Big Ten Friday mailblog

Have a great weekend. I'll either be watching golf or playing it.

David from Algonac, Mich. (The Venice of Michigan) writes: Hi Adam!Thank you for taking the time to rank the Big Ten facilities, as I've always wanted to see a sorta-objective take on the matter. With considerable respect, I nevertheless want to call your article's prioritization into question. Now, I'm not saying the things you prioritized aren't important. However, it seems silly to me that you admitted on your own that trophy case buildings and weight rooms were more important in these rankings than stadiums and indoor practice facilities. The latter are *way* more expensive, way harder to come by at the highest level, and far more "blingy." Also, the stadiums are, like, where the games are played in the first place--the meccas that bring the fans, the televisions, and everything about the stage that lures the players to pursue athletic scholarships in the first place.Unless you want to argue for the athletes' academic buildings (which weren't even mentioned here as a slight piece of insanity), the football stadium is the most important facility on any Big Ten school's athletic campus. And the biggest recruiting tool. Bar none.To argue otherwise is to say that when it comes to cartoon millionaires, Scrooge McDuck isn't first after all because, even though the giant chamber of gold coins he swims in is incomparable, the foyer is only so-so.Thank you for your time & thought, Adam.

Adam Rittenberg: Thank you, David, especially for the Scrooge McDuck reference. Good one. A few things to point out. I included weight rooms as part of the football complex gauge -- their value to programs with current players and recruits is incredibly significant. Football stadiums obviously are important, too, but recruits want to see where they're going to spending most of their time, which is in the Monday-Friday facilities. The Woody Hayes Center is an enormous recruiting tool for Ohio State. Same goes for Penn State with the Lasch Building and for Nebraska with the Osborne Athletic Complex. I strongly disagree that the stadiums are "everything about the stage that lures the players to pursue athletic scholarships in the first place." That's just not true, at least from what many Big Ten players have told me. It's part of it, but not all of it. Speaking of academics, many teams have academic support areas as part of their football complexes. For example, Penn State has a rather large academic area in the Lasch Building.

Wisconsin has a great stadium (Camp Randall), one of my favorites in the sport. But the Badgers' support facilities lag way behind most of the Big Ten. That's a big deal, it has impacted recruiting and it's being addressed. In this day and age, you can't just rely on your stadium to bring in recruits. It needs to be the total package, and teams like Michigan State have figured that out.

FFX Lion from Washington, D.C., writes: Adam, love the blog. I enjoyed the recent series you and Brian did that identified the most important game for each team in the upcoming season. I found myself agreeing with some and disagreeing with others. However, the one that I most disagreed with was characterizing OSU as Wisconsin's most important game. How can you say that when that game will have virtually no bearing on the division title. Most of us who commented on this conjured up scenarios for the season, and most concluded that it is virtually certain that Wisconsin v. Penn State will be decisive in determining the CCG representative. If I may offer a suggestion: This series would have been a good one for one of your "take two's", where you and Brian debate this.

Adam Rittenberg: FFX, I think you can make good arguments for both the Ohio State game and the Penn State game. And while it's nice to hear you're "virtually certain" how the Leaders division race will play out, there's a chance other teams like Purdue work their way into the mix. You're correct in writing that the Ohio State game won't matter if Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State tie for the division lead. In this case, the results in games with the ineligible team won't matter and the Wisconsin-Penn State winner would go to Indy. But if Wisconsin, Penn State and another team (say, Purdue or Illinois) tie for the division lead, and all three went 1-1 against each other, the team with the best division record goes to Indy. Ohio State still counts as a division game, and both Penn State and Wisconsin host the Buckeyes this year. It's absolutely vital for teams to win their division home games. I expect it will be rare to see a division winner that loses a division home game.

But beyond the division, it's always going to be important for Wisconsin and Penn State to beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been the Big Ten's premier program for most of the past decade. They recruit at an extremely high level, and Urban Meyer swiped recruits from both Penn State and Wisconsin in the 2012 class. Although the Buckeyes won't reach the Big Ten title game this year, they'll still be a big factor in the race.

Scott from Barron, Wis., writes: While Coach Bielema thinks that the Badgers were a Devin Smith away from a National Title shot, I have often said the same thing about JJ Watt. If Watt has stuck around for his senior year, the Badgers never even get to the point where they have to worry about two Hail Marys. Even if it did come down to those two plays, the QB's wouldn't have had as much time to throw the ball down field. What are your thoughts?BTW: I don't blame Watt for going Pro, I would have too!

Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree, Scott. I don't think Devin Smith gets Wisconsin two more regular-season wins. I think J.J. Watt does, plain and simple. He either would have set up camp in every opposing backfield or commanded so much attention from offensive linemen that his teammates would have had open rushing lanes. Wisconsin's lack of a difference-making pass-rusher showed last season. The Badgers had an above-average defense, but they finished just 71st nationally in sacks per game (1.79). While players like linebacker Chris Borland spent a lot of time in opposing backfield, it's not the same as having a J.J. Watt coming off of the edge. That said, like you, I can't blame Watt for turning pro. It worked out well for him.

Alex from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, which was your most memorable moment (game, play, pregame ceremony, etc) from the season last year? Also what are you most looking forwards to in the upcoming season?

Adam Rittenberg: Alex, I think you're going to get the answer you want. The Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol with no time left in the Michigan State-Wisconsin game was one of the most memorable moments I've witnessed in my career. Wisconsin had regained momentum behind Russell Wilson, and most of us in the press box expected the Badgers to win in overtime. But the Spartans marched down the field and two seniors who had once competed for the starting job connected for the game-winner. What a moment. The Penn State-Nebraska pregame ceremony also sticks in my mind as a special moment, even though I wasn't in State College that day. As for this coming season, I'm really excited to see if Michigan can take the next step and keep pace with the defending national champs in the opener. I'm also very excited for Oct. 27, as we get so many blockbuster matchups (Michigan-Nebraska, Michigan State-Wisconsin, Ohio State-Penn State).

Alex from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Adam, As much as I enjoy procrastinating while in grad school, I enjoy it less when reading up on all the proposals for post-season changes. I just get a little frustrated. It is clear to me that the biggest problem isn't in the post-season; it is in the ranking system. Even deeper, the largest problem is in the regular season. How can one reasonably rank teams in different conferences when there is so little inter-conference competition? I like the new B1G-Pac 12 scheduling agreement, but it isn?t enough. I propose each team must play 2 teams from other AQ conferences in order to qualify for the four team play-off. This way there are more interesting games during the non-conference slate and more information for the people who ultimately make the decision. Do you think this is a good or realistic idea or have I been inhaling too many chemicals in the lab?

Adam Rittenberg: Alex, I love your idea, and any college football fan would. It means more attractive games in September across the board. That said, I'd be surprised if there's a strict requirement about playing two marquee non-league opponents to qualify for a playoff. As a friend recently told me, Duke would get quite a few phone calls (so would Indiana). Also, so many teams need at least seven home games a year that it would be tough to work these out with home-and-homes, etc. Still, there will be an emphasis on schedule strength in whatever selection system is used. Too many leagues support the need for schedule strength to be a big part of getting in the top 4. Whether it's including SOS in a new computer formula or requiring a selection committee to value it in determining the four teams in a playoff, teams will be encouraged to challenge themselves outside their conferences.

Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Why is there no BuckeyeNation blog for OSU? You'd think they have the following...

Adam Rittenberg: Stay tuned, Steve. BuckeyeNation (an entire site, not just a blog) is coming soon. Looking forward to it.

Jeremy from Iowa writes: I like the decision by Michigan to unretire those jerseys. Just having them so nobody can wear them just leads to the player to be forgotten. I find by making them an award makes the legend that had them retired more memorable. Is this an original idea by the Michigan staff or is another team doing the same? I hope it catches on at other programs - not only in CFB, but in other sports aonal as well.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, most of the response I've received about Michigan's decision has been overwhelmingly positive. Fans from other Big Ten schools wouldn't mind seeing the same thing with their retired jerseys. I still think it's nice to have some retired numbers displayed at the stadium. I always check out Wisconsin's list, which is displayed on the front wall of the upper deck on the West side of Camp Randall Stadium. I haven't heard of many other programs doing this, so it seems like an original idea. Michigan clearly wouldn't have proceeded if the honorees or their families hadn't been on board. It'll be fun to see which players get to wear the unretired numbers and to see the jerseys with the honorary patches.

Bob from Haiku, Hawaii, writes: Hey Adam. Being new to the conference (love it by the way) as a Nebraska fan I have yet to fall in love with the Rose Bowl. I'm not questioning the grandeur, pageantry, history etc. It's just that from childhood, I've felt that if Big Red wasn't in contention for the N.C. the season was a disappointment. A conference championship was a stepping stone to the real goal. From comments from the current Huskers this attitude still prevails in Lincoln. Could the focus on the Rose Bowl be hurting the B1G's Natl Title shot annually? I like MSU's statements on the N.C. this year.

Adam Rittenberg: Really good thoughts, Bob. This is a fascinating topic because you have the traditional Big Ten fans who value the Rose Bowl, league championships and the like. You have Nebraska fans who clearly value the Huskers' national championships above all else. And then you have a younger generation of Big Ten fans that have followed college football in the national-title-or-bust era. I think as time goes on, there will be fewer Big Ten fans -- and decision-makers (ADs, presidents) -- who view the Rose Bowl with such esteem. That doesn't diminish the value of the Rose Bowl as a sports property, which remains very strong and likely always will be strong. But I'd expect there to be more talk about national championships, if not from coaches then definitely from players, who understand the dynamics of the sport and have friends who play in other leagues. Now is the Rose Bowl focus hindering the Big Ten from winning national titles? I don't think so. Recruiting is a bigger factor, in my view. Also the commitment to football -- coaches salaries, etc. -- isn't quite as high as it is in the SEC.

Markus from Boca Raton, Fla., writes: A question was asked in the Tuesday Mailblog about the NCAA's investigation into the Sandusky situation. You did say it could go either way, but I'm not sure I understand how they can hand down sanctions. I understand that this was handled extremely poorly by school officials which led to more abuse. However, at no point did any athletic program gain a competitive advantage in competition. Can you shed some light on this?

Adam Rittenberg: Markus, I still lean toward the NCAA/Big Ten imposing no sanctions on Penn State because these issues didn't directly relate to NCAA rules, compliance, student-athletes and competitive advantages. The NCAA and Big Ten statements on the investigations talked more about ethics and responsibility of athletic department employees than NCAA rules violations. That said, lack of institutional control is a blanket term, and possibly could be applied in this case, even though it's a slippery slope. The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors stated it will "reserve the right to impose sanctions, corrective or other disciplinary measures in the event that adverse findings are made in the areas of institutional control, ethical conduct and/or other conference related matter." So that suggests action could be taken for problems outside the NCAA rules. Again, if I had to bet, I don't think Penn State will be punished by the NCAA or Big Ten. But this is such a unique situation, and it's hard to predict how the NCAA/Big Ten will respond.