Just about all of the big story lines were hit during the coaching interviews at Big Ten Media Day, from the O'Bannon case, to NCAA realignment, to expectations for next season, and of course, whether Urban Meyer has LOST CONTROL (TM Mark Richt) of something or another. Here are some of the major themes and takeaways from the event:
It's all about Ohio State
There might have been 12 coaches answering questions about their programs at the podium, but the elephant in the room was clearly about Ohio State, with multiple programs answering questions about the Buckeyes (though admittedly many of these were driven by the heavy contingent of Ohio State media), and with the room experiencing a palatable lack of energy after Urban Meyer completed his remarks. Northwestern's Coach Fitzgerald was asked about his expectations for the stadium when the Wildcats host the Buckeyes for Homecoming ("I haven't put a lot of thought into it" was the response), and Darrell Hazell and Gary Andersen were asked about their ties to previous or current Ohio State coaches.
Hazell, who worked under Jim Tressel for seven years, specifically cited the great decisions he made on game day as a major inspiration. Andersen went even further, calling Urban "a very good friend", and "a good person, a family man, and somebody I have a great deal of respect for". Meyer returned the favor, later calling Andersen, who worked under Meyer at Utah, "one of the 2 or 3 best hires I have ever made". Buckeye fans will be forgiven if seeing Buckeye and Badger coaches actually liking each other takes a while to get used to.
It's easy to see who the "haves" and the "have nots" of the Big Ten are
At least, when it comes to buzz around their football team. The upper crust of the league, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, did not have any trouble attracting questions the press crowd, but some schools that have found themselves near the bottom of the league table, like Illinois and Purdue, were able to end their press conferences early without complaint. The lack of interest in Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was particularly noticeable, as he ended his question answering literally with half of the time still remaining. Part of that might be due to personality type, part of that might have to do with the complete lack of buzz, but Iowa or Illinois fans hoping for meaty answers to their on the field questions may be left lacking.
Questioning didn't just stick to football
Questions about new rules hoping to prevent targeting by defenders were common, with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini perhaps giving the most interesting response:
"Well, the most scary thing to me is just what you said, the application part of it. And it's going to be pretty subjective. And I don't think it's going to be an easy thing to call. And in my opinion it's going a little bit overboard right now. And some of the things I've seen on TV and different examples of what they've shown, you know, even as a coach watching it on TV, I haven't quite agreed with some of the things they are talking about.
But I understand where it's coming from. It's about the safety of the players, and we're all for that. We just have to make sure we're not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it's supposed to be played.
The questioning didn't stop there though. Michigan headman Brady Hoke was asked to comment on the bankruptcy situation in Detroit ("we're all pulling for the city"), and how he felt about being compared to cancer ("Beating Michigan, in this context, we're all for it. We're excited for that young man"). Hoke responded to the curveballs well, and also added meaty football answers to his backup QB situation (they had previously kicked the tires on a few JUCO players), and depth along the lines.
Urban Meyer's questioning in particular focused on off the field issues, for obvious reasons. We have the full transcript over here, which you should read, but the highlights included the fact that Meyer was unaware of any "good news" concerning the status of Carlos Hyde's legal situation ("I'm not a big social media guy"), that he was not involved in turning in Florida for any recruiting violations, and that he is very disappointed in some of the off the field hijinks going on with the program recently. Yours truly asked the only question related to this year's actual football team, asking which players he needed to fill in the leadership gap on the team from the departed senior class.
Meyer specifically focused on wanting Braxton Miller to continue to develop as a leader, and called the offensive line "the heart and soul of the team". He also said that we was looking for more leaders to develop on defense, and specifically mentioned safeties Christian Bryant and C.J Barnett has players who will be tremendous leaders for the squad.
Despite the heavy attention, Meyer clearly came prepared to answer questions about discipline and the offseason, and came across as very fair.
The BTN is not resting on their laurels
The BTN has already been a tremendously successful venture for the league, but they aren't content to sit around, especially as the SEC Network is entering the picture (BTN President Mark Silverman said that "ESPN owning the SEC Network is a challenge for us"). BTN2GO will now be available on Comcast, and the league will continue to develop new programming options, from a new season of the highly acclaimed "The Journey", to a new documentary, to a program called "Forever B1G", about ex-student athletes. While the SEC is planning on adding a traveling "Gameday" like program, the BTN will not, at least in the immediate future, emphasizing that they don't want to do something unless they can do it very well. You can bet that if the SEC version is a smashing success though, the network may want to reevaluate their decision making calculus.
Jim Delany's filibuster game is still strong
After multiple other commissioners criticized the NCAA during their media days, including the SEC and the Big 12, many were wondering if Delany would drop another haymaker on the beleaguered institution. Instead, Delany's opening remarks easily eclipsed the scheduled questioning time, as he delivered a wandering discourse on the history of the NCAA, dipping into "inside baseball" regulations.
The key takeaway is that Delany isn't thundering fire and brimstone about the need for large school succession, or NCAA reorganization for it's own sake. Instead, he focused on the need to focus on outcomes in reforms, such as a lifetime scholarship for student-athletes to return to school should they leave without a degree, or allowing for scholarships to meet the full cost of attendance, (so student athletes could get things like laundry money).
Delany again reiterated that he didn't think the O'Bannon case was good for college athletics, and predicted that it could eventually be resolved by the Supreme Court, instead of a possible compromise halfway. Hearing warnings that the major direction of college athletics could be decided by courts, of the US Congress ("they'll need to decide what they want to do with Title IX") will probably send a shiver down the spine of most sports fans, even among degenerate politicos like myself. If you were tired of hearing news about conference realignment or offseason scandal, gearing up for COLLEGE FOOTBALL : C-SPAN EDITION is probably less palatable.
TL;DR, what do I need to know?
Essentially, the major stakeholders in college football agree that some sort of significant reform is needed and will likely come soon, although whether that's a full blown Division 4 (something Delany denied talking about), or more incremental changes. Urban Meyer handled the litany of questions about how he's LOSING CONTROL well, and laid out where the team needs to improve, leadership wise, to be successful. The BTN will continue to improve as well. Wisconsn's coach Andersen and Brady Hoke gave engaging interviews if you want more details, and you can always refer to our live blog, or my twitter timeline (@MattLGHL) for more details from the event at large.
Overall though, it was a very B1G event. Sporadic spasms of excitement intermixed with longer spells of blandness. After the weekend Ohio State fans just had though, sometimes a little bland is okay.