Big Ten: Steve Alford

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

While watching Ohio State and Northwestern combine to score a whopping 40 points in the first half of Sunday's basketball game, one of my friends gave me the idea to do a blog post examining the relationship between each Big Ten member's football team and men's basketball team.

It's an interesting topic, especially since the leaguewide football and basketball identities seem to be growing closer.

For starters, both sports are constantly fighting for national respect. Even the Big Ten's mini renaissance in hoops this season hasn't increased the league's profile as much as it could have.

Both sports generally play styles that aren't sexy and seem dull at times, but defense and discipline are emphasized. Most casual college football fans would rather watch a Big 12 game than a Big Ten battle. The same can be said for college hoops aficionados who prefer the ACC and the Big East to the Big Ten. But many die-hard Big Ten fans don't mind 17-14 football scores or even 17-14 halftime hoops scores (or 38-33 finals, ugh).

How does each school compare on the gridiron and the hardwood? Here's a closer look.  

ILLINOIS

Current flagship program: Basketball

Both programs have tasted success, but only basketball has been able to sustain it over time. Football seems to be the flashier program right now, largely because of Ron Zook's and Mike Locksley's recruiting efforts, but basketball has produced more than its share of superstars, most recently guards Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head in 2004-05. Both coaches (Zook and Bruce Weber) have backgrounds in defense, but the Illini hoops squad seems to reflect it more often, while the gridders can light up a scoreboard behind quarterback Juice Williams.

INDIANA

Current flagship program: Basketball

The Hoosiers probably have the league's largest gap between football and men's basketball. One program has been largely considered an afterthought, while the other retains the mystique of a national powerhouse despite some hard times in recent years. Bob Knight coached Indiana basketball from 1971-2000. In that same span, the football team had five head coaches (football has had four coaches since 2001). Defense was a hallmark of Knight's teams, but it has been a bugaboo on the gridiron, particularly during this decade.

IOWA

Current flagship program: Football

Coaching continuity has been a theme for both programs, as men like Hayden Fry (football), Tom Davis (basketball) and Kirk Ferentz (football) have held their posts for more than a decade. Football has been the better and more likable program during the 2000s, reaching four New Year's Day bowls. Despite those incessant NFL rumors and a recent string of player transgressions, Ferentz remains popular among Hawkeyes fans, most of whom couldn't wait to see hoops coach Steve Alford leave town after several troublesome seasons. Though the basketball team hasn't broken through yet under Todd Lickliter, its style of play -- defense-oriented, focused on fundamentals -- falls in line with that of the football team.

MICHIGAN

Current flagship program: Football

It takes more than one lousy season to take football off the marquee at Michigan, but the basketball team seems to be gaining ground behind head coach John Beilein. Both programs have recruited extremely well and won national championships, but basketball has been a major underachiever this decade. Both Beilein and football coach Rich Rodriguez brought in proven systems from West Virginia, and Beilein's has caught on in Year 2. Who knows, maybe the same will hold true for Rodriguez. Football employed a more conservative style under Lloyd Carr and will appear more chic if Rodriguez's dynamic spread system clicks. Basketball seems a bit more blue collar behind Beilein.

MICHIGAN STATE

Current flagship program: Basketball

The identities of these two programs seemed miles apart years ago, but Mark Dantonio is gradually restoring respectability to the football team. Tom Izzo's hoops squad has been a consistent winner with cream-of-the-crop recruits, while football was known as a perennial underachiever, prone to midseason collapses and off-field problems, until Dantonio arrived. Both coaches stress defense and physical play, and Dantonio has upgraded recruiting for football, though it's not quite to Izzo's level in hoops.

MINNESOTA

Current flagship program: Push

Minnesota is one of few Big Ten schools without a clear flagship program, as both football and basketball have fluctuated in recent years. Formerly a football powerhouse, Minnesota hasn't won a Big Ten title since 1967. The hoops squad reached the Final Four in 1997 but then endured a crippling academic fraud scandal. Basketball got a major boost by hiring coach Tubby Smith and hopes to reach the NCAA tournament on Sunday. Football rebounded from a 1-11 season in 2007 to win seven games last fall behind energetic coach Tim Brewster. Both progams have upgraded their in-state recruiting, which should signal better days ahead.

NORTHWESTERN

Current flagship program: Football

For decades, no Big Ten program had more parallels in football and basketball than Northwestern, which wasn't a good thing. The Wildcats took losing to new lows, dropping 34 consecutive games in football and continuing to carry the label as the only major-conference team never to reach the NCAA tournament. But football broke through in 1995 and has been competitive ever since, and basketball could be getting there as well this season. Recruiting is a challenge for both programs, and Northwestern has used innovative schemes (the spread offense in football, the Princeton offense in basketball) to combat the gaps in talent. Resiliency has been a hallmark for Northwestern in football and, this season, basketball, but the oft-overlooked Wildcats generally struggle when the national spotlight is on them.    

OHIO STATE

Current flagship program: Football

Football will always drive the bus in C-Bus, though the basketball team has raised its profile significantly under Thad Matta after violations by the previous coaching staff. The Buckeyes have been the dominant football team in the Big Ten this decade, much like Michigan State in hoops, and employ a style rooted in defense, special teams, rushing the ball and limiting turnovers. Matta's teams
seem a little more dynamic on offense while placing a premium on defense as well. The biggest similarity in recent years has been the ability to land top-level recruits, whether it's Terrelle Pryor in football or Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. in basketball.

PENN STATE

Current flagship program: Football

Here's all you need to know: Penn State's hoops team has reached three NCAA tournaments since 1965, the year before Joe Paterno took over as head football coach. Paterno is the face of not only the athletic department, but the university, and his football teams have overshadowed their mates on the hardcourt. While Paterno is an icon, most casual hoops fans couldn't point Lions coach Ed DeChellis out of a lineup. But DeChellis has his best team this year, and perhaps Penn State can turn the corner in basketball (a reasonable expectation). Paterno has won 23 bowl games and two national titles and coached Penn State to five undefeated seasons, so hoops has a lot of catching up to do.

PURDUE

Current flagship program: Basketball

Football and basketball have traded off top billing at Purdue, as Gene Keady's hoops teams held the distinction before Joe Tiller got things rolling with basketball on grass. Matt Painter has Boilers hoops back among the Big Ten elite, and his coaching and recruiting ability signals good things ahead. Purdue sells itself as a blue-collar, unflashy program in both football and basketball, which made Tiller's high-powered spread offense all the more eye-catching. New football coach Danny Hope wants to keep a similar offensive system in place, so it's hard to say whether football will move closer to basketball or further away.

WISCONSIN

Current flagship program: Push

It's a close call between Badgers football and basketball, as football dominated the 1990s and part of this decade, while basketball made the Final Four in 2000 and has surged behind coach Bo Ryan. Arguably no Big Ten school has more similarities between its two programs than Wisconsin, which overcomes a smallish recruiting pool to produce competitive teams that emphasize defense, fundamentals and physical play. Few basketball coaches consistently get as much out of their talent as Ryan does every year, and Alvarez built Wisconsin from a loser into a powerhouse.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

From reading the coverage of Iowa's possible missteps in its handling of the sexual assault case involving two former football players, one name keeps coming up. It's a name Iowa fans don't want to hear again: Pierre Pierce.

If you don't remember Pierce, here's a refresher. The former Hawkeyes basketball player was charged with sexual assault in 2002, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and returned to the team after sitting out the season. Three years later, Pierce was involved in an incident with a former girlfriend, whom police said he threatened with a knife.

Initially charged with felony first-degree burglary and several other counts, including intent to commit sexual abuse, Pierce reached a plea agreement and served almost a year in jail. Iowa and basketball coach Steve Alford were blasted for their handling of the Pierce situation, a PR nightmare that wouldn't go away.

That brings us to the current situation involving the University, Athletic Director Gary Barta, the athletic department, the football program, head coach Kirk Ferentz, former players Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield and the alleged victim, a female student-athlete. As Mike Hlas writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette:

"It may be completely unfair to say "cover-up" until we've heard both sides of the story, whenever that may be. University people are at the disadvantage of being unable to speak on the matter for legal reasons. The "best-case" scenario may be that decent people in the athletic department have shown poor-to-rotten judgment in how they handled this matter. Who knows, maybe they didn't want to force the woman into making a decision she didn't want to make at the time.

But after all the arrests of Iowa football players over the last two years, can outsiders be faulted for wondering if the insiders may have felt rape charges against two Hawkeyes were something to be diverted if possible? Can outsiders be faulted for thinking football is the engine that drives an entire athletic department, and the department would have deeply wanted to avoid this kind of hit?

Maybe that's grossly unfair to suggest. But given the off-field record of Hawkeye footballers in that time period, how can you not expect a certain percentage of the public to consider it a serious possibility?

But perhaps the most pressing question for now is how in the world, after the university royally bungled its handling of the Pierre Pierce sexual assault case in 2002, could it have handled this situation so awkwardly, to put it kindly. Who designed a policy that would have an "informal" option and allow athletic department people to steer matters? Is that even a real policy? It seems bizarre."

Alford never really took the fall for the Pierce situation, choosing to leave Iowa for New Mexico in March 2007. But if the allegations from the alleged victim's mother prove true in this case, heads likely will roll. Iowa fans want to win just as much as anyone else, but they care about the character of those running the teams and the athletic department. It's the reason Dr. Tom Davis remains a beloved figure in Iowa City, and why Alford's approval rating sunk. Ferentz is well liked, but the recent string of off-field transgressions and the spotlight on this case can't be helping his cause.

As Hlas writes: "This isn't just Pierre Pierce all over again. It may be much worse."

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