What fun is a college football conference if there isn’t a little animosity among its members from time to time?
That’s what we got in the Big Ten on Monday, when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh created a kerfuffle by complaining about the conditions of the visiting locker room at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium following the Wolverines’ 28-10 victory over the Boilermakers.
Specifically, Harbaugh said the locker room was too small, had no air conditioning, insufficient bathroom facilities and no privacy. He also blasted Purdue’s athletic trainer facilities, saying a table that was used to treat players “looks like it’s from the ’20s.”
“Gamesmanship should cease at the line of health and safety for the players,” Harbaugh said. “It’s become apparent after going around to all the visiting schools in the last couple of years that a conscious effort of gamesmanship that is unsportsmanlike when you have locker rooms that are too small, that are not heated or cooled properly, in this case, there’s no air conditioning.”
Purdue quickly fired back in a statement: “The after-the-fact concerns expressed by Michigan are somewhat surprising because a member of its football staff conducted a walk-thru of our facilities with our athletics department staff at Ross-Ade Stadium on July 18. Furthermore, to help teams prepare in advance, our visiting team manual highlights in bold type ‘there is no air conditioning in the [visiting] locker room,’ with accompanying Purdue Athletics staff contact information about how to request preferred temporary accommodations. We did not receive any such request.”
So, basically, Harbaugh called Purdue’s facilities a dump. And Purdue responded by saying Harbaugh knew it was a dump but didn’t plan accordingly.
You’d think that with all the TV money funneling into Big Ten members that all football stadiums would be up to snuff, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. And the conference does not set minimum specifications for locker rooms.
The subject took off during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference, with answers ranging from “no comment” to “deal with it.”
Kirk Ferentz, in his 19th season at Iowa and the dean of Big Ten coaches, is in an interesting position. Dating to Hayden Fry’s days as Iowa coach, the visiting locker room at Kinnick Stadium has been painted pink, and Ferentz has continued that tradition. Fry’s reasoning was that the color pink would put opponents in a passive mood. In his book, “A High Porch Picnic,” Fry wrote, “I can’t recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.”
Ferentz shrugged off concerns about gamesmanship. “That’s part of football,” he said. “I’ve never really had too much in terms of expectations on the road.”
His position might have roots in his experience as head coach at Maine from 1990 to ’92.
“I remember our first away game very vividly,” he said. “It was a school in the Big East and used to be in the Big East in basketball. I found it interesting that they only had one commode in the locker room. We traveled 50, 60 guys, and I don’t know if it would have met the specifications of the Versailles peace treaty.”
Do that math, folks. Sixty players. One commode.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald embraced the differences in stadiums and put the onus on the visiting team to be prepared. “Sometimes, the air conditioning doesn’t work so well, so you bring some extra fans. Or if you’re anticipating cold, you bring some extra heaters,” he said.
But Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst might have summed it up best.
“Every locker room you get a win in is a good locker room, and the ones you don’t, they’re not as good,” he said.
Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune.