Big Ten mailblog

On the eve of national signing day, some questions and answers ...

Matt from Fremont, Neb., writes: Adam, as an avid Husker fan and a supporter of Coach Bo, I hear a lot of bickering between self proclaimed "fans" who expect Nebraska to win a national title every year who want Bo fired. Now, I loved Dr. Tom's last 5 years as head coach, though I'm barely old enough to remember them, but Dr. Tom had 100+ scholarships, only played one conference title game, and had a coaching staff that never left. If you were an athletic director faced with these fans, would you fire Bo, for what he hasn't done, or keep him based on what he has and potentially can do?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Matt, and one that might be revisited during the season depending on how things go for Nebraska. Ultimately, an athletic director has to evaluate all elements of the program -- on-field play, recruiting, staff composition, academic performance -- and make an assessment on its overall direction. It's unrealistic to think Nebraska will compete for national titles annually. There are too many factors -- geography, rise of the SEC -- working against it. But it's reasonable to expect the Huskers win league titles more often than they have lately. Bo Pelini has gotten Nebraska close -- three conference title games in the past four seasons. But can he get the Huskers over the top? That's what new AD Shawn Eichorst must evaluate. As Eichorst recently told me, he knows Nebraska is close and has confidence in Pelini. But the evaluation process is still ongoing. Let's see what happens in 2013. It's a big year for Nebraska and Pelini to potentially take the next step.

Matthew from Phoenix writes: Adam,I am one who is growing in favor of 10-game league schedule. I would rather play extra games against my own conference than these boring cream puff games. I know the 9-game schedule could be more feasible but as we know brings up the issue of the 4 home/5 away scenario for half the teams every other year. To make up the revenue for the teams with only 4 home games, what if those teams received extra money from the TV/Bowl pool and the other half less in that given year. Then of course reversed the next year. What if they add up the total game revenue for each of the 4 home teams that year, subtract it from the total TV/Bowl revenue that the 5 home teams would get that year and distribute it to the other teams. Then the other teams would get that benefit the next year. Does that make sense and do you think that would ever be a possibility to help offset economic impact of the 9 game league schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, some great ideas here, and I'm sure the Big Ten is working on ways to make things work financially for its schools if it goes to a 9-game league schedule, which would inevitably reduce the number of home games over time. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said last week that he expects the Big Ten to increase the number of conference games and that schools would need to be "made whole" in the next TV package for things to work out. The next Big Ten TV deal, to be done in 2017, really looks like the key to making things work out, scheduling-wise. If the projections are correct, Big Ten schools are going to get much, much richer in the near future. So sorting out the money in a way that athletic departments can survive with fewer football home games is a huge priority for the league.

Steve Z. from Lafayette, Ind., writes: Hi Adam, how much of an impact do you see the NU/Cubs deal having on the 'Cats in general? From a marketing in Chicago standpoint, I think it is pretty great; but will it convince Chicagoans to make the trek up to Evanston for games played at Ryan Field?

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I think it's a positive step, and showcasing multiple teams at Wrigley Field can't be a bad thing for Northwestern. But you raise the key question: will the partnership improve attendance at Ryan Field? There will be some kind of increase in seasons where Northwestern plays a game at Wrigley Field as some opposing fans will buy season-ticket packages so they're guaranteed seats for the Wrigley game. But will this move really connect Northwestern with the Chicago market and build a small fan base? It's hard to say. Obviously, if Northwestern continues on its current trajectory, strings together 10-win seasons and wins a Big Ten title now and then, the buzz will build and the fans will come. Wrigley will have nothing to do with it. I just wonder whether the novelty of playing at Wrigley will wear off for Northwestern fans, even if it excites fans of teams -- Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, etc. -- that haven't played games at the Friendly Confines. So bottom line: the partnership can't hurt, but time will tell whether it really boosts attendance at Ryan Field. Ultimately, it still comes down to winning.

Brian from Atlanta writes: "My point here is that the division races should dominate the discussion in November." You don't have to play in division to talk about the division race. OSU/MI will often impact 1 or both division races. Does it need to move up for OSU/IN and MI/MN because those are more important? Of course not, because OSU/MI matters more to the races. Would people not talk about the division races the game impacted?" and when teams are playing cross-division games, rather than division games that really shape the race." That's a fallacy. They don't shape it any more than crossover games do. If OSU beats PSU in October, suddenly all their remaining crossovers become very important as fans try to figure out how PSU can catch OSU. You assume tied champs will get similar results in division, so you look to the crossover games to find an advantage.The crossover schedule is what makes or breaks your year, because they can be very different. You have 4 common opponents and a head to head game in a 2-way tie. Whether you got NE, MI and MSU while they got IA, NW and MN is a huge factor.The B10 is 1/4 for having ties, and WI/MSU and PSU/NE were crucial to that tie in 2011. If PSU beat NE, WI couldn't have won the division in the last week. The SEC has had 1 division tie in the past 5 years. You make too big of a deal out of tiebreakers. You have to get tied to make the tiebreakers matter, and that depends on crossover games.if you want to argue that OSU/WI is more important than OSU/MSU, fine. I'd agree. But don't try telling me that OSU/IN is more important than OSU/MI to the division race. The chance of losing to MI is much higher, making that game much more likely to change the race.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, clearly crossover schedules are important. They're an integral part of any schedule and can shape how teams do in the divisions. I never argued against that. Teams with more favorable crossover schedules have a better chance of winning their divisions. But do crossover schedules make or break your year? Not every year. In 2011, Nebraska's failure to beat Michigan and Northwestern in division games prevented it from winning the Legends. So despite a tough crossover schedule, the Huskers ultimately couldn't get it done within the division. My overriding point, though, is that you can organize the divisions better to have more/most of the rivalries within the divisions. Ohio State and Michigan can be the same division, and the Big Ten would be OK. The Buckeyes and Wolverines can play their traditional game on the final Saturday of the regular season, and it can be a division game. My preference is to de-emphasize all the protected crossover games and to play most crossovers (protected or not) earlier in the league schedule. I like a setup where a team can maybe start 0-2 because of a tough crossover schedule and still have time to claim the division title by winning out. That's great drama. Also, the Ohio State-Michigan game has yet to directly impact a division race. By putting both teams in the same division, it almost always will.

Louie from Ann Arbor writes: Adam,The answer to the 9 conference game, 5/4 home dilema. Partner with another 14 team conference to even it out. Their 5 home game teams visit a 4 home game BIG school and vice versa. Think of the marketing - kinda like the ACC-BIG challenge in hoops. I don't think the SEC sould go for it so maybe the ACC is the ticket. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Louie, that's an interesting idea. The Big Ten decided to stay at eight league games during the short-lived partnership with the Pac-12 after approving nine-game schedules. Remember that the Pac-12 partnership fizzled because four schools couldn't make the annual commitment to the scheduling approach. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has told me he likes partnerships. He also would be extremely cautious to enter another one after what happened with the Pac-12. He would need to be fully confident that all the ACC schools are on board. The drawback here is that scheduling games against teams from other leagues -- or independents like Notre Dame (although ND is now affiliated with the ACC) -- would be limited. I like the idea in principle, but it doesn't afford enough flexibility and several rivalries like Iowa-Iowa State and Michigan State-Notre Dame could pay the price.

Tony T. from Renovo, Pa., writes: Hi Adam, love the blog! My question is why doesn't the B1G just add teams now to get to the number they want to get to, whether that be 16, 18, or 20. I keep hearing how the AD's say they have their work cut out for them with deciding the divisions, but they may have to do it all over again in as little as a year (or sooner) which doesn't make sense. We could have teams moving divisions AGAIN in the very near future. Is the primary hold up to adding new teams how the Maryland lawsuit plays out? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Tony, I think the Maryland lawsuit is important, and while realignment has moved at a very fast pace at times in recent years, you can't always just grab any school you want. It's more complicated than that. The Big Ten's negotiations with both Maryland and Nebraska took some time (things moved faster with Rutgers). It's not always just one phone call and then it's done. I completely agree with you that the ADs could be doing all this work -- for a 14-team model -- and then have to start over again. They also are aware of the environment, and while they're taking the approach that you can only plan for what's known right now, the league won't be unprepared if and when it increases to 16 or more members.

Dave from Boston writes: With the conference looking to further expansion, do you forsee a time when current members might be shown the door for competitive reasons? If the emphasis is on building successful football programs, might perennial "down squads" be seen as a detriment to the brand?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't see this ever happening, Dave. The Big Ten isn't the English Premier League. There's no relegation. The league wants all of its members to compete in all sports, and it's not going to dismiss a member because of a poor football team. That's just not the culture. The Big Ten has seen incredible parity in the past two decades. Ten different teams have either won league titles, shared league titles or played for the league title. Indiana football has been down for some time, but IU also brings other things to the Big Ten, including a men's basketball team currently ranked No. 1 nationally. Minnesota football has been mediocre to poor, but the Gophers have had success in other sports. Both schools have invested in their football facilities in recent years and saw improvement under second-year coaches in 2012. It would take a Big Ten athletic department to have sustained problems (mainly financial) during a long period of time, along with many other factors, for the league to consider dismissing the school.