It's cold outside. Warm up with a piping hot cup of mailbag:
Bob K. from Chicago writes: Everybody keeps talking about how the Big Ten needs to move South to recruit, but I just saw that the number 1 receiver in the country, who is from Illinois, went to an SEC school and that the top receiver in Pennsylvania, who is ranked the number 25 player in the country, went to Alabama. I believe we have great players in the Northeast and Midwest and still have a very large population area. I believe that we need to concentrate on keeping these players in our area from going elsewhere before we start worrying about Southern talent.
Brian Bennett: That's a very good point. The sheer number of top prospects in the Midwest and Northeast might not be as high as those in Florida, Texas and California, but there are still a lot of great players available. The Big Ten has to make sure those players don't leave the region. I believe Big Ten teams need to supplement their rosters -- especially at some of the skill positions like receiver and quarterback -- with kids from the south and the west. But it's awfully hard to get those players to leave their areas, and most Big Ten teams aren't going to have high numbers of players from those regions in a given year. The core of the league teams still must come from the Midwest, and that means keeping the best players in their own backyards first.
Jon from Madison, Wis., writes: I've read several articles on realignment ideas from writers that I believe to be respected and authority figures on the B1G. Most believe in a primarily geographical realignment and if at all possible doing away with protected crossovers just as I do so we minimize the extended time periods without playing teams in other divisions. However, most realignment ideas I've seen don't accomplish reasonable competitive balance without splitting one of these three rivalries: Mich/MSU, Ind/Pur, Ill/NW. So my question is how unreasonable would it be to ask Ind/Pur or Ill/NW to have a "non-conference" matchup outside of the B1G schedule that didn't count in the conference standings? I don't think this should be considered for Mich/MSU. Before scoffing, note that Mich/MSU did this a couple of times several yrs ago in Mens BB when they were only on each others schedule one time for a 2 yr period. So it wouldn't be completely unprecedented.
Brian Bennett: It wouldn't be unprecedented, and there are occasional times where it might make sense. But as a consistent strategy? No way. Let's just take Indiana and Purdue as an example. Purdue already plays Notre Dame in the nonconference schedule. You think the Boilers want to play a Big Ten rival as a non-league game and then add on eight or possibly nine conference games? Only if the school was masochistic. In my re-alignment proposal, only Michigan and Michigan State would absolutely need to be a protected crossover game. And I think that's workable.
Jeremy from Columbus writes: With the bowl tie-ins expiring soon, do you think the Big Ten will go for more neutral-site bowl games? I feel like every conference would want at least one bowl in California, Texas, and Florida for the national exposure, so do you think we'll be able to play the SEC in California, PAC12 in Florida, ACC in Texas, and maybe Big 12 in New York? Or are those other conferences not interested in traveling? Obviously the Rose Bowl is stuck in enemy territory, but I'd like to see every other bowl in our lineup in a state without any teams of the opposing conference (except the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, in which the Big Ten and MAC are both "at home").
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I agree with your term of "neutral site." If the Big Ten plays Washington in the Rose Bowl, do the Huskies have a major home-field advantage? Or West Virginia in Texas? Arkansas in Florida? I'm hopeful that what we will see, and what conference commissioners and athletic directors are kicking around now, is that the leagues will work together with the bowls to create the best matchups and the best sites. You want to avoid teams going back to the same cities or states multiple years in a row. Add in some variety and new destinations, not just for Big Ten fan bases, but for all leagues.
Three-time champs from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I get that I'm supposed to care an inordinate amount about OSU and UM, but with all this talk of a UM/OSU rematch in the championship game and the need to design conferences around this idea, it hasn't happened. Actually the rematch part has happened. The Big Ten championship game has been a rematch each year with Wisconsin. I think UW should get a conference of its own to prevent rematches. I get the feeling that UM and OSU thought they would dominate in their respective leagues and that hasn't happened, so now they are reconsidering their separation.
Brian Bennett: I see what you did there. Yes, some rematches are going to be inevitable, but they are a lot more palatable when they are repeats of games we saw in September or October than the same two teams playing two weeks in a row. No, Michigan and Ohio State haven't made that happen yet, but it's only been two years. It's bound to occur at some point. Even better, putting them both in the same division means their rivalry game on the final weekend has huge conference title implications -- which it did not have the past two years -- and possibly allows the loser to still be considered for the four-team playoff if both have outstanding seasons, like in 2006.
Dave from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Everyone always organizes the new Big Ten divisions as East and West. How about North and South? I like this combo. North: Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue. South: Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers. I feel like these are fairly balanced and could be a good solution. (Could swap Nebraska and Purdue, but I thought this was better).
Brian Bennett: This could work, and the divisions you mentioned are fairly balanced. But it's also hard to picture any Big Ten teams as being "South." The split between east and west is much easier to visualize and understand. For example, if I asked you to arrange Lincoln, Iowa City, Evanston and Ann Arbor by north-south directions, you could probably do it. But you'd have to think about it.
Rich from Des Moines writes: Regarding division names, the pretentious L&L names need to go. Geographic names like Great Lakes/Plains are poetic, but open for more mocking because of the locations of Rutgers, Maryland and the next two schools, presumably in the South. If a "pod" system comes about, North, South, East, West might work. But the B1G being the B1G, more colorful monikers will probably be chosen. I kinda liked the NHL's old division names honoring important figures from the league's formative years. I think the B1G could do the same. My idea is to use the names of the first four B1G players to win the Heisman as names of the four divisions. Berwanger, Kinnick, Harmon, Smith. Another route could be the first four Silver Football winners: Grange, Lowry, Friedman, Rouse. I prefer the former because the names are more familiar, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Moreover, since all these men are deceased, there would never be an embarrassing situation arise making a name change necessary. Your thoughts?
Brian Bennett: The Big Ten's stated reason for not using division names like "Bo" and "Woody" is that it wanted to be more inclusive. Your plan would draw the same objections, in that 10 teams could feel excluded (or 11 with the Heisman winners, since Jay Berwanger played for the U. of Chicago). It also doesn't solve the issue of easing the understanding of which teams are in what division. If you thought Legends and Leaders was confusing, just wait until you try to figure out which teams are in the Harmon or Friedman pods.
Kevin from Twin Cities writes: Slightly tongue in cheek, but how about The Animal Division (Badgers, Gophers, Hawkeyes, Nittany Lions, Terrapins, Wildcats and Wolverines) and the People Division (Boilermakers, Buckeyes, Cornhuskers, Hoosiers, Illini, Spartans and Scarlet Knights)?
Brian Bennett: I love it, though it's a slight stretch to say Buckeyes are people, and no one can say for sure what a Hoosier is. But there would be no confusion on who played where. Plus, then we could have the Peoples' champion vs. the lord of the Animals for the Big Ten title. We could call it Man vs. Food.
Simon from Evanston writes: Big Wildcat fan here, but my question is more general. A recent study just came out that claimed DI schools spend 3-6 times more on student athletes than the general population. We all love sports and I know that building an national image brings in more students and donations, but is there a line? I worry that this financial "arms race" will cause a variety of problems down the road. Would you be in favor of NCAA rules that limit spending on athletics to a certain percentage of a budget or perhaps a absolute dollar cap of some sort?
Brian Bennett: Simon, you've merely hit on the ethical dilemma of college sports in general. Do we spend too much time, money and attention on sports at our universities instead of academics? Of course. At the same time, college athletes -- at least in football and often in basketball -- bring in great amounts of revenue, unlike regular students. Would Joe Six Pack give money to his state school if it had no football team? These are, naturally, huge questions. But as long as we're going to use the system we have, I think it's difficult to put any sort of arbitrary caps on spending, especially on salaries and things like that. Let the market decide.
Quinn from Moline, Ill., writes: As you know, Kyle Prater transferred to Northwestern last season from USC. A former 5 star recruit, he didn't get a whole lot of playing time last year. Do you think he could become a threat for the Northwestern offense this next year given Kain Colter's lack of arm strength?
Brian Bennett: Prater didn't have a huge impact for the Wildcats in 2012, catching 10 passes for 54 yards and managing just three receptions in the final 10 regular season games. Prater was still recovering from injuries that held him back at USC, including a broken left foot, and he had to learn a new system while fighting for playing time in a veteran receiving corps. He did provide some nice blocking on the edge, and Northwestern didn't have a great downfield passing game. He could become more of a weapon in 2013 as he should be at full strength, and perhaps that will allow the Wildcats to stretch the field a little more.
John from DC writes: Brian -- don't get too carried away with Josh S. from Waverly's comments. There are a lot of sportswriters out there who have really stepped up their game as far as stinking up the place. For you to repeat, you need to stay focused! Keep your eye on the prize!
Brian Bennett: You're right. The competition for worst sportswriter is steep. I've got to make sure I don't get cocky and lazy. I've just got to take it one day at a time, or as Bret Bielema might have said, go 0-1 every week.