Usually when a conference commissioner starts talking on media day, you tune him out and start writing about the other news you picked up from the day.
Not this time.
Jim Delany was the man everyone was waiting to speak to, and though there is much about the expanded Big Ten that is not finalized, he gave specific timelines about when it will be.
Delany said he hopes to have a plan for divisions for a 12-team Big Ten in place within the next 30-45 days. He reiterated that the most important criteria for determining the divisions will be competitive balance. To determine that, he said, the conference would look at the past 17 years, going back to the 1993 season. That year was chosen, he said, because it was the year every team in Division I-A (as it was known at the time) was limited to 85 scholarships.
Delany said definitively that he expected to have a Big Ten championship game in 2011. As far as a venue for the championship game, he did not rule out the possibility of rotating the venue, in part because he has concerns about the time and resources it would require to do an exhaustive study of a possible venue.
The commissioner said the conference has paused expansion to fully integrate Nebraska into the conference, but it has not turned away from the idea of adding more teams. However, when asked whether he considered Notre Dame to be a player in expansion, he said he did not think it would because he believed the Fighting Irish would remain independent in football and in the Big East for all other sports.
Delany said that the school’s athletic directors have supported the idea of going from eight to nine conference games, and that he thinks it would be more beneficial to fans to have such an arrangement because so many schools have been using guarantee games to fill their schedules. That likely won’t get unanimous support. At least one coach, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, said he thought it could be problematic, especially in the case where a potential national championship team had to play five conference road games. In addition, there will assuredly be arguments from many athletic directors for financial reasons, because it will be a burden on athletic departments to have fewer home games.
As per usual, Joe Paterno was the highlight of Big Ten media day.
The legendary Penn State coach so often gets questions about the effects of his age, and there was special reason for that this year. He’s missed several public appearances because of what was reported to be an intestinal sickness. A USA Today reporter, who opened her line of questioning by asking if he believed he would die still in charge of the program, brought it up, and Paterno said “It was a little below the intestines.”
Yet again, Paterno said he hasn’t considered whether he will coach for one more year, two more years or five more years. He said he hasn’t thought about what it would mean to get 400 wins (he has 394). His rationale: “When I’m down and looking up, are they going to put 399 on top of me or 401? Who the hell cares? I won’t know.”
He said he’d like to add another team to the conference from the east. He said he has no thoughts on divisions other than he’s glad he’s not in charge of that. And he also said he hopes if there’s a replacement picked for him, he has some say in it.
Bill Lynch was available first at the dais and then for the local media afterward. His opening statement, in which he mostly detailed his depth chart, took 8 minutes and 34 seconds of the 15 minute time period.
Much of what he said was stuff we’ve already heard. He reminded the media that last year’s team was probably 12 plays away from a bowl game, and that team adopted the word “Finish” as its motto for the season. He also said that the team’s biggest issue was third down on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers too often failed to continue drives by failing to convert on third down, and too often let drives continue by failing to make third-down stops on defense.
Lynch, however, said that he likes the team’s depth despite the fact that his defense is losing eight starters. The secondary was hit especially hard by graduation, but he said that he believes he has more depth and more competition for starting positions than he ever has. There is obviously truth to that with junior college transfers Lenyatta Kiles and Andre Kates coming in at cornerback, former wide receivers Mitchell Evans and Matt Ernest moving into the secondary and redshirt freshman Lawrence Barnett moving into the mix.
Lynch said most of the Hoosiers’ injured players are back healthy. Tailback Darius Willis is fully recovered from an ankle injury. Cody Faulkner and Justin Pagan are also healthy on the offensive line, and Lynch said Pagan has lost a good deal of weight and improved his conditioning. Safety Mitchell Evans is back from a hip injury.
Like Glass, Lynch was asked about the effect of his job status on recruiting, he said he’s received tremendous support from Fred Glass that has kept it from hurting recruiting.
After Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald finished, the IU media was pulled out of the main interview room for a smaller-pack interview with Fred Glass. Obviously, we’ll have a full-length story on this, but some highlights.
- Glass reiterated his faith in Bill Lynch, even though he hasn’t offered a contract extension beyond the two years he has left on his deal. He again said he likes Lynch’s recruiting and redshirting philosophies, saying he believes that adds significant depth to the program. He said that he has met with recruits over Lynch’s job security and has told them how much faith he has in Lynch. As Glass pointed out, it hasn’t hurt Lynch in recruiting, as he’s put together one of the highest ranked classes IU has had since people started ranking classes.
- He said again that he will not use any sort of “litmus test” to determine whether or not Lynch maintains his employment. He said wins and losses will obviously be important, but said that he will look for overall improvement and will do so subjectively. He said he thinks setting litmus tests for wins and losses are “a cop-out” and an abdication of the power of an athletic administrator.
- Glass said he’s not only excited about IU’s offense for the coming season but it’s defense. Though the Hoosiers are replacing eight defensive starters, including two seventh-round draft picks, from a defense that wasn’t that good to begin with, Glass said he sees more depth and impressive speed and athleticism on that side of the ball.
- Glass said IU has lowered ticket prices to $5 for children, students, and young alumni who have graduated within the last three years. He said season tickets are up 10 percent from last year and student season tickets are up 18 percent.
Again, much more on Glass later.
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald talked mostly about throwing the football. He has to break in a new quarterback with Mike Kafka having graduated, but he said he has a lot of faith in Dan Persa, who is expected to take over the job. Fitzgerald says Persa has the sort of presence that makes everyone else around him want to be better.
Fitzgerald said the performance of Kafka and the way the Wildcats used him is also helping in recruiting. Fitzgerald said he got calls from high school recruits after the Wildcats dramatic loss to Auburn in the Outback Bowl when Kafka threw the ball 79 times. Their response: “So you threw the ball 79 times. … Cool.”
Fitzgerald did say the Wildcats have to improve their running game, however, so they aren’t relying on the pass quite as much. He wants to identify a starting tailback quickly.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema just got off the podium. Some points of interest:
Bielema was asked about divisions in the wake of expansion and said that rivalries need to be an important part of the decision making progress. He said “I live the Ohio State-Michigan game,” and that he hopes that rivalries like that one and others stay in tact. He reiterated his desire to have Nebraska as a end-of-season rivalry game, which he tweeted shortly after Nebraska was announced as the Big Ten’s 12th team.
Speaking of Twitter, Bielema said he does monitor his players accounts to some degree. He said he doesn’t set up parameters, but he does point out “stupid tweets,” and some other issues. Last year, he gave the team an evening off, and when he saw via Twitter that some players were planning on going to a concert in Milwaukee, he put a stop to that.
Bielema said it’s a blessing to have Scott Tolzien returning as the starting quarterback. The heady signal-caller is enjoying it to, Bielema said. In the winter, he was asked about watching film. He said, “I like it, because I’m finally the guy on the film.”
Bielema also said he’s in favor of a Big Ten championship game. Not sure that’s a point of debate with 12 teams, but Bielema is on board.