Big Ten: Jim Phillips

Big Ten lunch links

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
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So, how was your Father's Day, Tywin Lannister?
When the Big Ten decided early last year to institute a policy against playing FCS opponents, fans and common sense were the big winners.

Yet there's a long way between the conception of that policy and its actual execution, especially as the league faces some tough realities with scheduling and views the rest of the college football landscape. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was asked about the FCS policy on Tuesday at the College Sports Information Directors of America convention in Orlando.

"That was really a hard decision," he said. "I don’t know if we’re sure that’s the right decision to make.”

Is there some waffling on the Big Ten's part? If so, there are understandable reasons why.

Nonconference scheduling is becoming more and more of a headache, and a wildly expensive one at that. As this recent Fox Sports Wisconsin report illustrates, the cost of a guaranteed home game is skyrocketing. The average price to schedule a lower-level FBS team to come to a Big Ten stadium without a return date is $827,838 this year, with several of those games costing more than $1 million, according to the report.

[+] EnlargeBarry Alvarez
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin AD Barry Alvarez believes there has to be exceptions to the Big Ten's FCS scheduling policy. "In some cases, they're a tougher opponent than some of the FBS opponents," he said.
Leagues such as the MAC have a lot of leverage now, with power teams needing seven home games to make budget and having to find a mid-major program willing to travel for a one-shot opportunity. Excluding FCS teams from the mix further shrinks the pool of available opponents.

Complicating matters is the arrival of the nine-game Big Ten schedule in 2016. The divisions will rotate the home-road ratio, meaning league teams will have four home conference games every other year. That leaves three nonconference slots that must be filled by guarantee games in order to get to seven home dates.

"When you put a pencil to it, can everybody get FBS schools?" Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez told Fox Sports. "Can you find enough of them? Do we have to make some exceptions and have some FCS schools? That's what you have to take a look at. In some cases, they're a tougher opponent than some of the FBS opponents. If your choice is to not play a game because you can't find anybody or play an FCS team, you don't have much choice."

And like the move to a nine-game conference schedule, the Big Ten is going to a place where other leagues won't. While a few prominent SEC coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Will Muschamp recently came out in favor of avoiding FCS foes (Muschamp might have ulterior motives), SEC commissioner Mike Slive said last month that his league does not plan any sort of anti-FCS scheduling policy. Yea, more exciting October and November clashes like this one and that one.

Similarly, the ACC has no interest in quitting its FCS relationships. All 14 ACC schools will play an FCS opponent this year. So you have two leagues whom the Big Ten might be competing against for spots in the four-team playoff who will soon be A) playing one less conference game per season; and B) scheduling easy wins over FCS teams. Sure, that sounds fair.

So you can understand why the Big Ten might not want to be alone on this island. Still, there are many good reasons why the league should not be scheduling FCS teams, as Phillips explains.

"With the new structure of the playoff system, you will be rewarded [for playing tougher schedules], like in basketball," he said. "Also ... our fans really want you to challenge yourself in the nonconference schedule. And candidly television [is a reason]; look at ratings, that had an effect.”

Athletic directors and administrators are already worried about declining attendance, especially among students, and what that means for the future. Schools are paying millions of dollars to upgrade their video boards and enhance Wi-Fi capabilities in their stadiums, all in an effort to keep people from staying home and watching the game on their high-definition TVs.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJim Delany says the Big Ten is "continuing to work with people" on future football scheduling.
So it runs counter to that movement to schedule a game against an FCS team that no fan wants to see. There are some exceptions, such as Northern Iowa vs. Iowa or North Dakota State vs. Minnesota. But for every one of those, there are dozens more unwatchable games like these 2013 thrillers: Ohio State 76, Florida A&M 0; Wisconsin 48, Tennessee Tech 0; Michigan State 55, Youngstown State 17; and Indiana 73, Indiana State 35.

The argument that FBS schools should play FCS teams to help them with their budgets makes no sense. Since when did big-time football become a charitable organization? The power-five conferences are already trying to write their own rules and threatening to start their own division. How does that jibe with suddenly wanting to give FCS schools a handout? And if FCS teams can't make their budget without those one-time paydays, maybe they need to scale back their football programs.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com that the conference is "continuing to work with people" on scheduling and the FCS policy. Minnesota and Purdue have FCS games on their 2016 schedule, and Delany said it could be until 2017 or 2018 until the policy, which he said should not be described as an outright ban, really goes into effect.

Let's hope the Big Ten sticks to its guns here. Playing FCS opponents might save some money, but the league is rolling in cash, so it's hard to cry poverty. Neutral-site games are a potential option, too. The Big Ten's future TV partners won't want to see Citadels and Eastern Kentuckys on the schedule when they fork over billions for the broadcast rights.

The strength-of-schedule angle is also a big one for a conference that probably will need every possible talking point in its favor in the annual playoff debates. Better opponents make for better games, better experiences for fans and a better overall sport.

The Big Ten was right to go to nine conference games and is correct in eliminating FCS opponents. If other leagues are too cowardly to follow suit, so be it. Let the conference that once gave us a Leaders Division show some true leadership to improve the game.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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Busy time for a Wednesday in May. Keep up here with Adam Rittenberg's reports from the spring meeting of Big Ten athletic directors.
  • From Rosemont, Ill., the Big Ten sticks to its commitment to play nine conference games, starting in 2016. League athletic directors generally still oppose alcohol sales at football stadiums.
  • Strong comments from Northwestern AD Jim Phillips on the unionization issue.
  • Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst finally offers a few words on coach Bo Pelini.
  • Minnesota AD Norwood Teague is not a fan of the “we hate Iowa" chant, especially when it’s sanctioned by the UM athletic department.
  • The league sets remaining kickoff times for homecoming next fall.
  • Rutgers dismisses quarterback Philip Nelson in the wake of a felony assault charge for the recent Minnesota transfer, leaving the Scarlet Knights’ QB situation for 2015 in limbo. And the view from Minnesota.
  • Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas is charged with felony theft. A few early mock drafts for 2015 place Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory in a lofty spot.
  • Ohio State coaches are out looking for quarterbacks in Georgia and California.
  • More recruiting talk from James Franklin, who says the changing face of the Big Ten will not affect Penn State’s ability to recruit regionally and nationally.
  • Michigan State signs up to face Arizona State in a home-and-home series, starting in 2018.
  • QB Andrew Maxwell is among the latest former Spartans to get an NFL look. Same story for ex-Wisconsin QB Danny O’Brien.
  • A former Iowa safety led police in his hometown on a chase and got tased.

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- College athletes' welfare is top of mind for athletic directors across the country, and one Big Ten school remains at the center of the debate about whether players are receiving enough for what they provide between the lines.

"Everybody's curious," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said.

Phillips on Tuesday addressed the unionization effort by the Wildcats football team in depth for the first time since it launched in January. During a break at the Big Ten ADs meetings, he outlined why he opposes a union but also praised the Northwestern players for raising issues that need to be addressed in a collegiate model that has been too resistant to change.

He's proud of the issues players have raised and not upset by the attention brought on Northwestern's program.

"I know [unionization] is not the right mechanism for change nationally, but areas of welfare and health and safety, those are the right things for us to be talking about," Phillips said. "There are some real positive residuals that have occurred from the conversation about unionization."

Phillips thinks players deserve not only a voice, but voting power on major issues that affect them. Players had been consulted in an advisory role in the past, but it's not enough.

"No one is living the experience like they are," he said. "We can do that in a way that makes sense, and it's necessary. I'm excited about it, and you're going to see some of the movement, like the unlimited meals. You're going to see some things on cost of attendance that we have to get our arms around.

"We have to make sure we're providing the necessary resources."

Northwestern is awaiting a decision on its appeal of the decision by the Chicago regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that its football players are employees of the school. Players voted April 25 on whether to form a union, but the ballots have been sealed and not counted, pending the outcome of the appeal.

Phillips opposes a union for several reasons:
  • College sports are not the minor leagues, and the college model doesn't include an employee-employer relationship. Phillips noted that more than 98 percent of all college athletes don't go on to play professionally.
  • Third parties shouldn't come between players and their coaches/administrators.
  • It would hurt the accessibility and affordability of higher education.

"Accessibility and affordability are the two things college athletics has provided for a number of years," Phillips said. "It's given a population in our world, certainly in our country, the opportunity to use sport to access great education."

But what about all the money major-conference schools are generating, and the even bigger projected revenues in the near future? Phillips pointed to the low percentage of athletic departments that operate in the black.

"If we want to ignore broad-based programming and we want to ignore equality and doing things equitable, you're going to get a completely different collegiate model," he said. "I'm not in favor of that. Maybe some people are.

"Are there more things we can and should be thinking about for our student-athletes? Yes. But it needs to be done in a way that really is prudent and equitable and doesn't just pay attention to one sport."


The idea of a union for college football players, which is being spearheaded by Northwestern student-athletes, is one that is making major news throughout college sports -- and likely making administrators very nervous.

The NCAA has issued a response to the union proposal. Surprise: It is not a fan. Here's the full NCAA response, as penned by the organization's chief legal officer, Donald Remy:
"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

"Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

"Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes."

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips released his own statement this afternoon. Here it is:
"We love and are proud of our students. Northwestern teaches them to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact on their communities, the nation and the world. Today’s action demonstrates that they are doing so.

"Northwestern University always has been, and continues to be, committed to the health, safety and academic success of all of its students, including its student-athletes. The concerns regarding the long-term health impacts of playing intercollegiate sports, providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes are being discussed currently at the national level, and we agree that they should have a prominent voice in those discussions.

"We are pleased to note that the Northwestern students involved in this effort emphasized that they are not unhappy with the University, the football program or their treatment here, but are raising the concerns because of the importance of these issues nationally.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."

Of course the NCAA is going to fight this idea tooth and nail because it would change the very nature of how college sports are governed and administrated. Northwestern is in a trickier spot because the school does not want to be viewed as being callous to its own students' desire for better treatment and health. Yet, a full blown union of football players and a designation of athletes as employees who can collectively bargain must scare the bejeezus out of any NCAA administrator.

It's clear that this story is really only beginning.
Everyone wants to know who will serve on the College Football Playoff selection committee. Well, colleague Brett McMurphy has provided a clue. He reported Wednesday that current FBS athletic directors will be part of the committee. Current conference commissioners, coaches or media members will not serve.

From the story:
The "working concept" is to have one athletic director representing each of the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), sources said. It is unknown whether any current athletic directors from the remaining conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) would be on the committee.

Today's poll question is pretty simple: We want to know which current Big Ten athletic director you want to serve on the committee.

The candidates (in alphabetical order) ...

SportsNation

Which current Big Ten athletic director should serve on the College Football Playoff selection committee?

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    53%
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    17%
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    13%
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    8%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,757)

Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: Alvarez has been touted here and other places as a strong candidate for the committee. Although several Big Ten athletic directors played college football, Alvarez is the only one to serve as a head coach of a major program, resurrecting the Wisconsin program during his 16-year tenure. Alvarez told me in March that if asked, he'd be willing to serve. Ohio State AD Gene Smith, whose name you'll also see on this list, said of Alvarez during the Big Ten spring meetings, "He'd be the perfect pick," Smith said. "I'm promoting Barry." Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany also has mentioned Alvarez.

Dave Brandon, Michigan: Brandon wasn't a huge fan of moving toward a playoff in college football, but he might be one of the better AD candidates to serve on a committee. He has a varied background as the former CEO of Domino's Pizza and a former Michigan regent. He has built Michigan's athletic department into a branding giant. He also knows football as a former Wolverines player under Bo Schembechler.

Mark Hollis, Michigan State: Hollis is one of the most respected athletic administrators in the country and earned Athletic Director of the Year honors in 2002 at the Sports Business Awards. The 1985 Michigan State graduate who became AD in 2008 is an out-of-the-box thinker who masterminded outdoor hockey and basketball games for Spartan teams. Hollis serves on the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee and also has been on the NCAA men's basketball issues committee.

Jim Phillips, Northwestern: Like Hollis, Phillips is a rising star in the AD ranks. He's currently a vice president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and recently chaired the Big Ten's athletic directors council. Phillips has spearheaded landmark marketing and facilities campaigns at Northwestern. He was nominated for 2013 Athletic Director of the Year at the Sports Business Awards. An Illinois graduate, Phillips worked as an administrator at Tennessee and Notre Dame before becoming Northern Illinois' athletic director in 2004.

Gene Smith, Ohio State: Smith is the Big Ten's most experienced athletic director. He landed his first full-time AD job at Eastern Michigan in 1986 and later led programs at Iowa State and Arizona State before coming to Ohio State in March 2005. A former Notre Dame football player and assistant coach, Smith chaired the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee. He also serves on the NCAA Division I Administration Cabinet and won 2010 Athletic Director of the Year honors at the Sports Business Awards. Smith didn't sound too keen on the possibility of being on the committee when asked about it this spring, but he could be in the mix.
Recently, we asked you to pick the nonconference opponent you'd most like to see your favorite team play in the near future. You could pick a team already on the upcoming schedule or one that inexplicably hasn't been added.

This has been a fun exercise so far, and the response has been terrific. We'll round out the responses with Northwestern fans weighing in on their team's future schedule.

Here we go ...

Austin from Washington, D.C.: I'm a Northwestern alum, and though this may not have the headliner status of other matchups, I'd love to see NU take on NIU. Given their close proximity and in-state affiliation, I feel like these two teams have the makings of a great rivalry. The last time NU and NIU went head-to-head it was a one point game, and frankly with Jim Phillips serving as their old, our current AD, I feel like this could be viable as well!

Rajiv from Irving, Texas: I am a Northwestern alum and I think we have done a good job securing matchups that are good for our program (Stanford, ND, etc.). With the loss of the bowl games in Texas, it would be good to see the Wildcats play Texas, Baylor or TCU. I would love to see a series against UCLA as well, how exciting would it be to play in the Rose Bowl twice in one season!

Jim from Smyrna, Del.: I'm a Northwestern alum and Wildcats fan. I'd love to see the 'Cats have an annual match with either Stanford or Duke. We're rivals in the classroom, so it would be good to continue that rivalry on the field every year.

Brad from Philadelphia: As a Northwestern fan, my thoughts on non-league games: 1) I like the "academically compatible" concept -- Notre Dame, Duke, Wake Forest, Stanford, Cal, Virginia, UNC, Rice, Georgia Tech, Tulane, but not Vandy after their cowardly booting of NU off their schedule. The entire non-con schedule could come off that list each year and be well-balanced. I'd be fine with it. 2) That said, I'd like to NU to play one national-level team not on that list occasionally; UCLA, Washington, Texas, Georgia, Pittsburgh. 3) Army and Navy are always nice, tho not Air Force, thank you. 4) MAC teams as the occasional filler.

Dave from Chicago: I love that Northwestern has increased scheduling against its academic peer group - other schools that actually expect an athlete to wander into a classroom occasionally. Some of those are probably a better fit on the field (Stanford [hopefully], Vanderbilt) than others (Rice) but overall I like the philosophy. One random game I'd love to see is Ole Miss. There's absolutely no reason those two schools should play one another. They don't share anything culturally or geographically and I don't think either really recruits the other's backyard. However, by all accounts Ole Miss has never lost a tailgate. I take them at their word, but I'd love to see for myself. Most bucket list game day experiences come with a healthy dose of butt-kickin' (Alabama, LSU, Oregon off the top of head) but I think in most years this would be a competitive game. One added bonus for the Cats is that I assume the Rebels would see the series through to its conclusion instead of chickening out via fax if they happened to lose a couple in a row the way another SEC school operates.

Andrew from Irvine, Calif.: I wanted to throw my hat into the debate over an ideal nonconference schedule for the Wildcats (If it is not too late). Obviously, I LOVED getting Notre Dame back on the schedule. I would love for NU to play them every year. Another upcoming matchup I really like is Stanford. If NU played any combination of Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Duke plus a mid-level opponent such as NIU or Navy every year (2 very solid ?mid-level? teams) I would be quite happy. One team that I think NU should explore putting on the schedule is Auburn; a rematch of an absolutely epic Outback bowl. I know Kafka and Dunsmore aren't walking through that door anytime soon, but neither is Demos (I really do feel bad for that guy). Overall though, Fitz and crew seem to get it when it comes to scheduling (like most everything else). They are playing high caliber schools that mirror NU's athletic and academic prowess. The most important thing is to keep beating them.

S.H. Tan from Singapore: As a Northwestern alum, I would love to see the team adopt the following 3-tier schedule every year: 1 game against a peer institution and direct recruiting rival , something like an "Egghead Bowl" - Stanford, Vanderbilt, Cal, Duke; 1 game against Northern Illinois - an in-state rival recently on the rise, or a MAC game to raise our profile in the Midwest footprint; and 1 game in the recruiting hotbeds of Florida, Texas or California - South Florida, TCU, Houston.

Alan from Los Angeles: I'd like Northwestern to play Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA. We've already scheduled the first two, so thanks, Jim Phillips!

Lorenzo from Boulder, Colo.: My preference is for schools that have a somewhat similar profile, rather than just geography. So here they are: Stanford and BC. Stanford has great academics, and Palo Alto area is a great place to visit. BC has a similar size of student body, located near a major city, and Boston has a lot of pluses. A third choice is purely selfish: Colorado. Have only been able to see NU play on TV for a few years. Boulder is a great town...and it's nice to see land that isn't flat, but goes up.

Stephen from Chicago: I am a Northwestern fan/alum who grew up in Michigan.-I am super excited about the renewal of the Northwestern/Notre Dame rivalry (yes rivalry, it was once a Trophy Game). The two private schools of the Mid-West should play-Part of me is sad to see the Michigan/Notre Dame rivalry go, but with Notre Dame snubbing the Big Ten, I might not be that sad.-Very excited to see Northwestern/Stanford. Two more private schools that used to be punching bags I think makes a great match-up.-I think it would be fun for the two Willie the Wildcats to face each other (NU/K-State). There would be so much purple on the field.

T.J. from Elkhorn, Wis.: As a Northwestern fan, the dream non-conference schedule is full of nerds -- Duke, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and Stanford. If we have to keep one "non-BCS" school on the schedule, lets make it Northern Illinois (closest major school). But the school I am most excited for if I have to pick is Stanford (and it would have been even before Harbaugh and Luck revived the program).

My two cents: As you can see in the responses, Northwestern's actual future scheduling closely reflects what its fans want to see. That's good news for Phillips. The upcoming series with both Stanford and Notre Dame certainly seem to be well received, and for good reason. Northwestern also has games set against programs like Cal and Duke. Wildcats fans want to face more academically oriented schools with good programs. It's a reason why Vanderbilt's decision to back out of games in 2013 and 2014 struck such a chord.

I like the suggestions for both UCLA and Washington, as both are improving programs located in major cities where Northwestern fans either live or would want to visit. The Northern Illinois issue has come up for years as the two programs last played in 2005 and have no plans to do so in the future. Phillips came to Northwestern from NIU and helped build the program there, but Northwestern, while scheduling other MAC programs, has steered clear of the Huskies. Is NIU legitimate enough for Northwestern to schedule and not worry about the backlash from a loss? The teams used to cross paths in recruiting a decent amount, although not so much any more. Adding Northern Illinois makes sense, especially because the Huskies face so many other Big Ten programs (Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Nebraska). Dave, you're absolutely right that Northwestern and Ole Miss have nothing in common, and while I understand your desire to see the tailgating scene in Oxford, I'd rather see Northwestern play a higher-profile SEC team. Rajiv, I agree that it makes sense for Northwestern to schedule an opponent in Texas because the Wildcats have had so much success in the Houston area with players like Venric Mark.

More fan nonconference picks:

Nebraska
Michigan
Penn State
Michigan State
Ohio State
Wisconsin
Iowa
Minnesota
Illinois
Indiana

Purdue
Two Big Ten assistants will attend this year's NCAA Champion Forum, a networking and leadership development seminar for minority assistants identified as potential head coaches.

Purdue wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman and Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers, who also serves as the Buckeyes' assistant head coach, are among the 11 FBS assistants attending the event, held June 13-15 in Orlando, Fla. Assistants from the ACC, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC also will be in attendance.

Sherman, Withers and the other assistants will have simulated job interviews, media training and other sessions during the event. There's an athletic directors panel on June 13 that will include two Big Ten ADs: Illinois' Mike Thomas and Northwestern's Jim Phillips. There also are networking events with ADs on the first two nights of the forum. Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner will represent the league.

The Big Ten has sent 22 coaches to the event, formerly called the Minority Coaches Forum, between 2006-2012 (no event was held in 2011). Five of those attendees -- Don Treadwell, Darrell Hazell, Mike Locksley, Ron English and Garrick McGee -- went on to become FBS head coaches. Hazell, who took over at Purdue in December, is the Big Ten's first African-American head coach since Bobby Williams at Michigan State (2000-02) and just the fourth in league history.

Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett and Northwestern receivers coach Dennis Springer attended last year's Champion Forum.

Sherman, hired by Hazell in January, spent the past seven seasons as Virginia Tech's receivers coach. His other FBS stops include Wake Forest and Ohio.

Withers already has been a head coach, albeit on an interim basis with North Carolina in 2011 after the school fired Butch Davis weeks before the season. He has been defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Minnesota and Louisville and also coached defensive backs at Texas and with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, among others.
Northwestern's recruiting wish list and sales pitch hasn't changed much in recent years.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff still seek a certain fit: an academically oriented player who clicks with the program's culture and recognizes the benefits of playing Big Ten football miles from the city limits of the nation's third largest market. Northwestern's coaches talk about "not only a four-year decision but a 40-year decision, the rest-of-your-life type decision," Matt MacPherson, the team's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, recently told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Tony DingPat Fitzgerald has the Northwestern football program headed in the positive direction, winning games and attracting quality student athletes.
Northwestern is still identifying and bringing players who fit, but more of its targets are higher-level prospects and more of its competitors are higher-level programs. The Wildcats are hitting their mark at an unprecedented rate, leading the Big Ten with 10 commitments for their 2014 class, which ranks 17th nationally in RecruitingNation's latest ratings.

Colleague Jared Shanker writes that Northwestern's recent success on the field has boosted its recruiting to the next level.
The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2012 and ended the season No. 17 in the final AP poll. It was the first time that Northwestern had won 10 games in a season since 1995, when it went 10-1 and appeared in the Rose Bowl. It also marked the first time Northwestern finished a season ranked since 1996.

Fitzgerald was a linebacker on those '95 and '96 teams. He was an ambassador for recruits who signed in the winter of '97, one of Northwestern best classes ever.

Northwestern landed several national recruits in that class, much like it is doing in the 2014 class. Craig Albrecht, Chris Jones and Sam Simmons were all highly sought-after recruits who signed with Northwestern out of high school. Fitzgerald said then-coach Gary Barnett never broke the mold of what he was looking for in a recruit to bring in the higher-profile prospects.

Now Fitzgerald is following a similar path.

"[The 2014 recruits] stayed true to what fits our program," Fitzgerald said. "We feel great about all the young men, feel great we recruited the right fit. We respect you if you do it differently, but we're more focused on the right fit and if he fits the culture of our locker room."

According to MacPherson, Northwestern's message to potential recruits remains the same, but the way they view the program has changed after five straight bowl appearances and, finally, a postseason win on Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl.

"From what we do and how we do it, not a whole lot has changed," MacPherson said. "From the perception of where our program is, that's changed a bunch. People see us now as a perennial bowl team. ... You look at Northwestern and you talk about winning football games, a great education, being in Chicago. What's not to like? Tell me when that gets bad.

"There's always been the great education, there’s always been the great city of Chicago. Now you throw the football success on top of that, and it's just a great package that opens a lot of people's eyes."

Northwestern's coaches also are talking up a new $220 million on-campus facility, announced in September, that will house the football program along the shores of Lake Michigan. Athletic director Jim Phillips said last week that $70-80 million has been raised toward the project, and ground could be broken this fall.

Fitzgerald talked with Shanker about the "great momentum" currently around the program. MacPherson sees it on the recruiting trail.

"We are getting in some battles with some different programs than we have in the past," he said. "Obviously, that's a good thing. But at the end fo the day, you still have to do your evaluation and those guys you bring into your program have to be valuable players and be productive players for you. Is it great for our profile and be competing against teams that you see in the Rivals and the ESPN Insider ratings? Yeah, that's great. But it'll always go back to production once you get 'em on your team."

Video: Northwestern AD Jim Phillips

May, 16, 2013
5/16/13
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PM ET

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips talks about future games at Wrigley Field, the progress on the team's lakefront practice facility and more at the Big Ten spring meetings.

Big Ten mailblog

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
5:00
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Your questions, my answers. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, too.

Peter from Myrtle Beach, S.C., writes: Adam, Could you be more insulting to Minnesota? First, you comment as if their schedule has been creampuff (think Wisconsin) for years. It was TWO years ago they had the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten and one of the toughest in the nation. They've played USC, Cal and Syracuse (wasn't Syracuse 8-4 last year and won their bowl game?). Yes, they softened the past two years but don't act as if they are just joining the rest of the Big Ten with scheduling tougher opponents.

Adam Rittenberg: Peter, you're right that for a brief period during Tim Brewster's tenure, Minnesota went out and played people. In fact, the Gophers' bold scheduling approach was one of the few good things Brewster implemented at Minnesota. But other than that brief stretch, Minnesota, like Wisconsin, has lived in Cupcake City. Glen Mason scheduled his way to 7-8 wins a year, and Jerry Kill was well on his way to doing the same before the Big Ten imposed a league-wide scheduling initiative to beef things up with the College Football Playoff in mind. I'm sorry, but buying out of the North Carolina series and revealing that pathetic slate of non-league games last fall was terrible. You should be insulted as a Gopher fan. Sure, Wisconsin has been traditionally soft with its scheduling and has received criticism here and in other places. Wisconsin also makes Rose Bowls. I'm encouraged by the TCU series and you should be, too. Now we need to see more moves like it from Minnesota.



Danny O. from Chicago writes: Frankly, I am astonished that Iowa has no prime time or night games. As if a guaranteed sell out crowd of some of the most rabid fans in the B1G and every hawkeye fan in the world tuning in wasn't enough, the black and gold striped stadium and/or american flag display, the recently added pyro-technics and fighter jet fly-overs that is put on for those games should put us over the top for ATLEAST one prime time game a year. I guess the cameras would rather pick up massive gaps in the stands at Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue. Can you please provide some kind of justification for this decision?

Adam Rittenberg: Danny, I look forward to chatting with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta about this at next week's meetings in Chicago. You're right that Iowa has great fans who show up in force for night games. Kinnick Stadium provides a tremendous atmosphere for college football. It's one of my favorites. Iowa also had a bad, boring football team in 2012 and might be similar on the field this season. TV certainly wants fans in the stands, but it also wants exciting football on the field. Northwestern has been a major hit with TV the last decade or so because of its dynamic offense and the number of crazy, back-and-forth games it plays. The other component here is the schedule itself. Like many, I thought the Northern Illinois-Iowa opener would be a good choice for a Big Ten Network prime-time game, but BTN went with Wyoming-Nebraska instead.

Iowa's Big Ten home schedule isn't bad, but BTN seemed to want to front-load its prime-time schedule this year, so games like Northwestern-Iowa and Wisconsin-Iowa didn't make the cut. How willing was Iowa to schedule a home night game? How much did Barta fight for one? I hope to find out next week. I know athletic directors like Northwestern's Jim Phillips and Indiana's Fred Glass make no secret about their desire to schedule night games. Purdue only got a night game because of its opponent (Notre Dame), and one of Illinois' night games is a neutral-site affair against a good Pac-12 team (Washington). Bottom line: there are a lot of factors involved in the prime-time decisions, and it didn't work out this year for Iowa.



Tim from Rochester, Mich., writes: Adam,From this "Spartan-for-life" perspective on the division alignment, or maybe what college football has become today -- it's not the competition in the East that concerns me -- I agree with Hollis and Dantonio -- bring it on. What bothers me is all the emphasis on TV revenue and selling the BRAND the one item that gets lost is what happens on the field. The blunt reality is that unless my Spartans win every game for multiple seasons they will NEVER get the consideration in the media (sorry Adam -- but from you guys too) and the Big Ten office as a mediocre to good Michigan or Ohio State will -- simply because the Big Ten can sell those brands. How may times have we beat the school from Ann Arbor, yet were left out of major bowls? Performing on the field doesn't match the power of the brand -- it's the lack of consideration of the on-fleld performance that bothers me -- not the competition itself.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, some excellent thoughts here on branding, a subject that not enough college football fans value as much as they should. Michigan will continue to get attention because of its historic success, its massive stadium, its national appeal, its recruiting efforts, etc. Michigan State will keep facing an uphill climb there. But I still think you're underselling the value of top performances on the field. Sure, MSU has some recent wins against Michigan, but how many of those led to Big Ten championships? I'm not discrediting what Michigan State did, but beating Michigan (including some average to bad Wolverines squads) doesn't get you regional or national attention unless you win the conference title, which Michigan State hasn't claimed outright since 1987. Look at Wisconsin's brand. Sure, the Badgers don't get as much attention as Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, but they get a good amount, and anyone who truly pays attention to college football respects the program. Why is that? Six Big Ten titles (won or shared) since 1993. The way Michigan State doesn't get "left out" of major bowls is by winning the Big Ten championship, and the opportunity is there in the East division. In fact, MSU will have more branding opportunities in the East because it will play the Big Three every year. I hear your frustration here about the lack of respect for what Michigan State has done on the field. My point is that Michigan State still hasn't done enough.



BiLiever from East Division writes: Yesterday there was a mailbag question talking about the loss of the "collegiate" feel of these neutral games, that feel that makes college football great. The obvious (and 100% correct) answer to this is revenue revenue revenue. My proposition is to forgo the neutral-site 50-50 split in favor of a home-and-home 60-40 split with home team getting 60%. This removes the significant financial hit for the away team, but keeps the game collegiate and averages 50-50 over the two year contract. It also keeps the local economies of the schools in mind; schools and towns lose all the local food sales, hotel revenues, and school bookstores sales when the games are played off-campus. If its really all about the revenue, can the ADs make the numbers work and keep these marquee games on campus?

Adam Rittenberg: That's an interesting proposal, BiLiever, but ADs would have to be completely on board with a plan that gives some of their home revenue to the opponent. How would it work with different stadium sizes? Different ticket prices? The other thing ADs like about the neutral-site games is that they typically are just one-offs rather than home-and-homes. By playing just once, Big Ten ADs have more flexibility with their schedules and can still satisfy budgets in years where they have more conference road games. Teams also can play more teams over a shorter span. I agree, you definitely lose something with these games being moved off campus, but the players love playing on NFL stages, and recruits love them, too. You're going to see more and more in the coming seasons.



TraschMan from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam: I hear a lot of people harping on how weak Ohio State's upcoming schedule is for 2013 but have you taken a look at Alabama's? It is just as bad, if not worse, than OSU's. I understand the SEC gets along a lot on reputation and deservedly so but Bama gets a bye week before their two toughest games and they play one FCS school and one that is brand new to the FBS. They miss out on the 3 best teams in the East and their toughest non conference game is, once again, at a neutral field. Why haven't I heard anyone talking about this schedule when they're bashing Ohio State's?

Adam Rittenberg: Great points, TraschMan, and my only answer is the SEC factor. SEC teams can schedule cream puffs, FCS teams, horrible FBS squads and the like and avoid heavy criticism. Big Ten teams can't. Alabama still has to play LSU and Texas A&M in the division, and maybe that's all that matters. Who will Ohio State play in the Big Ten that measures up to LSU/A&M? Maybe Michigan? Probably no one. My hope is the College Football Playoff selection committee won't give 1-loss SEC teams that play no one out of conference the benefit of the doubt. You should challenge yourself, and, to be fair, Alabama has been much more aggressive than most SEC teams with its non-league schedule in recent years. Alabama has been much more willing to play Big Ten teams -- Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State (future), Wisconsin (future) -- than most of its SEC brethren.



Booker D. from Columbia, Md., writes: What can you tell the Big Ten fans about Maryland this upcoming season? How are they expected to do in their last year in the ACC? Should the Big Ten expect a Maryland team on the decline or one on the rebound from a rough 2012 season?

Adam Rittenberg: Booker, I reached out to colleague Andrea Adelson from the ACC blog to get you a more informed answer. Although we'll be watching Maryland throughout the season and posting weekly updates on the Terps and Rutgers, Andrea is the expert.

Here's what she wrote:
There certainly is reason for optimism on offense, where Stefon Diggs returns after a terrific freshman season. Diggs, one of the top all-purpose players in the country, is already receiving some early preseason buzz. He won't be alone in the receiving group this year, either, as transfer Deon Long joins the group and is poised to make an immediate impact. Coach Randy Edsall expects his offensive line and running game to be better. And the Terps expect no such quarterback drama this season, with C.J. Brown ready to return to the starting lineup after his knee injury. He remains a question. But an even bigger question is on defense, where this team has to replace its most high-profile and high-productive players. There are questions on every level of the defense, which held its own in the first half of last season before the nightmare situation at quarterback torpedoed the whole team. Still, we believe this is Maryland's best shot under Edsall to make it back to a bowl game. Diggs is undoubtedly going to be a player to watch this year and then in Year 1 in the Big Ten.

Great stuff from AA. Hope that helps.



Gabe from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Can Shane Morris and Derrick Green become the Henne/Hart combo and be 4-year starter and studs and bring Michigan to greatness this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Nothing against Morris, but if he's playing instead of Devin Gardner, Michigan probably won't be close to greatness this season. The plan is for Gardner to start this season and next (if he doesn't enter the NFL draft) before turning to Morris or another quarterback for 2015. Derrick Green, meanwhile, could be Michigan's starting running back this season. He'll compete with Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is coming off of a serious leg injury, and others in preseason camp, but he has an excellent chance to play as a freshman. Remember, it's a lot easier for true freshman running backs to succeed than true freshman quarterbacks.



Larry from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I read blogs until something tells me to stop. I didn't make it through your first sentence when you wrote "If you're not following Bennett and I..." (Sic)I should be "If you're not following Bennett and me..." Clean up your act, please.

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Big Ten fans, God love 'em. I'm sure our friends from the SEC blog get emails like this. But yes, Larry, you are correct. That's a bad grammatical error, and it's been fixed. We produce a ton of content every day and mistakes slip through, but we'll try to do better.
The Big Ten made news a little more than a week ago by announcing its new division alignment for the 2014 season, as well as a move to nine conference games beginning in 2016. We covered all the news here and here and here, but several components of the moves merit further analysis.

We're breaking down the divisions and the new conference schedule model, their impact now and in the future, as the College Football Playoff is just a year away. These aren't exactly Take Twos, but they're similar, as we'll both be sharing our thoughts on these big-ticket items.

Today's topic is: How likely are these divisions to stand the test of time?

Brian Bennett

The Big Ten sometimes gets criticized for being too stodgy and stubborn, but the fact is the league is undergoing a serious football makeover for the second time since 2010. Yes, expansion played a major role in Legends and Leaders getting (thankfully) cast overboard, but the league didn't have to remake the divisions so drastically just to add Maryland and Rutgers. So no one ought to think that the new East and West formats will last forever, or even a mighty long time.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsIf Bill O'Brien's Penn State teams can recover from sanctions the Big Ten may need to re-examine its top-loaded East Division.
Yet the conference isn't going to make any quick knee-jerk reactions here, either. You can't properly judge competitive balance on just a few seasons, so I have little doubt that the Big Ten aims to let this play out over a number of years to see how it's working. If you're like me and you think the East has too much power, well, you'll have to wait and find out if that's actually true. A big key to all of this, I believe, is Penn State. As long as the Nittany Lions are on probation and dealing with sanctions, they are somewhat sidelined in the whole balance-of-power argument, even though they are eligible to win a division title. The scholarship reductions could have a major impact on the program beyond 2017. But if Penn State can regain its headliner status quickly, then the Big Ten may well have to re-examine whether it's right to have Michigan, Ohio State and the Nittany Lions all duking it out in the same division.

Of course, whether Michigan State can remain strong is also an issue, as is whether other West teams can consistently challenge Nebraska and Wisconsin for superiority. Again, this is something we're only going to learn over a long period of time, probably a decade or more.

But as we've seen, things can change rapidly. Who's to say there won't be further expansion that causes another reshuffling? Perhaps Michigan or Ohio State will get tired of finishing in the Top 10 nationally but only No. 2 in its own division. Maybe teams in the West will demand more exposure and recruiting opportunities in the East. The future, to quote Don Draper, is something you haven't even thought of yet. At least we know the Big Ten is adaptable.

"We're not foolish enough to think what we did today is what the Big Ten will look like for the next 100 years," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said the day of the division announcement. "We've had a lot of change in the last 24 months. We've proven under commissioner Jim Delany's leadership that we'll adjust and make changes."

In other words, if you don't like the current alignment, just stick around a while.

Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten can't be shuffling the divisions every 2-3 years, unless there's more expansion. But the league also can't bury its head in the sand and let a Big 12 North/South situation take place. The potential for that to happen exists with so much firepower in the East, but I also think the league will let things play out for a while before entertaining serious talk of another shuffle. Keep in mind that the Big Ten's recent expansion and, to a certain extent, its division realignment is about building the brand in a new region. So if there's more attention on the East than the West, at least initially, the league office can live with that.

You bring up some great points about Penn State, and it will be important for Bill O'Brien's team to prevent Ohio State and Michigan from separating themselves in the East (and in the entire league). But I think the key to staying power isn't necessarily the "No. 1 seeds," as league commissioner Jim Delany calls Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State. And while Wisconsin can't match those four programs for historic excellence, the Badgers have been just as good or a little bit better than Penn State since the Lions joined the Big Ten. They've also been a better program than Nebraska in recent seasons. Wisconsin will boost the West division.

The teams to watch here are Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. The West might not match the East in terms of strength at the very top, but it can match up with overall depth if Northwestern continues on its upward trajectory and Iowa gets back to the success it had in 2009. Northwestern has tremendous momentum right now with improved recruiting and a new facility coming soon. Iowa has shown the ability to rise up repeatedly under Kirk Ferentz. If both of those programs are winning eight, nine or 10 games in many seasons, the West should be fine even if Ohio State and Michigan create a bit of separation. Michigan State's role is to challenge the three traditional powers in the East and create at least some parity in the division. As I wrote last week, Michigan State has a great opportunity in the East division and shouldn't shy away from it. We're going to learn exactly who these Spartans are in the coming seasons.

As you mention, BB, there are a lot of unknowns out there. Ohio State and Michigan appear poised to separate themselves because of their recruiting efforts. But that might not be the case. Ultimately, it's up to teams like Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State -- as well as Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland -- to create enough depth/parity in both divisions. Otherwise, we'll eventually see another change.

More B1G Debate
And now even more reaction on the Big Ten's decision to go to nine conference games and align in East/West divisions. Here's what Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com this evening:

On the Wildcats being in the West: "First and foremost, we have great rivalries that are going to be played on a yearly basis, whether that's Iowa or Wisconsin or Illinois. We also started a really nice rivalry with Nebraska. I know it's only been two years, but certainly the first two games been terrific. And the schedule now allows us to play three additional openers on the other side of the conference. So it's really, to, me the best of both worlds. We're able to maintain rivalries and feel like we're a Midwestern school. That, along with the opportunity to cross over and play schools from other divisions, makes a lot of sense."

On Eastern exposure: "We have a huge alumni base in the New York/Washington D.C. corridor. We have a lot of alums and students out there, so we're going to be able to get out there and maintain some of that. And though, yes, we're not going to go out there every year, we're also going to benefit by being in the Midwest, which is where our base for recruiting is. Everybody is going to benefit from how this is structured. It just depends what lens you're looking at it through."

On whether the West is weaker: "I would say to you, everybody's goal in the Big Ten is to play in Pasadena on Jan. 1, and the last three [Rose Bowl representatives] are from the West. I think that it's cyclical relative to division. If you look at it over the course of college football, then sure, you have some programs that have been stronger on the other side.

"But depending on what metrics you used, whether that's getting to the Rose Bowl and where you are in your respective divisions, you could come up with a number of different answers. I think both are going to be tough, and both are going to be respectable divisions and be a lot of fun as we go forward.

"Still, we're not foolish enough to think what we did today is what the Big Ten will look like for the next 100 years. We've had a lot of change in the last 24 months. We've proven under commissioner Jim Delany's leadership that we'll adjust and make changes. And if it's divisions, we'll look at that. We've changed names. We're not tone deaf to what people have said. But we don't have any data right now on where the divisions are and who's strong and who's not. We need to give it a little bit of time and let Maryland and Rutgers get in there before we make some judgments that one division's stronger than the other."

On future scheduling: "We want to continue to be aggressive. I love playing a ninth game. We aren't just a regional conference anymore, so why wouldn't we want to play each other more? We have to get used to nine games and see how all that goes. But we want to play similar institutions and BCS opponents like Notre Dame and Stanford. It's premature to say exactly what everybody is going to do, because we need to feel through some things.

"This is all driven by a variety of factors, but I can assure you that one of the leading factors is what the fans are saying. We're very attuned to what the public has indicated, and they want us all to strengthen our schedules. Well, we just did by going to nine games."
One current and one future Big Ten athletic director are among the nominees for the athletic diretor of the year award presented by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.

Northwestern AD Jim Phillips and Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti are among the five nominees for athletic director of the year. The others are Louisville's Tom Jurich, Alabama's Mal Moore and Oklahoma State's Mike Holder. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis was last year's recipient.

The Sports Business Awards take place May 22 in New York, and recognize achievements in sports business from March 1, 2012-Feb. 28, 2013.

Phillips came to Northwestern from Northern Illinois in April 2008. He spearheaded the school's first wide-ranging marketing campaign -- complete with the "Chicago's Big Ten team" slogan -- in June 2010, and last fall announced a plan to build a $220 million state-of-the-art on-campus facility that will house the football program. Phillips worked out a 10-year contract for football coach Pat Fitzgerald in 2011 and announced a partnership with the Chicago Cubs that will bring several future football games to Wrigley Field, where Northwestern hosted Illinois in 2010.

Pernetti, a former Rutgers tight end, became the school's AD in February 2009 after working for CBS Sports Network. He has secured the first two naming rights partnerships in Rutgers history and landed a $5.2 million shoe and apparel deal for all 24 varsity sports with Nike. Pernetti's longtime friendship with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany played a role in Rutgers' move to the Big Ten. Arguably no school will take a bigger step up in league realignment than Rutgers, which moves from an extremely shaky Big East to the nation's richest conference.

It's no surprise to see both Phillips and Pernetti on this list. Both have improved their respective programs in recent years, both embrace marketing/branding and both have been very visible. They have some tough competition, though, particularly in Louisville's Jurich.

Poll: Who should move West?

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
1:30
PM ET
Big Ten athletic directors are still discussing how to realign the conference divisions, but one popular idea emerged out of last month's first set of meetings: restructuring the lineup based on time zones.

SportsNation

Which of these Big Ten teams should move to a western division?

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    16%
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    52%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,962)

Such a plan would mean moving one of the eight teams in the Eastern Time Zone (Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue) over to the division featuring the six teams in the Central Time Zone (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois).

"It just makes logical sense to everybody," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com last month. "Let's try to make sure whoever we move over is the right institution, and it's good for them and good for their school, but it's hard to argue against that."

The four most likely schools to move are those that sit closest to the time-zone border: Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan. League officials, however, have given every indication so far that they intend to keep Michigan in the east with Ohio State. That leaves the other three schools as the top candidates.

We've been hearing that Michigan State might also go into the eastern division, with Indiana a strong candidate to flip. But we'd like your take. Which of these three schools should go into the eastern division of the new Big Ten in 2014?

Indiana: Bloomington is pretty centrally located, and it's not like Indiana has had so much Big Ten success that a move west would cause an outrage. The league would have to come up with a protected crossover for the Indiana-Purdue game. We'd probably say goodbye to the Old Brass Spittoon as an annual event.

Michigan State: Putting Michigan State out west would mean the Spartans aren't in the same division as Michigan, and they would want a protected crossover to preserve that rivalry. But Michigan State is already grouped with several of the western teams in the Legends Division. Keeping the Spartans west would make the growing rivalry Wisconsin an annual series and potentially give more balance to both divisions.

Purdue: Moving Purdue brings up the same issue as an Indiana switch: preserving the Old Oaken Bucket game with a crossover. The Boilers are very close to the Central Time Zone and not far from Chicago, so they shouldn't feel out of place with such a move. They'd also be able to continue the Cannon game with Illinois every year.

Which of these three teams are best suited to play in a western division of the Big Ten? Vote now in our poll.

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