The Big Ten can't move its campuses closer to the top recruiting hotbeds. It won't stop caring about or investing in sports that don't make money. It won't compromise academic standards.
But there's one element the Big Ten can upgrade as it tries to improve its football fortunes: coaches. The resources are there, thanks to the Big Ten Network and other revenue streams. The demand is there from many fan bases.
It's time for the Big Ten to aim higher with the head coaches it courts and ultimately brings into the conference. That means looking beyond the MAC coach of the moment or the affordable coordinator. That means sparing absolutely no expense to lure top candidates.
Nebraska and now Michigan have the opportunity to reshape the quality of coaching in this conference. Both programs are viewed as great, if not elite, jobs. Both programs are dripping with tradition, fan support, facilities, and, well, just about everything else a coach could want. Both have gone far too long without competing for conference championships, much less national championships.
This is the time for both to start moving toward college football's upper crust again. The first step: bringing in the right leaders.
Some disagreed with Nebraska's decision Sunday to part with a coach (Bo Pelini) who had won nine or 10 games in each of his first seven seasons. But the move signals that Nebraska wants to be better than good, and is willing to take a big risk to reclaim elite status. A coach close to Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told me Sunday that Eichorst is aiming for a big name to replace Pelini. Whether he lands him remains to be seen, but it's encouraging that Nebraska, without many obvious candidates, is thinking big.
Michigan faced a much easier decision with Brady Hoke, whose program had backslid since winning 11 games and a Sugar Bowl in his first season. Hoke checked a lot of boxes that Rich Rodriguez didn't in Ann Arbor, but his Michigan Man schtick quickly grew old once the wins stopped. Did Michigan settle for Hoke, a 47-50 coach prior to his arrival? Perhaps. It cannot settle this time. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett must start his search with prominent candidates who will listen.
If you want to be great, you have to commit to being great. Look at the Pac-12. Not only has every school made significant investments in facilities -- some Big Ten schools have done the same -- but the quality of coaching has skyrocketed in recent years.
Recent coaching additions include Jim Mora, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach. Not every move is working out to perfection, but there are more proven winners in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. Rodriguez, while struggling at Michigan, certainly belongs in the proven winner category after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 championship game in his third year.
Big Ten schools, meanwhile, too often take the bunny slope instead of the double black diamond when it comes to finding coaches. There have been plenty of practical hires but not enough brazen ones.
There are also some Big Ten programs seemingly satisfied with their place in the college football world.
Iowa fans should be furious right now. Their Hawkeyes managed to go 7-5 despite the most favorable schedule they'll ever have to the Big Ten championship game. Plus, their neighbors to the west sent a message that very good isn't good enough. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, faces no internal pressure despite a top-10 salary, no top-10 finishes since 2009 and just one such finish in the past decade. Ferentz's compensation and a beautiful new facility suggest Iowa wants to be elite. But if that expectation were real, wouldn't there be more outcry?
Illinois' decision to retain Tim Beckman for a fourth year makes sense, as Beckman's team improved down the stretch to become bowl eligible. But another jump in wins is a must in 2015, perhaps a run for the West Division. If not, what message does it send to an already apathetic fan base?
Pat Fitzgerald should be feeling some pressure to make changes after consecutive 5-7 seasons. How can Northwestern raise its profile without some expectation, some tension, in and around the program?
Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Indiana's Kevin Wilson must make bowls in 2015 to keep their jobs. If not, what's the point?
I recently had lunch with a top coordinator from another conference and asked what he wants in his first head-coaching job. His answer: a place with unrealistic expectations.
How many Big Ten programs can say they do right now?
Coaches always talk about controlling the controllables. The Big Ten always will have certain factors working against it, but it can control who leads its programs. The league remains very appealing to top coaches.
It's time for an upgrade. Your moves, Nebraska and Michigan.
Make them bold ones.