to develop?
Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question, because if Gardner stays healthy there's really no reason to play Morris and you could potentially redshirt him. On the other hand, we have no guarantee that Gardner will actually come back for his fifth year, and if he bolts for the NFL, you face a situation in 2014 where Morris has no game experience. That's why I think it's probably best to get Morris a little bit of work this year and get him ready just in case. Yeah, you might lose a year of development, but you've got to play for now in college football. And the way Brady Hoke & Co. have been recruiting, they can always find a successor to Morris down the line.
Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Hey Brian, during a recent article regarding the end of the 15-year BCS era, your colleague Mark Schlabach made a comment regarding Ohio State's "futility" in BCS games. Now, I realize the Big Ten is down and that Ohio State did lose a couple of clunkers in 2006 and 2007, but has everyone forgotten the fact that Ohio State has more BCS bowl wins and appearances than ANY other school, including those from the almighty SEC? It seems a little disingenuous to recall 2006 and 2007 while ignoring several high profile BCS wins and Ohio State's strong overall BCS record.
Brian Bennett: We've been talking a lot about perception this week, and here's a case where perception trumps reality a bit. Ohio State has played in more BCS bowl games (nine) than any other team and is tied with USC for the most BCS bowl wins with six. Yet all anybody seems to remember are the two national title game losses, in 2007 and 2008. Of course, winning one out of three appearances in a BCS title game isn't too shabby, but our friend Schlabach rarely misses a chance to jab the Big Ten.
Andy from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Looking at your player rankings, I can't help but notice that you put Devin Gardner right behind a guy named "Dennard." Was the irony intentional?
Brian Bennett: Ha. Totally unintentional. But kind of funny. I asked Darqueze Dennard at Big Ten media days whether he pronounced his last name "De-NARD" or "DENN-ard." He said it was fine either way and that most people used "DENN-ard" now but that he pronounced it "De-NARD" growing up. Isn't that ironic for a Michigan State defender?
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer weighed in on the challenge of an unblemished season, which he has recorded at both Ohio State and Utah (2004).
"When I hear that word undefeated, I kind of cringe, because it normally doesn't happen," Meyer said. "Last year, there was one [team], and we were very fortunate. I don't want our players thinking about that."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany also talked about the difficulty of going undefeated and how the Playoff selection committee will value perfect seasons in the future.
The SEC has proved that going undefeated is not a requirement for winning a national title. But it will likely become an absolute necessity for teams outside the "power five" conferences just to have a shot at a championship. A one-loss team from the Mountain West or the American Athletic stands little chance at grabbing one of those four playoff spots. Recent undefeated teams like Boise State and Utah were already viewed suspiciously because of their schedules and conferences. Starting next year, that scrutiny will become even more intense as selection committee members break down strength-of-schedule data and compare conference champions who played vastly different opponents.
"It's always hard to go undefeated in football," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said, "[but] it's easier in some conferences than others. ... I think it could evolve in a way because the committee will be critical in separating the wheat from the chaff based on strength of schedule. If they don't, I think everyone will go back to loading up with teams from other divisions with fewer scholarships."
Entering the final year of the BCS system, it's hard to envision a Big Ten team reaching the national title game with a loss. Hopefully for the league, that will change in the Playoff environment.
He saw large, iconic stadiums built in the 20th century modernized for the 21st-century fan. He saw top-of-the-line practice facilities, training tables, academic support programs and local branding efforts, including the can't-miss markings of social media. He saw the upshot of a league delivering its schools record revenue shares, thanks in large part to the success of the Big Ten Network.
"Our reach is national," Delany said Sunday during a phone interview with ESPN.com. "There's national awareness, and the schools are of national quality. We have resources and commitment. These are phenomenal places with rich traditions, and they've all been captured exceedingly well. We want to recruit nationally, we want to play nationally, we want to telecast nationally.
"We want to do everything we can to be nationally impactful."
But the most nationally impactful thing the Big Ten can do to boost its perception has become its greatest challenge -- win a national championship in football. More than a decade has passed since Big Ten hands hoisted the coveted crystal football. The Big Ten has been a no-show in the title game in the past five seasons. The league is 3-9 in the Rose Bowl during the BCS era. It has sub-.500 bowl records in 10 of the past 13 years.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten's top rival, the SEC, has captured the past seven national titles, ascending to the pinnacle of college football, and letting everyone know about it.
Tradition is at the core of the Big Ten's fabric. Although Legends and Leaders are (thankfully) going away, no league celebrates its past as publicly as the Big Ten does. But the Big Ten's recent tradition hasn't provided much to celebrate.
"The SEC has so dominated the national championships in football, the rest of us are just wanting to break through," Delany said. "That's the reality."
Big Ten coaches are tired of the SEC love, but as Michigan head coach Brady Hoke acknowledges, "they've earned it." He notes that Michigan has performed well against current SEC opponents (24-11-1) and was "11 seconds away" from another win before blowing a lead against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
But the SEC is winning the games that matter most and continuing to set the agenda in the sport.
"It's like anything else, you get tired of hearing your wife tell you, 'Take out the garbage,'" Hoke said. "What are you going to do? You're going to go take out the garbage so you don't hear it anymore."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who helped start the SEC's run of championships by guiding Florida past Ohio State in the title game following the 2006 season, said there's a gap between the Big Ten and the SEC that can be gauged by recent bowl performances and NFL drafts (the Big Ten had only 22 players drafted in April's draft, its lowest total since 1994; the SEC produced a record 63 picks). But Meyer has faith the Big Ten can rise up, and not just Ohio State and Michigan, which many assume will recreate the Big 2/Little 8 dynamic prevalent throughout the league's history, because of their recent success on the recruiting trail.
"I've been around the Big Ten my entire life," said Meyer, who grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. "There was a time where Iowa was No. 1 in America. There's Penn State, there's Wisconsin, there was a time when Illinois played in the Rose Bowl, Northwestern right now is playing at a very high level and recruiting well, Michigan State is always right there. I do believe it is happening.
"I just hear what I hear and see what I see, and everybody is working really hard because the Big Ten has got to go [forward]. The bottom line now is go win some big-time bowl games. That's the best branding you can do."
Click here for the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story.
Brian from Atlanta writes: So it seems every analyst thinks OSU will go 13-0 and play in the NCG. I don't see it. To do so they will have to win 25 straight games. Who was the last to do that? Not even Alabama does that. OSU had 2 OT games plus 3 more games within 5 pts. They weren't that much better than everyone last year and they certainly aren't the only B1G team to get better going into this year. They aren't going to get every break to win like that again. In fact, if the lose to say Wisconsin (OT last year) not only will they not play in the NCG they probably won't even play in the B1G championship game. Am I crazy to think 25 straight games isn't going to happen?
Brian Bennett: You're not crazy, Brian (though you do have a great name). I understand the undefeated predictions, because Ohio State has great talent and should be favored in every game this season, with the possible exception of the finale at Michigan. But going 12-0 is really, really hard to do even once, much less two years in a row. The Buckeyes will have a giant target on their backs, and they'll face more intense national attention and scrutiny than they received last year while on probation. You need some breaks and good fortune to go undefeated, no matter how good you are. Ohio State might do it again this year, but the odds are against it.
Matt from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Why no love for Nebraska's upset over FSU in fan voting for greatest football program of the last 25 years? It was sponsored by ESPN and not even mentioned in the Big Ten blog!
Brian Bennett: Yep, Nebraska won that tournament, even though the Huskers entered as the No. 13 seed. Of course, anything involving fan voting usually tilts heavily in favor of Big Red. Nobody shows more passion for their team than Nebraska fans.
Bryan from Coldwater, Mich., writes: If Michigan and Ohio State both enter the regular season game undefeated and then play again in the Big Ten championship game with both teams winning one game a piece, will both teams get BCS bowls?
Brian Bennett: That's a mighty big "if," and we'd need to know what other teams have done, but the chances would be very good. Conference championship game runners-up haven't fared well as BCS at-large picks, but in this case, you'd have a team that finished the regular season unbeaten and lost to a 12-1 team. Throw in the huge following for both schools involved, and I think a BCS game would jump at the opportunity. I doubt this scenario will play out, but that would be kind of fun, huh?
Benny N. from West Palm Beach, Fla., writes: Big Buckeye and B1G fan here. I'm not sure where to begin with this but I'm just glancing through some of these schedules for the "All-Mighty" SEC schools and I gotta say I'm not impressed, not the slightest bit. I would like to know where the SEC stands/ranks in terms of their Non-Conf schedule. I'm not one to talk because I know the Buckeyes haven't had a solid non-conf schedule for some time. I understand the "full-schedule rankings" will favor the SEC just due to the conference, but I'm looking at some of these teams they play out of conference and I have to admit I haven't even heard of a few of these teams... Am I in total denial?
Brian Bennett: It's hard to paint the entire SEC with such a broad brush. Alabama has consistently scheduled tough teams out of conference, playing Michigan last year and Penn State the previous two years, and the Tide open this season vs. Virginia Tech. LSU usually plays an ambitious schedule and opens the year with TCU. Georgia opens at Clemson and plays Georgia Tech every year, while Tennessee is at Oregon. Florida never leaves its own state, but the Gators do play Florida State in an annual rivalry. South Carolina plays Clemson every year and is opening with North Carolina this year. So while some SEC teams don't schedule as aggressively, and there's often two or three games of chaff on each team's nonconference slate, Big Ten fans can't complain about the SEC schedules in a year where their toughest nonconference opponents are Notre Dame, UCLA, Arizona State and a whole lotta MAC-tion.
Greyson from Lansing, Mich., writes: I've been thinking about Jim Delany's proposal to honor athletes' scholarships should they leave school for whatever reason and, sometime in the future, decide to return, and I believe it is a slap in the face to traditional college students. When I went to college I had a scholarship from the school (not a full ride, but everything helped) and while I didn't play a major sport, I did work 20-30 hours a week, in addition to being a full time student, which is close to the same amount of time athletes put into their sports. However, if my GPA ever fell below a 3.0, I would have had my scholarship stripped and never reinstated. Players are put on 'all-academic teams' for maintaining a 3.0, not given warnings for a low GPA. While I understand the importance of college sports, I don't believe athletes should be held in higher regard than other students.
Brian Bennett: Well, Greyson, did your school ever make a bunch of money selling a jersey with your number on it? Did 100,000 people come to campus to watch you? Schools are making millions of dollars per year off athletics, and the players aren't seeing any of the money outside of their scholarships. I view Delany's proposal as one way of stemming the sentiment for paying players. But this would be one way to give them something back. I'd rather see the money go to this cause than to another shiny new building or another million in a coach's pocket.
Brian from Brian Head, Utah, writes: Greetings from the Salt Lake State! I enjoyed reading the question from "Justin from Oxford" in your latest mail bag. I like how he mentioned the Block M defense, but conveniently left out the fact that Spartan faithful have to guard the Sparty statue from Michigan fans who do the same sort of defilement. They act as if they're innocent of any wrong doing, but Ohio State and Michigan State fans alike can attest to the behavior of Michigan fans in Ann Arbor. That said, since Dave Brandon is concerned about the fans, would it be feasible to make it a Friday night game that limits the amount of time spent tailgating?
Brian Bennett: Brian Head? What is the magical place of which you speak? Take me there at once! To your question, I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that fans would ever try to vandalize or deface a rival's hallowed grounds. Some of it is good, clean rivalry hijinx, like when Wolverines fans hung a UM banner at Notre Dame Stadium or when some others wrote "Beat Ohio" in chalk outside of Ohio Stadium last year. It goes over the line when there is destruction of property involved. But Friday night? Heaven forbid. That game belongs on a Saturday.