Big Ten Friday mailblog

Some questions and answers before Week 5 kicks off.

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To the inbox ...

Eric from Los Angeles writes: Hi Adam, love the blog. Is this the most open you have ever seen the Big Ten? Call me crazy, but I'm not completely sold on OSU this year. I could see up to 6 teams with a legit chance of winning the Big Ten Championship. OSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, I'll have a better answer for you in two weeks, as Ohio State will have played both Wisconsin and Northwestern. If the Buckeyes blow out both the Badgers and Wildcats, it's hard not to consider them the clear-cut favorite to win the league, as we all thought entering the season. If Ohio State loses one of the next two games, the race should be pretty wide open. Every Big Ten team has some type of flaw, but Ohio State could have fewer than the others, as well as more talent. We'll soon find out.

Georgie from Augusta, Ga., writes: Adam, As a nuclear engineer, and I appreciate how close your name is to "Atom". As much as I am completely against paying the student-athletes, do you think it might be prudent to pay student-athletes for revenue generating sports a flat salary of, let's say, $9.00 an hour for practice and game time? That way, the student-athletes get a bit of money, and the school has a way to keep a cap on the amount they are paying the players. Using this method, the football players would cost the school $1,080,000 (on top of all the other money spent on them) assuming the student-athletes put in 25 hours of 'work' a week, there are 120 players on the football team, and practice 40 weeks of the year. Your thoughts?

Rittenberg: Maybe I'll change my name to Atom. Sounds cooler. The problem with your plan is limiting the salaries only to athletes who play revenue-generating sports. Leagues would open themselves up to Title IX issues, potential lawsuits from athletes who play other sports, etc. Those athletes, by the way, put in a lot of time, too. It's why if and when scholarship values increase, it will be for all full-scholarship athletes. The leagues clearly can afford this and the Big Ten has been on board with it for a few years.

Brian from Raleigh, N.C., writes: On Jim Delany's comments on paying student athletes, isn't there something inconsistent about heralding a century-old student-athlete model, and simultaneously wielding the Big Ten conference as a money-making machine? He's saying student-athletes shouldn't be able to make money off of football or even control their own images after graduation, but the Big Ten conference and schools can make as much money off the athletes as the market will support. Isn't there something morally shaky about that argument? I'm all for an NFL D-league that offers a for-pay alternative to talented athletes. That seems to solve a lot of problems, and take a lot of pressure off academic institutions. But so long as the schools and major conferences are enjoying unprecedented revenue from the Big Ten Network and other TV deals, there are going to be students who feel that they have earned some portion of that revenue. If Delany isn't willing to negotiate on that point, he needs to be prepared to give up his cable network, give up the league's exposure in other sports media, and impose coaching salary caps and facilities spending caps to keep Big Ten athletics affordable. The alternative-- "We can make as much money off of you as we want but you have to live out the ideals of student athletics"-- is incredibly disgusting and hypocritical.

Rittenberg: Some good points, Brian. Delany's response would be that there were great college players in the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and so on, just like there are great players today. They come and go. The reason the Big Ten makes money is because of its brand and the brands it represents. The platform is the reason revenues are going up, not because players are so much better now than they were 15 years ago. He would say the Big Ten gets rich because of what Big Ten football means, because of what Big Ten football has created over the years. If you want to be a part of this platform, you have to agree to the collegial model. If you want to go pro, you can. He also is willing to negotiate on the value of scholarships, but he doesn't want a system with agents and contracts and endorsements. It would get out of hand.

Cory from Dallas writes: How do athletes and their families not realize how much they are actually getting? Everyone is constantly complaining about increased tuition and costs associated with school and these athletes don't have to worry about that but they are still complaining. I am all for giving kids getting access to the school supplies and textbooks they need but handing a kid extra money will only lead to more problems. The amount of benefit these kids are obtaining by getting a scholarship is huge and I just don't understand how they don't see that. I wish I didn't have school loans to pay for now but I chose to walk onto a team because I wanted to play a sport. If a kid wants to get paid that bad go straight to the pros, find a semi-pro league or get a trainer. Going to college on a scholarship means a free education, free room and board, free access to a trainer and high end weight room, the chance to play in front of thousands and also a laundry list of other benefits (which includes getting some of their laundry done for them). People need a reality check.

Rittenberg: Cory, thanks for your perspective. I think the value of a scholarship can go a bit further, and by increasing it across the board for every full-scholarship athlete, male or female, you satisfy Title IX and prevent further fairness issues. The big, rich conferences can do this and shouldn't be held back by the smaller, poorer ones. There are some costs currently not covered that should be, to help out the athletes and their families. But beyond that, I don't see a pay-for-play system being feasible.

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, since (Barry) Alvarez arrived at WI, OSU is 12-6-1 against WI but only 12-10-1 against MI. In addition, OSU is 13-7 against PSU. WI has been the 3rd biggest threat to OSU over that period. There have been years when WI was the bigger threat, but overall it is still clearly MI.

Rittenberg: Some good numbers to present, Brian. If you're going solely by head-to-head, Penn State is probably the biggest threat to Ohio State, as the Lions have performed better against the Buckeyes in recent years than either Michigan or Wisconsin. But if you go by conference titles won, Wisconsin clearly has been the biggest threat in recent years. The Badgers have won or shared three consecutive Big Ten titles and boast five titles since 1998. In the same span, Michigan has won or shared four titles and none since 2004. Penn State has only two titles (both vacated). I think you have to take both factors -- head-to-head, overall league titles won -- when sizing up which team is Ohio State's biggest threat.

John from Las Vegas writes: One of the bright spots of the Husker Defense this year has been SJB's knack for intercepting the football. His size (ESPN has him listed at 6'3" and 220lbs) is abnormal for a corner…do you foresee him continuing his success in Big Ten play? Or even projecting to the NFL like Richard Sherman in Seattle?

Rittenberg: John, you're absolutely right that Stanley Jean-Baptiste has been a bright spot for a mostly porous Nebraska defense this season. The former wide receiver is tied for the national lead with four interceptions. Although I still put SJB a notch below Bradley Roby and Darqueze Dennard in the ranks of Big Ten cornerbacks, his stock undoubtedly is on the rise. I think he'll continue to make plays during the Big Ten season, although quarterbacks might think twice about challenging him. I like the Sherman size comparison and will see if Jean-Baptiste looks to Sherman as a model for getting to the next level.

Dave from Whitehall, Mich., writes: My question is the OC Position at Michigan State. Given 2 facts - 1) MSU has floundered offensively since his departure and 2) no real progress or success for Treadwell as a head coach, is it out of the question to bring him back as "THE" OC at MSU? Maybe that would keep Narduzzi around until MD retires and be promoted to the head coaching job in E Lansing?

Rittenberg: Dave, don't you think Michigan State's offense downturn has more to do with Kirk Cousins than Don Treadwell? Nothing against Treadwell, but the Spartans were fine offensively in 2011 when Cousins led them to the Big Ten championship game. I thought Treadwell did some good things at MSU, especially after Mark Dantonio had his health scare in 2010. But I've always felt Michigan State's offensive issues go back to a middling line and the inability to develop enough perimeter weapons. I believe going to the spread offense would help Michigan State close the talent gap in some areas. Treadwell could be looking for a new job if things don't turn around fast at Miami, but I'd be surprised if Michigan State brings him back. And I don't think Treadwell's presence has any bearing on whether Narduzzi stays or goes. Narduzzi wants to be a head coach and should get an opportunity soon.

Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, in a recent article regarding Penn State's sanctions reduction, there was mention that the B1G Conference in conjunction with Sen. Mitchell proposed to the NCAA to reduce the sanctions, per Sen. Mitchell's initial recommendations. If that is true, at what point might the B1G decide to lift their own ban on PSU from being eligible to play for the Conference Championship? If the NCAA decides, down the road, to reduce the post season sanctions, is that the key driver for the B1G conference following suit and reducing the ban on playing in the Conference Championship game. Seems to me the conference reacted to follow the NCAA's punishment, now that the B1G may have been at the forefront of helping to reduce the sanctions, might they be proactive in reducing the number of years PSU is banned from playing in the conference championship game, without waiting on the NCAA to decide down the road if they will allow PSU to play in bowl games?

Rittenberg: The Big Ten championship penalty is directly tied to the postseason ban penalty, Rob. When listing the requirements to appear in its first championship game in 2011, the Big Ten noted that any team ineligible for bowls also could not appear in its title game. So once the NCAA ends the bowl ban, the Big Ten will allow Penn State to play for a league championship. It's not a matter of being proactive. The Big Ten doesn't want to see its league champion end its season in Indianapolis because of a larger postseason ban. It would look horrible. What might be more interesting to watch is whether the Big Ten starts giving Penn State its bowl revenue share a little earlier. But right now the Big Ten is following the NCAA's lead on this.