Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
CHICAGO – At the 2012 Big Ten Media Days conference, there was Penn State football, and then there was the rest of the conference. Or so it seemed at times.
The NCAA sanctions that were handed to Penn State football Monday, and the response in open-forum discussions from players and PSU coach Bill O’Brien, proved a prevailing theme throughout Big Ten Media Days.
To accept the PSU program’s narrative as the dominant theme, you need only consider Nittany Lions senior linebacker Michael Mauti’s articulation of his hope for the Big Ten’s media conference compared against how it actually played out.
“I wanted to come to Chicago and talk football with you guys,” Mauti said during a Friday morning interview, “but that’s not what had to be talked about.”
Despite PSU stealing most headlines, the other 11 Big Ten teams still managed to grab a few for themselves. Here’s a listing of some of the biggest stories coming out of Big Ten Media Days as I see them:
Ohio State flies under the radar
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was probably more then content to stay clear of controversy during the media free-for-all this week in Chicago. Despite the one-year bowl ban his program is facing, Meyer appears to sense an anticipation and excitement for the Buckeyes’ 2012 season, and he played to that.
“I like our players. I like our team,” Meyer said on Thursday. “The energy level is real high right now in Columbus with our football team. So, I’m anxious to get going.”
Meyer also deflected a question about a negative run-in with Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema during this past winter’s recruiting season, saying he and the Badgers’ coach “have a very, very good relationship.”
For OSU, there wasn’t much controversy to address for the first time in a long time – at least not its own controversies – and I guarantee that’s how Meyer likes it.
Penn State is ready to move forward
Unfortunately for PSU football, it entered the Big Ten Media Days frenzy just days removed from being handed a $60 million fine, a reduction of 40 scholarships over four years and a four-year bowl ban.
O’Brien said he’s ready to get on with preparations for the 2012 season, and called on the PSU community to back the team as the 2012 season approaches.
“We’ve got a tough, smart football team,” O’Brien said. “The fans need to get on board, our alumni need to get on board and our lettermen need to get on board.”
Mauti’s reaction to the Sports Illustrated cover for its latest issue, which read, “We Were Penn State,” bordered on defiance. But maybe that’s what PSU football needs as it enters an four-year period of uncertainty – a staunch, outspoken advocate.
“That’s just a false statement,” Mauti said of the Sports Illustrated cover. “For somebody to tell me that Penn State ever put football ahead of education is lying. It’s a bold-faced lie … You can’t tell me that my degree means less after this. You can’t tell me that. And that’s one of the selling points to our players now, is that you’re not going to find a better degree than Penn State in the real world.”
Uncertainly about Leaders Division champion reaching Big Ten Championship Game
With two historically prominent Leaders Division teams – OSU and PSU – banned from postseason play this season, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald speculated about whether the division deserved an automatic berth for the second edition of the conference’s title game.
Not an unfair thing to speculate about considering that, in theory, the Leaders Division winner could advance with two losses – one apiece to OSU and PSU – and therefore have only the third-best record in the division.
Fitzgerald said he would encourage the formation of a selection committee that would pick a team from either division to join the Legends Division winner for the title game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
“Maybe our division winner should automatically be in the championship, and then you take the other teams that are eligible and we put a committee together – the 12 (athletic directors), and (Big Ten) Commissioner (Jim) Delany as the 13th vote, and kind of how we’re doing the playoff. That would make a little bit of sense to me,” Fitzgerald said. “I like the idea maybe having two guys from our division (the Legends Division) in. So, who knows? Any way to get to Indianapolis, that’s what it’s all about, and I think that’s what every team’s focus is to play for the Big Ten championship.”
Ostracizing Illinois, Purdue for recruiting Penn State players
Illinois coach Tim Beckman grabbed headlines when he openly discussed sending eight members of his coaching staff to two establishments to State College, Pa., Wednesday where they attempted to lure PSU players away from O’Brien’s program. Purdue’s Danny Hope also said he’d would consider recruiting Nittany Lions players as well.
Most of the prominent coaches in the Big Ten said they weren’t making a priority of poaching from Penn State’s roster, or altogether criticized the idea.
For Meyer’s part, he said he would have a problem with that practice. Bielema also spoke out on the practice, saying he supported Penn State.
Fitzgerald, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini said they weren’t actively recruiting PSU players either.
From the look of it, Pelini is treating potential PSU transfers the same way he’d treat a transfer candidate from any other school.
“That isn’t to say that if there is a young man from Penn State who definitely wanted to transfer and was for sure going to leave and Nebraska was someplace that he was considering that we wouldn’t take a look at him to see if it made sense for the program,” Pelini said.
Delany even met with coaches Thursday morning to express his view on picking PSU players off. To coaches actively recruiting PSU players, Delany said, “I would hope that they would take (the Thursday meeting) into consideration.”
Big Ten rivalries serve as a reminder of impending season – football is on its way
Buckeyes football fans might not want to hear it, but, with so much negativity swirling around the Big Ten, it’s almost a comfort to hear Hoke referring to OSU as “Ohio” again.
Hoke brought out that reference to OSU, deemed by some Buckeyes fans as improper and disrespectful, during the Big Ten Media Days Friday morning session.
On Thursday, Fitzgerald may have even taken a slight jab at Illini football when he referred to Illinois as “the school down there in Champaign.”