Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
CHICAGO -- Jim Delany has the votes to implement a nine-game conference schedule in football, without a doubt. The Big Ten commissioner is too smart to suggest it's going to happen without being certain that the league's athletic directors and presidents will go along with the idea.
Good thing he's not polling the coaches, though.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel criticized the idea on Monday, asserting that some of the Buckeyes' non-revenue sports may be in trouble if the football team can't schedule eight home games, as it has this year.
And on Tuesday, Illinois coach Ron Zook was equally forceful in pointing out some potential drawbacks that are especially important to him.
"It's going to cost (the conference) bowl berths. It's going to knock teams out of the postseason," Zook said. "And it could cost somebody their job."
That's because an expanded Big Ten schedule will leave only three slots for non-conference games, which most teams use to schedule all-but-certain victories. And with half the conference playing five road games every season, the potential grows for a 6-6 bowl-eligible season to turn into a 5-7 stay-at-home instead.
"This is why they don't let coaches have a say in this. I understand the desire to keep more of our revenues inside the conference, and the fans' preference for conference games instead of lesser opponents. But you're adding six more losses to our records -- that hurts the league," Zook said. "I don't know of many coaches who will be in favor of this."
Gee, I didn't have to look far to find one. About 30 feet away from Zook, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster had three words for the nine-game plan: Bring it on.
"I'm definitely in favor. I think competition brings out the best in everybody. For us to elevate the status of Minnesota football, we want to play teams that bring value to us," Brewster said. "Beating Towson State, to me, that doesn't elevate your program. The goal here is not to win six games and go to a bowl -- the goal is to win a championship. And to do that, you've got to focus on beating your peers."
For the record, the Gophers have never played Towson State -- and good thing, too, considering the bulletin-board material they have here.
But it's no wonder Brewster isn't afraid of a nine-game Big Ten schedule. He captained the 1983 Illini, the only team in conference history to go 9-0 in league play. Beyond that, though, Brewster believes toughening the schedule will have an effect that coaches overlook. It's also the reason he doesn't want to shy away from scheduling big-name non-conference opponents like USC, which visits TCF Bank Stadium next month.
"To me, it's all about recruiting. Kids get excited to play big games, good teams," the Gophers coach said. "I know we may lose some money by having an extra road game some years, but those games bring value to us. Play someone that gets kids enthused -- 'Hey coach, who you playing?' "
A couple more observations as the Big Ten meetings and media days draw to a close:
-- Read in a couple of places this morning that Joe Paterno looks "weaker" and "slowed-down" at these meetings. It's my first time seeing the 83-year-old Penn State coach up close, so I have no history to compare him to. But I have relatives in their 80s, and I wish they were as vibrant and energetic as Paterno seems. I have no trouble at all picturing him on the sidelines for a few more years.
-- Chatted with director of officials Bill Carollo for a few minutes, and he seems quite confident that replays will be used much more seamlessly this season. For one thing, replay officials will be provided with HD monitors in all stadiums this year. You'd be surprised at the (low) quality of the equipment officials were being forced to use at some stadiums, he said.
-- Other than Paterno, the most popular interviewee this week had to be Rich Rodriguez, and I can't blame him for feeling like the sharks are circling. There was a crowd around him at all times during today's two-hour interview-a-thon, because the notion of Michigan fading into non-contender status seems to fascinate people.
-- One of the weirdest promotions I've ever seen had people wearing gigantic "bobbleheads" of iconic athletes from each school, which made for some odd encounters in the convention center. No offense to the kid wearing the planet-sized Kevin McHale head, but he didn't really have the 7-foot body for it.
-- Camp opens in three days.
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