Big Ten Monday mailbag

The Monday mailbag is back and here to get you through this long day without any NCAA tournament games:

Justin from Chicago writes: As you and Adam have pointed out, there will be one more game a year for each team played within the BIG with the nine-game schedule, but what bothers me is how this game will factor in. By this, I mean that everyone keeps saying that due to the increased schedule there will be more times that say Nebraska plays OSU and Penn State. This is actually not the case unless there was another rule change with which I am not familiar. It was my thought that while there will be 9 league games, there are 2 new teams entering, increasing the number in each division. Essentially, it appears that each team will have to play 6 division games, then 3 cross-divisional games with a possibility of 7 teams. This seems that instead of the old model of 8 games with 5 in division and 3 spread out amongst 6 teams. It seems as though instead of increasing the number of times OSU and Nebraska meet it will actually decrease. Care to provide insight?

Brian Bennett: You're right that each Big Ten team will play three crossover games, which is the same number as they play now, but with an additional cross-division opponent in the mix. But a couple of things should help. For one, it looks like there will be only one protected crossover game (Purdue-Indiana), which should give the league a lot more flexibility in its scheduling. And I also believe the Big Ten will go out of its way to make sure the top teams from each division play each other as often as possible. There is simply too much interest and too much TV revenue at stake not to have Nebraska-Ohio State, Nebraska-Michigan, Wisconsin-Ohio State, etc., on the schedule. Maybe there's a couple of years where Nebraska and Ohio State don't play, but then you'd probably have Michigan and/or Penn State on the schedule instead.

Ben L. from Chicago writes: Hi, Brian: With all this talk about division realignment, I've heard very little talk about division re-realignment. When the B14 expands -- likely east with Virginia, UNC and GT atop the short list -- which teams would move west? Seems like MSU and Michigan would make the most sense. Perhaps the bigger question: Is anyone even thinking about this right now? If not, why not?

Brian Bennett: Ben, we asked several of the league's athletic directors that question earlier in the year, and the standard response we got was that they could only deal with the present reality. Several of them acknowledged the potential of further expansion, but since nothing is certain, it's pretty much impossible to plan for it. As Michigan AD Dave Brandon said:

“Based on the last three years I’ve been in this business, you’d be crazy not to think about it. But it’s hard to model anything because you don’t know what to model. The minute you get yourself convinced that you’re going to go from 14 to 16, for all you know you’re going to 18, and a lot of people think the ultimate landing place is 20. Who knows?"

Who knows is right. While we think the Big Ten will look toward the schools you mention, who knows if a school in a different part of the country suddenly becomes available. The league can only plan now for what it has. If there is more expansion, the conference will have at least a year or two before new members can join, giving it plenty of time to come up with a new format. Which is something I'm sure the athletic directors are not anxiously awaiting.

Rich from Des Moines writes: Brian, I understand why the new recruiting rules have been tabled for now. However, I think the NCAA has the right idea vis-a-vis streamlining and updating the rules to reflect contemporary reality. The new rules could, and probably will, subject recruits to excessive inundation of printed materials, texts, etc. I think young players ought to be allowed to have professional representation -- someone outside the family who fully understands all the rules, has the kid's best interests at heart, can keep recruiters at arm's length when needed, etc. This would protect most players from the worst excesses of coaches who may be willing to skirt ethical lines in recruiting. Isn't it time for the NCAA to allow this type of representation because it is in the best interests of the student-athletes? I'm sure an argument against this would be the danger of unscrupulous agents. But that is a straw man. These people could be certified through the NCAA or even a third party such as the NFLPA or NBAPA. Moreover, any agent that did wrong by a player would develop a bad reputation. Players talk to each other in this day of social media and those bad agents would get weeded out.

Brian Bennett: Rich, I'm all for rules that give players more power. But the NCAA is hugely against anything that smacks of professional representation, as we've seen huge penalties for schools where players had dealings with agents before their eligibility was up. I can't believe the NCAA would budge on that, especially for high school recruits. Another issue is how every player could get this kind of representation. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of Division I prospects every year, and several of those players don't have money to pay such agents. We've also seen problems with "runners" and street agents controlling access to players. I'm not sure what the right answer is, because the NCAA can't continue to try and monitor things like calls and texts, yet giving coaches carte blanche doesn't seem to work, either. The organization needs to work closely with member schools and involve the coaches to figure out rules that make sense.

rtXC1 from Denison, Texas, writes: I have a question regarding the new playoff system and its committee. Do you think the criteria for selecting the 4 playoff teams will be more specified than it is now or just as vague? My biggest complaint of the current system is how the voters contradict themselves. In 2011, Alabama got the nod over OSU because it was the "better team," although OSU clearly had the better resume; in 2012, had Ohio State been eligible, the National Championship would've been ND vs Ohio State (the 2 best resumes, AKA the only 2 undefeated teams), which is a joke considering A&M, Bama, Stanford, and Oregon were clearly the 4 best teams. Will we see more clarity on the rules of choosing these teams or continue forward with some on the committee voting for the 4 best résumés while others vote for the "4 best teams?" Since it is so difficult to judge which teams are better than others without them playing, it makes more sense that only résumés should be looked at (and I'd bet most fans outside of the southeast would probably agree). Thanks!

Brian Bennett: A lot still remains to be seen on how the committee will choose teams. Jim Delany proposed that conference champions get extra weight from the committee, and all indications are that strength of schedule will be a huge factor in the selection process. However, this could also end up looking a lot like the NCAA tournament selection committee, where factors like RPI and schedule strength are used but the proceedings are ultimately secretive. It likely will still come down to whatever consensus is reached by that committee, whose members may well have different standards for judging teams. Hopefully, a strong group of selectors will be able to come up with a great field, but there is always going to be controversy and howling from teams No. 5 and 6. My hope is that strength of schedule will be the No. 1 factor, because that will encourage better nonconference games and will improve the sport. But even that can be subjective.

Doug R. from Austin, Texas, writes: Typical of ESPIN to create a match-up where the Penn State player is at a disadvantage from the get-go. Why is Paul Poszluzny being compared to an offensive player like Drew Brees? Why not have defensive players compared to defensive players, instead of this type of apples to oranges comparison? Could it be that in the past, Penn State players and/or coaches got too many votes, and since ESPIN is on a "smear Penn State at every opportunity" vendetta because of Jerry Sandusky, there's no way they'll provide a level playing field for anyone or anything from Penn State?

Brian Bennett: This qualifies as the most amusing conspiracy theory e-mail I've received in a while. Never mind that our Big Ten players tournament is just a fun little diversion during the offseason. Or that of the four matchups, two featured offensive vs. defensive players (Ndamukong Suh vs. Braylon Edwards being the other) and one had a running back facing a left tackle (Ron Dayne vs. Robert Gallery). Or that fans determine the winners by their own voting. But, yes, somehow this is a grand effort to smear Penn State. Ludicrous.