CHICAGO — Urban Meyer answered few questions about his talented Ohio State team and its championship aspirations at Big Ten media day.
The Buckeyes' coach spent most of his time on the podium at the Hilton in Chicago on Wednesday talking about recent off-field issues involving some of his players and how he ran his program while at Florida.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, star cornerback Bradley Roby and two freshmen were disciplined by the school after a run of legal problems in Columbus that once again put the focus on Meyer and how he disciplines his players.
"When a mistake happens or something happened, you have to react and get it done," Meyer said. "So I'm disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call, because, like I said, for 12 months it's been really, really good."
Hyde, who had a team-high 17 touchdowns last season, was suspended indefinitely after he was named a person of interest in an investigation into an alleged assault of a woman at a downtown Columbus bar early Saturday morning. Roby was one of the players selected to represent Ohio State at the kickoff event in Chicago, but he was pulled after he was arrested in Bloomington, Ind., and accused of misdemeanor battery.
Tight end Marcus Baugh also was suspended from all team activities, and Meyer decided to send defensive lineman Tim Gardner back home to Indianapolis. Baugh was arrested last weekend for underage possession of alcohol and possessing a fake identification, and Gardner was charged Saturday night by Columbus police with obstruction of official business.
The problems at Ohio State come not long after Meyer was facing questions about how he treated Aaron Hernandez while the former New England Patriots tight end played for him at Florida. Hernandez has been arrested and charged with murder in Massachusetts.
Asked what it was like to hear his name mentioned in connection with Hernandez in the wake of the charges, Meyer responded: "I felt awful. It's a sick feeling. Your thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victims. Every player situation, every recruit situation, all I know is (it) will always be in the back of my mind. That's all I can say."
Meyer spent six years at Florida, winning national titles in 2006 and 2008. He also had 25 players account for 31 arrests during his tenure with the Gators.
Meyer said he isn't worried about his reputation, but criticism over disciplinary issues still stings.
"I'm a human, so it does," he said. "I don't read. I don't really get involved with following stuff, because I think people need to get facts before they start just making accusations and those type of things. I'm human and I think that is something that I'm constantly evaluating and making sure we are doing the right thing."
BIG TEN: Commissioner Jim Delany was the other headliner at the Big Ten, and he echoed the chorus of power conference leaders calling for changing the way the NCAA does business and how Division I schools run their athletic programs.
"Very optimistic we'll get it," Delany said. "And I think we may get it within a year. And I think the conference commissioners that I've spoken with throughout the range of Division I are open for that discussion.
"I think it's necessary and it's a traditional organization and it needs to innovate as we all do, and I'm pretty optimistic that we do that," Delany added. "But I want us also to keep in mind why we're doing it and I think it's to make better connections between our athletes, the educational and the athletic experience."
Delany's top priorities for a restructured NCAA include a lifetime commitment to education, an examination of the time demands placed on athletes, the eligibility structure for at-risk students and an additional grant for full-scholarship athletes — a hot-button issue for mid-major schools.
All the commissioners from the major conferences have pushed for a stipend for athletes that would add about $2,000 to an athletic scholarship to cover the full cost of attendance, but it could not be passed because smaller schools said they couldn't afford it.
"It's the right thing to do," said Delany, who played college basketball for North Carolina. "Whether that's 2,000, 3,000, or 4,000, I don't know, but we need to address that."
PAC-12: Los Angeles rivals Lane Kiffin and Jim Mora took different sides in the debate about up-tempo offenses in college football.
Kiffin, the Southern California coach, is concerned about the possible safety ramifications of a style of play that crams an extra 20 plays in a 60-minute game.
"I think there is a conversation there," Kiffin said as the Pac-12 held a mini-media day in Hartford, Conn., to go along with its coaches appearing on ESPN. "We're not going to hit as much in practice in season. We might change things in the spring, but at the same time we're increasing the number of plays."
UCLA's Mora, meanwhile, embraced fast-break football in his first season as a college head coach.
"If an offense substitutes then the official stands over the ball and the defense is allowed to substitute. So I think the rule is fine," said Mora, who was a defensive assistant and coordinator in the NFL before becoming a head coach with Atlanta and Seattle.
Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema have been the most high-profile coaches to suggest the up-tempo craze might not be in the best interest of the players, and that maybe something needs to be done to slow down the game.
Saban talked at Southeastern Conference media days about whether football was meant to be played as a continuous action game.
Mora said that after being around the game for 30 years, "I don't think there is a safety issue."
UCLA was 13th in the nation, and third in the Pac-12, in plays per game at 81.7. Arizona was tops in the conference at 83.2 and Oregon was second at 82.8. Arizona State gave the Pac-12 four teams in the national top-15 at 81.5.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is one of the Godfather's of spread, up-tempo offenses.
Just being asked the question about the potential safety issues of the no-huddle and possible rule changes prompted a chuckle from Rodriguez.
"It's silly. I think maybe they should look at blitzing more guys than you can block and see if there's a safety issue in that, too," he said. "How many quarterbacks have gotten hit when a guy came unblocked? Maybe you shouldn't be able to bring seven when I only have six to block.
"Do the rules favor offense? Sure. I've been doing this for 20 years and it wasn't a safety issue before. Who goes to a game to watch a huddle? Maybe the concessionaires like it so they can sell more hot dogs."
CONFERENCE USA: North Texas coach Dan McCarney knows there are 14 football teams this season in Conference USA, the Mean Green's new league. Just don't ask him to name them all.
"But I know there's 14 this year, I think there's 13 next year, and hopefully we'll be back to 14 the next year after that," McCarney said with a chuckle at C-USA media day in Irving, Texas. "I'm just trying to piece it all together, I know who's on our schedule, West, East, who's coming, who's going."
North Texas is one of six new teams in Conference USA, which this fall takes in nine states. The league got bigger even with the departures of Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF to the Big East, whose football members later became the American Athletic Conference.
Three more teams — defending C-USA champion Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina — are headed to the American Athletic Conference next year, when Old Dominion and Western Kentucky arrive. Conference USA expects to be back to 14 football teams when Charlotte begins play in 2015.
"If you're involved with coaching football, you're in the ever-changing landscape of conference affiliation," said first-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken, who was aware of the pending changes when he took over a Golden Eagles team that didn't win a game last season.
After Tulane leaves, Southern Miss will be the only school remaining from when the league made its debut with six teams in 1996.
Tulsa was the unanimous pick by the coaches in their preseason poll to win the West Division in its last C-USA season. East Carolina, another soon-departing school, is favored in the East after getting 11 of 14 first-place votes.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said it's a bit different, but "not that awkward" getting ready to play a final season before changing leagues.
The six newcomers were split equally among the two divisions, with former Sun Belt teams Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International in the East. In the West are North Texas, also from the Sun Belt, and former WAC teams Louisiana Tech and UTSA.