I was at the Big Ten’s football media day last year. I wasn’t captivated.
I hate Media Days, frankly. It doesn’t matter if they’re a team’s or a conference’s. There are too many drooling sycophants to squeeze past. And that’s just in the hotel lobby.
By the way, sycophants are really at their worst when they’re drooling.
Oh, it would be easier to ask good questions at these things if you only knew what was on the horizon. Last year, I could have asked Illinois’ Tim Beckman if he was prepared to get his brains beat in. Instead, someone else asked him this:
What I’m wondering is now that you’re part of Big Ten, do you see things differently? Do you think you’ll make any differences in your style or is it pretty much football is football?
Beckman’s answer: We’re going to do what we believe will be successful. We’ve been fairly successful in the Mid American at the University of Toledo, and we’re still going to instill that same plan, the plan we believe in, at the University of Illinois.
So it’s going to be very, very similar.
Had I been a sage or a soothsayer last July, I could have asked then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema if he had given serious thought to coaching elsewhere. Instead, someone asked Bielema this:
Now that you’re married, are you going to be a smarter coach? How is that going to affect things?
Bielema didn’t take the question terribly seriously, but did say this:
I go back to seven years ago when I got the job and everybody was like, wow, you’re single, da, da, da, and everybody gave me different pieces of advice. But hopefully it’s going to make me a smarter and wiser and more mature coach.
And then he left for Arkansas before the Badgers played in their third-straight Rose Bowl.
Iowa flirted with Penn State running back Akeel Lynch last summer. Penn State’s players were freed by the NCAA to transfer without losing a year of eligibility or their redshirt years. Like most of his teammates, Lynch ending up staying put. Fellow running back Silas Redd went to USC and got to go to the Sun Bowl, where the Trojans lost to Georgia Tech to finish with a 7-6 record. Anyway, here’s a question Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz got in Chicago:
Bill O’Brien yesterday indicated you had reached out to him about some of his players. Some coaches today have said that they’re not going after Penn State players. Some have said they are. Where do you stand on that issue?
At least that questioner tried.
The way I see it, the conferences have these Media Day shindigs so that coaches won’t be bombarded with dozens of individual interview requests in July and August. All the media that wants to attend can belly up at the trough on the first day in Chicago, get force-fed the same say-nothing comments, and be done with it.
Plus, it fills a few hours of programming on the Big Ten Network.
The tickets are all sold, or mostly sold, at many Big Ten stops, and nothing that is said in Chicago this week will increase attendance at Indiana or Purdue or Minnesota. If those teams win, fans will come. If they don’t, they won’t.
The best part of the first day (the second day is interviews with coaches and players in a more-personal setting, at ballroom round tables) is when Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany gives his State of the Conference Address. Oh, I wish I’d asked him last year if he could envision Maryland and Rutgers joining his conference. This is what he said last year before getting to the first question:
It’s good to see everybody again. A lot has happened over the last 12 months. Nebraska came into the conference last fall. It’s been a great fit, successful in every way. Competitively, administratively and culturally just a great fit. Everybody continues to do on a daily basis what we expect them to do.
We’ve got 298 sports teams. Over 9500 student‑athletes that go to class. They compete. They practice. We graduated a class, and we’ve got an incoming group.
So this is an exciting time of the year from that perspective. Also last year we had the inaugural championship game in Indianapolis. It was a great success. Not only competitively and artistically, but we were really proud of what happened in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. Precursor to a great Super Bowl and their community was just terrific.
I think that the disappointment, we had a highlight, announcement on the collaboration with the Pac‑12 on December28th, and they informed us as a result of their nine‑game schedule they didn’t really think they could pull it together.
We worked really hard. Got great friendships and relationships out there. Personified in the Rose Bowl game. But we weren’t able to do that. That was disappointing.
I’m going to talk a little bit about that in terms of the impact on the regular season schedule in a moment. But that was a little bit of a disappointment. But we’ve moved on beyond that.
The other thing that we spent a lot of time this year on that’s covered extensively was the establishment of a post‑BCS format, four teams inside the Bowls and we think it will actually energize the regular season even more than it has in the past.
I think Roy Kramer deserves a lot of credit in establishing the BCS along with other conferences 15 years ago, had tremendous effect on the regular season.
It was partly national. Mostly regional, to take it mostly regional and partly national. So everybody watches everybody else now. And that was one of the great contributions to college football during my career. And I think we all want to recognize what he did.
I think the next step is a good step. And it’s one that we initially were concerned about. We were concerned that it might end up outside the Bowl system. Might have a bad effect on the Rose Bowl. We were concerned that it might be placed in a situation where growth‑‑ we know there’s going to be people that are upset when their team is ranked fifth or sixth and they’re not in.
So we are really concerned about the slippery slope. But I think the way that it was structured, the agreement that came about among the conferences really speaks to the interest that everybody had in doing what was right for college football. I think our student‑athletes will benefit, because there will be double the opportunity to play for the brass ring.
I think our fans will benefit because I think that there’s going to be real emphasis on winning championships as well as strength of schedule.
So I think that will encourage us to have stronger non‑conference schedules. I think that’s a good thing. And I also think at the end of the day the Rose Bowl benefited because the Rose Bowl needs to evolve.
It’s obvious that there’s a push towards a broadened postseason, but the Rose Bowl’s been very important not only to college football but to this conference over many, many decades, and I think that the signing of the 12‑year agreement with ESPN is a great statement about how relevant the Rose Bowl is. That time of the day it’s a global event. So I’ve said many times one of probably the top ten single day sports properties in the world.
I would say also we had a good year competitively, not only in football and basketball, but we won seven national championships in other sports. And it shows the breadth of the conference and the national reach of the conference and a lot of other areas.
So we’ve had continuing growth with BTN also. I’m sure you talked to Mark Silverman earlier but we’re proud of that. It’s on a great trajectory. It’s established both domestically and internationally, and it’s available in about over 80 million homes and over 25 countries, and I think Big Ten To Go will be available this year pretty much any place in the world where high speed Internet exists.
So that continues to be a good news story. I couldn’t stand up here without addressing the Penn State case.
I was available about 76 hours ago to 150 media after the NCAA announcements and the Big Ten announcements. On a personal and professional basis, it’s probably one of the more difficult if not the most difficult situation that I’ve faced every day from the time I saw the ESPN ticker in November of 2011. In one form or fashion it’s affected us.
As a conference, we’ve tried to be cautious about what we said and when we said it. We knew there would be a lot of fact‑finding. Some of that fact‑finding is yet to play out. There are criminal and civil suits.
But I think that the Freeh report, which has been accepted by the institution, adopted by the NCAA and the Big Ten as a result of Penn State accepting that report is a narrative which is based on a reasonable view of the evidence.
There’s still some who may debate it. But for purposes of moving forward, it is the record that’s now been adopted by the institution. It’s led to the NCAA sanctions. It’s led to the Big Ten sanctions. And while I think it’s still fresh in everybody’s memory, it is a time that I think the institution and the team can begin to think about moving forward.
What’s clear to me, though, is that justice can never really be served in this case, because the victims can never receive justice.
And that’s just the sad fact of the case. And while there are ancillary people who impacted the case in one way or another, affected the Big Ten, it’s affected Penn State, obviously. It’s affected a lot of people who are not involved in any way shape or form with the case, I think you have to just‑‑ you have to recognize that the ten individuals and perhaps many, many more, were damaged and hurt. And there’s no amount of legal, criminal, civil, NCAA, Big Ten action that can change that or help them.
And so a lot of people want to debate about NCAA penalties or Big Ten penalties, and those debates are fine. But to me they miss the point very much because they’re not in any way related to what happened to the victims of Sandusky’s actions.
And in fact their side from that point. I think they’re difficult, challenging and will inhibit competitiveness for a while. How long, I don’t know. But they’re definitely very strong penalties. But I have to tell you the actions that President Erickson has taken from the time he took over, Dave Joyner from the time he took over and Coach O’Brien from the time he took over have been nothing but I think aggressive, like‑minded, and I think demonstrate that‑‑ all three have demonstrated terrific leadership. It’s been dark in many, many ways, but sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn.
And I think that there are other chapters to play out, but I think in many ways part of this has played out and at least part of it, in part it’s time to move on with respect to the discussion on NCAA and Big Ten penalties.
I took questions from 150 writers about this yesterday. And I’m happy to do that again today. A lot of people worry and wonder about whether or not what the NCAA did is a precedent.
I don’t really care if it’s a precedent. I don’t really care about whether or not they had jurisdiction or whether or not there was an underlying NCAA violation. There’s been a lot of debate by pundits one way or the other.
The only thing that matters to me is I think the NCAA did have moral authority to act, and I think the Big Ten had moral authority to act. The relationship between Penn State and the NCAA is a little bit different. It’s more of a corporate relationship.
But clearly what happened at Penn State as outlined in the Freeh report challenges any organization to step up and do what’s right. And I think because the Freeh report has been accepted by the institution, it allowed for the NCAA to take its next steps it felt were appropriate.
You can debate them all you want, but in my view they had moral authority and responsibility to act as did the Big Ten. And so like I say from a personal and professional perspective, a challenging period.
I’ll stop there and take whatever questions you may have on sports issues of the day or on other issues. Thank you.
Then he came up for air and fielded a half-dozen questions.
I’d like to tell you I can’t wait for Wednesday and the four solid hours of podium rhetoric, as Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal calls it. But that wouldn’t be honest. Maybe I need a few prescient questions. Got any suggestions?
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