Big Ten’s big footprint a plus

Published 9:09 am Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Big Ten football coaches endorsed the league’s growing membership Tuesday, noting that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers will likely lead to tens if not hundreds of millions of new dollars.

A couple of them said they thought the players ought to share in the payday, too.

“Hopefully through all this we’ll make some decisions to be able to distribute this money to the players as far as, if we’re getting ready to go to postseason play here, it would be great to be able to take care of their families or guardian, to be able to help them fly to a bowl game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “And take some of the money and allow them to get more money from bowl gifts and things of that nature that they’ve earned.”

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The NCAA doesn’t allow players to be paid beyond scholarships and doesn’t allow schools, for instance, to help players’ families get to games. The NCAA is considering whether to allow $2,000 stipends for athletes.

Many coaches agree with Fitzgerald, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini said, but the decision isn’t theirs or the Big Ten’s to make.

“Obviously, the NCAA has a big say in whether that ever comes to fruition,” he said.

Most of the coaches said that, based on the addition of Nebraska two years ago, they’ll have little input on how two new teams affect the alignment of the Big Ten’s two divisions. When news that Nebraska would join the Big Ten broke, Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema put considerable thought into the best way to bring the Cornhuskers on board.

“I even wasted probably a couple days of my life trying to come up with a great answer and had some input, but the way it all kind of shook out it was out of my hands,” he said. “But I couldn’t be happier with the way they got laid out.”

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio said that, given the four or five years most coaches stay in one job, schools and the conference understandably don’t ask for much input from them.

 “I think these decisions are made for the longevity of college football and the longevity of the institution, which is the way it should be,” he said.

Most coaches said Tuesday that — much as they did when Nebraska joined the conference — rivalries are the most important thing to try to preserve as divisions are realigned and schedules made.

With Nebraska’s addition the conference allowed schools to preserve annual games against preferred rivals even if the schools were in different divisions, such as Illinois and Northwestern.

Those longstanding rivalries are “the backbone of college football,” first-year Illini coach Tim Beckman said, and should be a priority.

“I think first of all it’s a sign of times — clearly the landscape in college football has changed very dramatically in the last 20 years,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “I think that the people that make those decisions in our conference do a fantastic job. … And I think overall it’s going to be the best thing for our conference, just like adding Penn State years ago and then Nebraska have proven to be good for our conference.”



Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema said he hopes to keep a school on the schedule that he believes is growing into a strong rival for the Badgers: Penn State.

The teams play this weekend and the schools’ athletic directors have talked about making it a trophy game, he said, like Paul Bunyan’s Axe that the Badgers and Minnesota now play for.

“I sure do like playing Penn State,” he said. “I’d love to protect that in any way, shape or form.”



The addition of two East Coast teams will mean long road trips for some of the Big Ten’s westernmost teams, but Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz isn’t worried about how well Hawkeye fans will travel to Maryland or New Jersey.

“One thing about Iowa, there are Iowans everywhere,” he said, then recalling road trips across the country when he was an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1990s. “My first year in Cleveland, we played in Seattle, and there were Browns backers everywhere.”