NCF Nation: Gary Barta



ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Big Ten spring administrators' meetings wrapped up Wednesday with more discussion about the proposed NCAA governance changes, nonconference scheduling, athlete welfare and other topics.

Here are some notes from Day 2:

COST OF ATTENDANCE

Big Ten schools are in agreement that increasing the value of athletic scholarships to federal cost-of-attendance figures needs to happen. They've felt this way for years.

But the increase means different things for different institutions and different leagues, as some, like the Big Ten, sponsor more sports than others. The Big Ten ADs spent much of their meetings discussing the details.

"It varies from $1,200-$4,900 [per scholarship] just in our league," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "I think ours is in the $3,000-$4,000 range, so we're probably talking about another $1 million to $1.5 million just on cost of attendance. I'm very supportive of that. I've always been supportive of whatever we can do for the student-athletes."

Such a large gap, however, could allow some programs to use their more valuable scholarships as advantages in recruiting. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis, who said the cost-of-attendance plan would be about $1 million for the school, thinks there needs to be a "firewall" between athletic departments and financial aid offices in how numbers are calculated.

"Every school tends to take whatever information they have available and try to make it to their advantage," Hollis said. "It'd be a bad situation to use cost-of-attendance as a recruiting advantage, but the likelihood is that will come into play."

FUTURE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SITES

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJim Delany expects the Big Ten football title game to remain in the Midwest.
The Big Ten expects to finalize future sites for football championship games and basketball tournaments after the league's presidents and chancellors meet in early June. Indianapolis has hosted the first three football title games and is contracted to host the 2014 and 2015 games.

Although the men's basketball tournament heads to Washington, D.C., in 2017 and likely will make other future appearances on the East Coast, the football championship isn't expected to leave the Midwest.

"A central location would be the presumption," commissioner Jim Delany said of future sites.

DEFENDING THE COLLEGIATE MODEL

Delany said the Big Ten would "aggressively" defend itself against several antitrust lawsuits challenging the collegiate model, even if the cases go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said polls show most people don't want unions with college sports, pay-for-play systems or some type of minor-league system.

"There's a tremendous public interest in what we do," Delany said, "and some of what we do could be improved upon. I think people are just saying to us, 'Get it right, get it balanced.'"

Delany sees that as a three-step process: restructure and reform; defend themselves against litigation and advocate for all college athletes. How they address cost-of-attendance, athlete time demands, health coverage and other topics will be under the microscope.

The commissioner reiterated the need to set up a voting model to push through change.

"We're going to have a scorecard," Delany said, "and the question is going to be, what did you accomplish?"

TIME SPENT ON SPORTS

Athlete welfare was a big topic here this week, including increased amount of time they devote to their sports. Delany, who brought up the issue last summer, wants to consult athletes and coaches about how to strike a better balance with time.

The major conferences could implement "dead periods" after seasons or in the summer. Delany mentioned study abroad programs and internships, two opportunities many students enjoy but most athletes cannot, as areas that should be explored.

"We need to really inspect the experience," Delany said, "talk to the athlete, talk to the coach, and come up with a template is that is more flexible and more balanced."

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Iowa was not offered a night game this season and will not appear in prime time for the second straight year, but athletic director Gary Barta doesn't think it suggests the school has second-class status in the league. "At the end of the day, we'd love to have one or two night games a year," Barta said. "We don't have one this year. That's not going to affect the way we go into the season. We're going to be excited and play the games."
  • Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke reiterated that athletes need more power in shaping the decisions that affect their experiences. He also thinks recently graduated athletes could be involved in the discussion because they can devote more time. "You want to make sure the voice is not a token thing," Burke said. "I've found that if you engage people at the earliest possible time on all the facts you have, the chances of having wide disagreements dissipates. You drive yourself closer together."
  • Alvarez, a member of the playoff selection committee, is concerned about the rising cost of travel with an expanded football postseason. He saw it firsthand this spring as Wisconsin's men's basketball team made the Final Four. "We have to be sensitive about [ticket] pricing," Alvarez said. "It's been brought up."
  • It wouldn't be a Big Ten meeting if the expansion question didn't come up. But Hollis doesn't think the league is looking to increase beyond 14 members. "We're going to 22," he joked. "We're settled at the number that we have. Expansion is always done for strategic reasons. Sometimes it's reactionary to what's being done on the national landscape, but it was extremely important to the Big Ten to ensure that Eastern corridor was protected as other conferences had rubbed into some of our traditional markets. The new Big Ten logo is not a B-1-6. It's actually a B-one-G.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After several years of transition, the Big Ten hopes it has the right men at the top -- and the ability to keep them there.
When the Big Ten in February decided to gradually eliminate all FCS games from future schedules, I labeled it a victory for the league's fans.

Fans get only 6-8 chances per season to see their team play at home, and it's unfortunate when one of those games comes against a vastly overmatched foe from a lower division with fewer scholarship players. The elimination of FCS teams, part of a larger Big Ten initiative to beef up non-league schedules, benefits players, fans, television partners and the league's national perception.

But not everyone is thrilled about the Big Ten's FCS ban. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and Minnesota AD Norwood Teague are somewhat reluctant about the league's new policy. And they have understandable reasons to be a bit resistant. They're called Northern Iowa and North Dakota State.

[+] EnlargeNorwood Teague
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMinnesota AD Norwood Teague attributed the ban on playing FCS teams to having to appease the Big Ten's TV partners.
One problem with league-wide scheduling policies is that they can be countered with specific examples. Most FCS teams can't compete with Big Ten opponents, and the recent results back this up. But a handful of FCS teams, many located in or near the Big Ten's footprint, can hold their own. They provide early season challenges equal to or better than those from lower-level FBS opponents.

North Dakota State certainly qualifies. The Bison have won the past two FCS national championships. They have beaten an FBS team in each of the past three seasons, including Minnesota in 2011. They're 6-3 against the FBS since 2006.

Northern Iowa hasn't had as much FBS success -- just one win since 2001 -- but the Panthers gave Wisconsin all it could handle in the 2012 opener and nearly knocked off Iowa, the eventual Orange Bowl champion, in the 2009 opener. UNI has won 10 or more games in seven of the past eight seasons.

There are other examples like North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, including many in the Midwest. North Dakota State is No. 1 in Lindy's magazine's preseason FCS poll, while South Dakota State (No. 4), Northern Iowa (No. 13), Eastern Illinois (No. 18), Youngstown State (No. 19) and Illinois State (No. 22) also made the Top 25. These are good teams despite their FCS designation. Michigan fans still shudder when FCS Appalachian State is mentioned, but the Appy State team that upset Michigan in 2007 was much, much better than the FBS Toledo squad Michigan inexplicably lost to in 2008.

Minnesota's Teague recently told Chris Murphy of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that he would like to keep playing North Dakota State, but he has to be a good Big Ten soldier.
"It is primarily television pressuring and wanting the Big Ten to provide games that are [Football Bowl Subdivision] versus FBS teams," Teague said earlier this week in Moorhead, Minn. "That’s understandable. They pay us a lot of money, and it’s just the desire of television that they want us to do that. That was their message to the Big Ten."

He continues.
"We operate in a world now in college athletics where we have to balance a budget. [Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany] needs to go out and redo our television contracts with ABC, ESPN, Big Ten Network, and we've got to be a very good partner with them or we aren't going to get the revenue we need to compete."

And here's more.
"I know it sounds money-oriented, but it is what it is," Teague said. "Balancing our budget is tough. We generate 95 percent of what we balance. We get very little from the university. We have to really fight and claw to do that. We are competing in a league that is very tough with competitors that are way ahead of us with facilities and things like that."

Yes, it's all about the money, and Teague's candor here is refreshing. I understand the FCS-TV argument from a macro level: more attractive matchups get better ratings, and most Big Ten-FCS matchups aren't very attractive. But when you look at specifics, is Minnesota-North Dakota State less appealing to TV than Minnesota-New Mexico State, an FBS vs. FBS game that takes place Sept. 7 at TCF Bank Stadium? Is Iowa-Northern Iowa less appealing to TV than Iowa-North Texas, a game scheduled to take place in 2015 at Kinnick Stadium? That's a hard argument to make.

I'd rather see a fun regional matchup, even if it's against an FCS team, than a snoozer like Minnesota-New Mexico State or Iowa-North Texas. And while Big Ten teams are adding more major-conference foes to their future schedules, which is great to see and long overdue, the guarantee games against lower-level FBS teams aren't going away. Couldn't a good FCS team be substituted for a really bad FBS one?

If there was a way to ensure Big Ten teams would only schedule top-level FCS opponents, I'd be in favor of lifting the ban. But there's no way to effectively regulate it, and as we know with future scheduling, seemingly good matchups can turn lousy by the time they actually take place. Big Ten teams would still find tomato cans, and we'd still see too many blowouts that don't benefit anyone.

It's unfortunate for the good FCS programs, especially from a financial standpoint, as they make great coin for visiting Big Ten stadiums. But if the FCS ban is necessary for the Big Ten's larger push to beef up scheduling, I'm for it.
Shawn Eichorst isn't the highest-profile athletic director in the Big Ten. While Nebraska fans are a pretty sharp bunch, I bet some would have a hard time picking out Eichorst in a crowd. The fact Eichorst succeeded Nebraska legend Tom Osborne as AD also makes him fly under the radar.

But there's little doubt Nebraska considers Eichorst a rising star in the AD ranks. Either that, or Eichorst is a brilliant contract negotiator. Perhaps it's both.

When USA Today came out with its new survey of athletic director salaries, which not surprisingly are on the rise nationally, Eichorst's compensation at Nebraska certainly stands out. His base salary of $973,000 ranks highest in the Big Ten, and his total compensation of $1,123,000 ranks second in the league behind only Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez ($1,230,000). Eichorst served as Alvarez's deputy AD from 2009-11 before taking the top job at Miami.

Here are 11 of the 12 Big Ten athletic director salaries (as a private school, Northwestern doesn't disclose AD Jim Phillips' salary), sorted from highest to lowest:
  • Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: $1,230,000 ($1,143,500 from university, $86,500 in outside pay)
  • Shawn Eichorst, Nebraska: $1,123,000
  • Gene Smith, Ohio State: $1,099,030
  • Dave Brandon, Michigan:$900,000
  • Mark Hollis, Michigan State: $700,000
  • Mike Thomas, Illinois: $589,250
  • Norwood Teague, Minnesota: $500,000
  • Gary Barta, Iowa: $490,842 ($487,842 from university, $3,000 in outside pay)
  • Morgan Burke, Purdue:$464,437
  • Fred Glass, Indiana: $430,746
  • Dave Joyner, Penn State: $396,000

Eichorst received a one-time payment of $150,000 for moving expenses from Miami. Alvarez received a one-time payment of $118,500 for coaching the football team in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. He would have received a $50,000 bonus if Wisconsin had won the game.

Ohio State's Smith has the highest maximum bonus in the league ($250,000), followed by Michigan's Brandon and Illinois' Thomas, both at $200,000.

Alvarez and Eichorst rank fourth and fifth nationally, respectively, in total compensation. They trail Vanderbilt vice chancellor/general counsel David Williams (who oversees athletics and seemingly everything else at the school), Louisville AD Tom Jurich and Florida AD Jeremy Foley. Smith ranks seventh nationally, and Brandon is tied for 12th with Iowa State's Jamie Pollard.

Michigan State's Hollis, named 2012 athletic director of the year at the Sports Business Awards, last summer received a significant raise -- the highest bump among any incumbent AD from a public school since October 2011. Purdue's Burke is the Big Ten's longest-serving AD (started Jan. 1, 1993) but ranks near the bottom in salary. Joyner began his term as Penn State's acting AD in November 2011 after Tim Curley took leave. He had the tag removed in January and will remain in the role through the term of university president Rodney Erickson.

Looking ahead to the future Big Ten, Maryland AD Kevin Anderson earns $499,490 (max bonus of $50,000), while Rutgers' AD Tim Pernetti earns $410,000 (max bonus of $50,000).
As we've written for the past several days, Big Ten athletic directors have a whole host of decisions to make over the next few months, including how many league games they should play, how to align the divisions, the next bowl lineup and even what to call the divisions.

"We've got some heavy lifting to do here for the next few months," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said.

But what if all that huffing and puffing turns out to be a Sisyphean task? There's one thing that could send conference leaders scrambling back to the drawing board: more expansion.

The decisions the athletic directors will make for the 2014 season and beyond will be based on the new 14-team format with Maryland and Rutgers joining. Many people suspect the Big Ten is not done adding members and could soon grow to 16 or even to 20 members. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee recently informed us that conference expansion talks are "ongoing."

The athletic directors are well aware of the possibility that more teams could be coming at just about any time.

“Based on the last three years I’ve been in this business, you’d be crazy not to think about it," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "But it’s hard to model anything because you don’t know what to model. The minute you get yourself convinced that you’re going to go from 14 to 16, for all you know you’re going to 18, and a lot of people think the ultimate landing place is 20. Who knows?"

For now, all the decisions they make will be based on a 14-team model only.

"You make your decision based on today," Iowa's Gary Barta said. "And today, we have that many teams. We can’t worry about something that’s not established yet. I don’t know if and when there will be more teams. Right now, we’re going to make decisions based on the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, and we’re going to make them with the information we have, consistent with our principles."

"It’s hard to predict the future," added Northwestern's Jim Phillips. "No one would have predicted we’d be at this place we’re at right now. I don’t think you can get polarized by the what-ifs or the potential of what might be and lose sight of where you’re at."

The league's ADs will do their best to come up with the best framework for a 14-team league. If future expansion arrives in time for the 2014 season or shortly after it, at least the conference has gained lots of recent experience in how to deal with it.

"When you get into the discussion of things like 10 [conference games], you say, 'Wow, if we had a couple more teams, it would be easier,'" Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a natural. But it's not something that motivates you to say, 'We've got to position this in case we have another team, or two more teams.' We don't do that."

"What I've liked about our league is, when we added Nebraska, we felt like we needed to settle and watch the landscape. We thought the East Coast was important, and we got two good pickups relative to that principal. So I think we deal with what we have now, sit, monitor the landscape, and if something emerges down the road, we're positioned to be able to absorb."
In September 2010, the Big Ten spelled out clearly that geography wouldn't be the driving force behind its new divisions.

How do we know? Two words. L-E-G-E-N-D-S. L-E-A-D-E-R-S.

The controversial division names spawned in part from a desire not to make geography the chief factor in alignment. Otherwise, the Big Ten likely would have used simple directional names (East-West, North-South) or regional ones (Great Lakes-Great Plains). The league aligned its initial divisions based on competitive balance, with a nod to preserving traditional rivalries. Although the Big Ten said it also considered geography, the end result showed it didn't matter much.

As the league prepares to realign its divisions to accommodate new members Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, its power brokers seem much more comfortable saying the G-word.

"Maybe it was competitive balance last time," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips told ESPN.com. "Maybe geography wins the day this time. … It wasn't the most important [factor in 2010], but we should look at it this time because we are spread farther than we ever have been."

The Big Ten athletic directors will meet several times in the coming months to discuss division alignment and plan to make a recommendation to the league's presidents in early June. Several ADs interviewed by ESPN.com in recent weeks mentioned that geography likely will be a bigger factor in the upcoming alignment than the initial one. It's not a surprise, as geography was a much bigger factor in the most recent expansion than it was with the Nebraska addition in 2010.

When the Big Ten expanded with Maryland and Rutgers in November, commissioner Jim Delany talked about becoming a bi-regional conference -- rooted in the Midwest but also having a real presence on the East Coast. He described the move as an "Eastern initiative with a Penn State bridge." It would be a major surprise if Penn State doesn’t find itself in the same division with the two new members.

"Maryland and Rutgers are about three-and-a-half hours away [driving], and Ohio State is about five hours," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "That's a nice, comfortable distance for us, and we've got huge alumni markets in those areas. From those standpoints, it's a really good thing. … No matter how the conference is aligned, you've got to believe that there are some efficiencies in travel that are going to come out of it."

Michigan and Ohio State are going to play every year no matter how the divisions are aligned, and if there's any push to move The Game away from the final regular-season Saturday, "the meeting will keep going on and on and on," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said with a laugh. But there also seems to be momentum to put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, especially if there's a geographic split.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith favors being in the same division as Michigan, and Brandon has no objection.

"We will likely be a little bit more attentive to geographic alignment," Brandon said. "If Michigan and Ohio State being in the same division turns out to be what's in the best interest of the conference, that would be great. Obviously, it isn't the way it is now, and certainly that's worked. Certainly if we go to a geographic split situation and it's in the best interest of what we're trying to accomplish for Michigan and Ohio State to be in the same division, that would be just fine."

Despite being in opposite divisions, Michigan and Ohio State had their series preserved through a protected crossover. Other rivalries weren't so fortunate. Wisconsin and Iowa, for example, didn't play in 2011 or 2012.

Wisconsin was the most obvious example of the non-geographic focus of the initial alignment, as it moved away from longtime rivals Minnesota and Iowa into the Leaders Division.

"I do think we have a chance to have a little bit more of a geographic look to it, which I think is great," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. "It's great for fans, it's great for student-athletes, it considers travel, rivalries. With us, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, those just make great sense.

"It would be terrific if it works out, but we have to make sure we maintain and achieve competitiveness as well."

The ADs understand the need to maintain balance. As Purdue's Morgan Burke put it, “You don't want somebody to come through an 'easy' division."

But as many fans have pointed out, the Big Ten still could maintain competitive balance with a more geographic split. Ohio State and Michigan could form an Eastern bloc of sorts, but Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten titles, Nebraska played for one last year and other programs like Michigan State and Northwestern have emerged.

Can the Big Ten align based both on geography and balance?

"I believe we can," Brandon said. "And that will always be somewhat subjective because all you can look at is history, and how a program has performed in the previous 10 years isn't necessarily indicative of how it’s going to perform in the next 10. So there's some subjectivity to that, but the objective will be to create a circumstance where both divisions feel like they have equal opportunities to win and compete for the conference championship."
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Iowa has more troubles involving one of its running backs.

Freshman Barkley Hill, who suffered a torn ACL in preseason camp and missed the season, was arrested for operating while intoxicated Friday night in Blackhawk County, Iowa. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced Saturday that Hill will face a minimum one-game suspension and internal discipline.
"Obviously, I was extremely disappointed to learn about this," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a prepared statement. "Barkley will go through the UI Student Athlete Code of Conduct process, and will be subject to any other University and/or team rule sanctions as we gather additional information."

I could rehash all the issues Iowa has had at running back in recent years, but you've heard it all before. The bottom line is Iowa won't have Hill on the field when it opens the 2013 season.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Reporters and fans aren't the only ones who struggle to squeeze information out of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Ferentz's son, James, a senior center for the Hawkeyes, didn't fare much better this past winter.

When Iowa announced in early February that offensive line coach Reese Morgan would move to the defensive line, speculation immediately increased that Brian Ferentz, Kirk's oldest son and James' big brother, would return to his alma mater and coach the offensive front. James Ferentz heard the rumors, too. So he did some recon.

"I was trying to squeeze some information out of my mom, but she wasn't talking," James told ESPN.com. "Obviously, neither was my dad. He wasn't going to crack at all, so I knew my best chance was going to my mom. And when she wasn't talking, I knew I wasn't going to get any information."

[+] EnlargeJames Ferentz
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesJames Ferentz provides Iowa with stability at center, having started the past 26 games.
James didn't discuss the situation with Brian, not wanting to put his brother "in an awkward position." But when their mother, Mary, clammed up about the situation, James knew there was a decent chance his brother would be leaving his post with the New England Patriots to return to Iowa City.

James ended up getting the scoop, but only a day before Kirk informed the rest of the team.

"I was really excited to finally hear the news," James said. "It's going to be good for Iowa football and selfishly good for me."

It's not unusual to see FBS coaches having their sons on the roster. Ferentz has coached his two oldest sons and his youngest, Steven, might walk on at Iowa.

There are also examples of coaches hiring their sons as assistants, like Frank and Shane Beamer at Virginia Tech or Steve Spurrier Sr. and Steve Spurrier Jr. at South Carolina.

But for a head coach to have one son on staff and another on the roster -- and to have the older son directly coaching his younger brother -- is unique. Brian played guard and center for the Hawkeyes. Kirk coached Iowa's offensive line from 1981-89.

"It's been great on two fronts," Kirk Ferentz told ESPN.com. "On a personal level, it's been interesting and neat, not something I ever envisioned happening. So that worked out beautifully. But more importantly, he's doing a competent job, and that's what we brought him here for, to do a good job coaching the line.

"He's off to a great start."

Brian's hiring has been scrutinized because of his relationship to his boss. The University of Iowa has a policy against nepotism that states familial relationships should be avoided whenever possible during the hiring process. According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Iowa considered more than 100 candidates for two assistant positions before hiring Brian Ferentz and promoting LeVar Woods to linebackers coach.

From the AP report:
Athletic director Gary Barta has said it was his decision to hire Brian Ferentz, he will act as his supervisor and that Kirk Ferentz recused himself from the interview process. The claim was undercut earlier this month when Brian Ferentz said he had spoken about the job with his dad and took it because "you can't say no to your father."
The documents released Friday do not mention the relationship between Ferentz and his son, or any special steps taken during the hiring process. In fact, they show Kirk Ferentz was a member of the search committee for both positions along with other assistants and athletic department officials. A department spokesman had no immediate comment Friday, and university spokesman Tom Moore said the school had "followed its policies throughout this process."

Asked about the response, Kirk Ferentz said, "Not surprised, especially in Iowa, you kidding me? Anything that happens, you have to consider it to be news."

Ferentz noted how Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands hired his twin brother, Terry, as associate head coach.

"That was a pretty good thing for the wrestling program," he said. "I wouldn't have brought Brian back here if I didn't think it would be a good thing for our program. That was the first priority."

James hasn't struggled to view Brian as a coach, first and foremost. He has been impressed by Brian's knowledge and his ability to connect with each offensive lineman.

"I don't if he's harder on me than most guys," James said, smiling. "He's probably a little quicker to point out my mistakes, but I make plenty of them, so I leave the door open a lot."

Iowa is young up front. While Ferentz has started the past 26 games at center, left guard Matt Tobin is the only other lineman with significant starting experience.

Ferentz sees the need for the line to prove itself and come together. He's excited to do so with his older brother and father calling the shots.

"If you can't appreciate the uniqueness and the incredible opportunity," he said, "I think I'd be missing out on a lot. I'm really fortunate to be in this position."
Larry Scott, Jim DelaneyUS PresswireThe Rose Bowl needs commissioners Larry Scott (Pac-12, left) and Jim Delany (Big Ten) in its corner.
Every Big Ten administrator who has commented on the league's four-team playoff proposal also has made sure to acknowledge the Rose Bowl in the same breath.

"The Rose Bowl is extremely important to Michigan State just as it is to every school in the Big Ten and Pac-12," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Associated Press.

"Any talk of a limited playoff needs to keep the tradition of the Rose Bowl and the bowl system in play," Iowa AD Gary Barta wrote to the Des Moines Register in an email.

"My concern -- first and foremost -- is maintaining our relationship with the Rose Bowl," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez wrote in his monthly letter to fans.

Perhaps there's some little-known Big Ten bylaw requiring league officials and administrators to pay homage to the Rose Bowl whenever discussing the future of college football. Commissioner Jim Delany always makes a point to acknowledge the Rose Bowl as the league's most important external relationship.

Kevin Ash, the Rose Bowl's chief administrative officer, enjoys hearing this from one of the game's conference partners. He hopes the pledges continue, as the Rose Bowl needs both the Big Ten and Pac-12 to be in its corner.

One of the big questions with any playoff model is how it would impact the current bowls, including the Rose. Would the Rose Bowl remain a premier sporting event on New Year's Day, or would the game start seeing drops in attendance and ratings like some of the other major bowls?

The Big Ten plan would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed. The championship game then could be bid out, like the Super Bowl.

The Rose Bowl's fate largely rests with Delany and his Pac-12 counterpart Larry Scott.

"We rely on them heavily to lead on our behalf, because we don't sit at the table with them," Ash told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We're not an active party. We know they have our best interest at heart, and we're a huge part of who they are in the postseason."

Like many, Ash senses the momentum building toward a college football playoff. He understands that the next BCS cycle, beginning in 2014, could bring changes for the Rose Bowl.

"It's going to be interesting to see some of the proposals," he said. "There could be variations that could be OK for the Rose Bowl game. If the commissioners feel we need to move in a different direction, which is best for college football, we've got to be a part of that."

The desire to maintain the traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 Rose Bowl matchup has been viewed as one of the primary impediments to a college football playoff.

Like the Big Ten and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, the Rose Bowl has been viewed as an obstruction to a college football playoff. Although the game has loosened its access rules and has had teams from other leagues, most recently TCU in the 2011 game, the desire always has been to have the Big Ten champion face the Pac-12 champion on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

Any type of playoff format would decrease the likelihood of having both league champions in the game.

"Whatever system they decide to put forward, we will deal with the access issue as it applies to us, and we will embrace any visitor that comes to our game," Ash said. "But each year, we hope to have a Pac-12 and Big Ten champion playing for the Rose Bowl championship. Simple as that. Does it hurt us to have other teams in here? No. But we're traditionalists. It's a part of who we are."

Some see the Rose Bowl's traditionalist nature as being inflexible. The Big Ten, and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, have been viewed this way as well.

Ash said it's not the case.

"Since the BCS, we've learned to evolve, and we still have our tradition," Ash said. "Tradition is a two-sided sword. If you sit on tradition, then you can get left behind, but if you are careful about how you move forward, then you can keep that tradition going. There's possibilities out there, models that can be successful for us. We've got to see what plays out."

And follow Delany's and Scott's lead.

"They're very, very intelligent guys, and their leadership is amazing," Ash said. "We need to evolve in order to stay relevant. I think those are the guys who can take us there.

"They're going to protect us as best they can."
As expected, more Big Ten figures -- past and present -- have weighed in on the passing of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno on Sunday morning at 85.

Here are some additional statements:

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz

"It is certainly a very, very sad day. The passing of Coach Paterno is a huge loss; there will never be another Joe Paterno. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Paterno family."

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta

"Joe Paterno has meant so much to college athletics over such a long period of time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his immediate family first and foremost, and then, certainly, to the extended Penn State family."

Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Paterno. I will remember him with respect and admiration. I will remember his competitive spirit, his incredible generosity, his honesty, his integrity and his humanity."

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini

"My condolences go out to Coach Paterno’s family and the Penn State community. I have so much respect for what Coach Paterno accomplished at Penn State both on and off the field. He wasn’t just a legendary coach, but a class individual and his record speaks for itself. I had the honor of getting a few chances to spend time with him since we joined the Big Ten, and those were special opportunities for me as a relatively young head coach in this profession."

In addition, National Football Foundation chairman Archie Manning and NFF President & CEO Steven Hatchell issued a joint statement on Paterno's passing. Paterno is a 2007 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame.

It reads:

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Paterno. He stands at the very top of the mountain in terms of his coaching accomplishments, and his dedication to the education of his players set the standard for entire college football world. On multiple occasions, the National Football Foundation saluted his never-ending passion and commitment to the game. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sue, his family, and the entire Penn State community."
All 13 Iowa players stricken with rhabdomyolysis have been released from the hospital, but their return to winter training hinges on blood tests they'll take in the coming days and weeks.

Colleague Joe Schad reports that players will have blood tests every two or three days to check kidney function and whether muscle breakdown material remains in the system. A source tells Schad that all 13 players previously tested well outside the normal range, which isn't surprising given their condition.

Some additional information:
The players' families have met with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta, the source said. The meetings involved questions about for how long the intense workouts had been planned, whether players' access to water was restricted and if players who missed a team-provided meal were told to run.
At least two of the players who were hospitalized had received workout awards from the team's strength staff in the past. A key returning starter was among the hospitalized, the source said. ...
Several of the players' families have been contacted by attorneys interested in filing negligence suits, the source said.

I hope for two things in the Iowa case. The first is obvious: for the players to fully recover and return to normal team activities. From what we heard last week from Dr. John Stokes and other medical experts, most people who have rhabdomyolysis are able to fully recover.

The second thing is trickier. I want Ferentz, Barta and other Iowa officials to get to the bottom of what happened during those workouts. Only the players and the strength coaches know, but players are loyal and don't want to say things that could come back to hurt their well-respected coaches. No one wants to be labeled a rat or a soft football player.

Perhaps these workouts were standard and had been done countless times before without any players ending up in the hospital.

But if the strength coaches went too far with their demands, will the players speak up about it?
Great news out of Iowa City on Sunday night, as officials announced that all 13 football players stricken with rhabdomyolysis have been released from the hospital.

Coach Kirk Ferentz announced Friday that five players were being released. Six more were discharged Saturday and the final two on Sunday. The university last week announced an investigation into what led to the series of hospitalizations.

Here's Ferentz's statement issued Sunday:
"Getting all 13 student-athletes healthy and out of the hospital has been priority number one all along, so I'm very happy that they all are now back home and resuming their lives. These young men and their families have been through a difficult and trying time. They are under my supervision and watch, and I am truly sorry for what they've experienced. They trained extremely hard and ended up in the hospital, and there is no indication they did anything wrong. So I'm pleased they are progressing well and I look forward to seeing all of them being back to normal.
"Now that these students are out of the hospital and on the road to recovery, we can devote our full attention to determining what happened, and making sure it does not happen again. There has been a lot of speculation by those who don't have the facts and it is unfair and inappropriate for anyone to make wild guesses about what happened."

Athletic director Gary Barta echoed Ferentz about getting to the bottom of what happened and also cautioned against rushing to judgment.
"We now can focus exclusively on discovering the root cause of this situation, and I'm anxious to work with president [Sally] Mason's group to this end," Barta's statement reads. "We will review every aspect of the workouts and talk with everyone involved. The staff and coaches who work with these young men are highly respected professionals who are dedicated and care deeply about our student-athletes. I hope those who follow our program will respect this process moving forward and refrain from any further unproductive rush to judgment."

It's good to hear Ferentz absolving the players in his statement, while it's noteworthy what Barta says about the strength and conditioning staff who oversaw the training sessions.

The big questions trace back to the series of workouts that began Jan. 20. Was the intensity and the structure of these sessions standard for the start of winter training, or were things cranked up to an excessive level? Only the strength coaches and the players know the answer.

Make no mistake: Strength coach Chris Doyle and his staff have been integral to Iowa's success in Ferentz's tenure. They have a proven conditioning program that works masterfully. Their investment in the players and their care for the players shouldn't be questioned. So what changed this time around? Could anything have been done along the way to prevent the hospitalizations? Did the way Iowa lost games in 2010 -- blowing fourth-quarter leads -- contribute to players being pushed too far?

Every aspect of what took place between Jan. 20-24 must be closely examined.

Notes from Iowa news conference

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
6:24
PM ET
Iowa held a news conference earlier Wednesday afternoon where we got a few smidgens of information about the Hawkeyes football players who remain hospitalized. The number of hospitalized players has increased to 13, and it's now confirmed they are recovering from rhabdomyolysis, a muscle syndrome that can be caused by excessive exercise and can, in serious cases, cause kidney damage.

Iowa director of football operations Paul Federici addressed the media along with Dr. John Stokes, a kidney specialist at University Hospitals. Biff Poggi, whose son Jim, an Iowa freshman linebacker, is one of the hospitalized players, also appeared at the news conference and provided by far the most information about what has taken place during the last six days.

Some notes:
  • The players are responding well to treatment, although their release from the hospital remains unknown. Officials can't confirm the cause of the rhabdomyolysis, although they suspect it stems from a series of intense workouts.
  • Federici said all Iowa players went through the workouts, which are standard for this time of year but described as "strenuous" and "ambitious." Thursday marked the start of winter workouts, and according to Biff Poggi, the players did an intense series of squats where a certain number of reps needed to be done in a specific time period. Jim Poggi reportedly did 100 squats in 17 minutes.
  • Federici on the regimen: "It is strenuous, it’s ambitious, the student-athletes know that. … It has been part of our workout at this time of the year in the past. [The wave of health problems] is just an anomaly. We haven't seen this type of response."
  • Biff Poggi: "It was a hard workout and [Jim] called afterward and said it was a hard workout. He was very, very sore. Thursday was general fatigue. Thursday evening he started to have severe quad pain."
  • Iowa players went through an upper-body workout Friday before getting the weekend off, although Biff Poggi said Jim's muscle soreness actually got worse. Players went though another lower-body workout Monday, after which Jim Poggi had symptoms (discolored urine) consistent with rhabdomyolysis.
  • Biff Poggi said Jim's treatment has consisted of intravenous fluids, frequent blood work to check kidney function and bed rest. No dialysis has taken place. The officials couldn't comment on the treatment for the other players because of privacy laws.
  • The use of drugs and food supplements can contribute to rhabdomyolysis, although it's too soon to tell if that happened in the cases of these players. Hydration also is a factor, though Federici said fluids are readily available during these workouts.
  • Players went through the workouts in groups of 15-35 and all five Iowa strength coaches were present, Federici said. Muscle fatigue and soreness is typical after these workouts but the training staff began referring players to the hospital after more serious symptoms emerged.
  • Federici said head coach Kirk Ferentz is returning to Iowa City on Wednesday afternoon from a recruiting trip. Biff Poggi said he has been in touch with both Ferentz and linebackers coach Darrell Wilson multiple times in the past few days.
  • Federici: "Changes will be considered, I’m sure. We’re always looking for a better way to do things."
  • Stokes said it's typical for patients with rhabdomyolysis to be hospitalized for more than 48 hours. The good news is these are typically one-time occurrences. "What doctors are trying to be sure of is muscle injury improving and kidney function not getting worse," he said.

Clearly, there are many more questions that remain. This certainly wasn't Iowa's finest hour from a p.r. standpoint, and if not for Poggi's presence, the news conference would have been pointless. The big question among many folks is why Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta weren't present Wednesday? Schools typically want to get their most recognizable figures in front of the media.

I get that, but my bigger issue is why none of the strength coaches appeared Wednesday. They were present at these workouts and they could have shed more light on what actually happened, the workout regimens, what they ask from the players, whether there is any precedent for these medical problems, etc.

Thirteen players in the hospital is a big deal, and Iowa needs to treat it that way in its dealings with the media and the public.

Stay tuned for more as the story develops.

“This is an ambitious and a pretty strenuous period of time we’re entering. … It is strenuous, it’s ambitious, the student athletes know that. … It has been part of our workout at this time of the year in the past. This is just an anomaly. We haven’t seen this type of response.”

Iowa has scheduled a news conference for 4:30 p.m. ET today (3:30 p.m. local time) to discuss the 12 football players hospitalized Monday night.

According to a news release, a representative from the football staff and a doctor from University Hospitals will be present to answer questions. Athletic director Gary Barta won't be in attendance.

The players reportedly have exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition often caused by extreme exercise that, in serious cases, can cause damage to the kidneys. The school says the symptoms likely were caused by a recent workout.

Some key questions:
  • What specifically took place at this workout?
  • How did this workout differ from previous training sessions, if at all?
  • How were players prepared for this workout?
  • What's the prognosis for the players going forward? When will they be released from the hospital?
  • What type of disciplinary action could be taken against those administering the workout?

I'll have a full recap after the news conference.
The 12 Iowa football players hospitalized Monday night are reportedly being treated for exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition often caused by extreme exercise that, in serious cases, can cause damage to the kidneys.

Iowa sent out a news release Tuesday night stating that the players are being treated for symptoms likely related to winter workouts. The workouts are permitted under NCAA rules.

The good news is players received treatment early in the process, and they should all be fine.

From The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette:
The exact details of the workout that might have caused this are unclear. Iowa players did recently participate in lower-body drills that included a series of 100 squats followed by sled work. It's a workout the Iowa program has used in the past, according to sources.

Exertional rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers that results in the release of fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Muscle soreness and urine turning brown are common symptoms. Iowa linebacker Jim Poggi wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday that he had been hospitalized after his urine turned brown.

You can learn more about the condition here and here. There was a similar outbreak last summer with a high school football team in Oregon. The situation in Oregon occurred during an uptick in the team's training regimen, which could also be the case with the Iowa players.
The syndrome, rhabdomyolysis, often occurs when athletes who have not been training have a sudden increase in the intensity of their workouts, like a return to practice after a summer break, said Dr. Rupert P. Galvez, a sports medicine doctor who wrote a 2008 article about the syndrome.
"It may tend to happen more toward the beginning of the season, as they’re starting up their preconditioning training," Galvez said.

The identities of the hospitalized players remain unknown, and we don't know when they'll be released from the hospital. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta says the school will investigate the situation, and it will be interesting to see what is found about these workouts.

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