Nitt Picks Is Polite, But Snickering

Spring practice is over so Joe Paterno has been hitting the alumni circuit lately. Dubbed "An Evening with Joe Paterno", these are supposed to be intimate settings where Joe can speak to big donors giving them an inside look at the program. But of course reporters work their way in there in hopes of getting a sound bite in a rare moment when Joe lets his guard down. Then they publish Joe's comments as if the elder statesman has spoken from high atop the mountain to enlighten the masses.

I'm a little late to the party here, but earlier in the week Joe made a splash when he offered his comments on Big Ten expansion, a topic for which the media has been pushing for years.

"We go into hiding for six weeks," Paterno said, referring to the hiatus between the end of the Big Ten regular season and the BCS bowls. The other major FBS conferences play into the first weekend of December.

"Everybody else is playing playoffs on television," Paterno said. "You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that's a handicap.

"I've tried to talk to the Big Ten people about, 'Let's get a 12th team -- Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt -- we could have a little bit of a playoff.'"

I think it would be great to bring in Pitt, Rutgers, or Syracuse into the conference to give Penn State a more natural rivalry. But I'm sure the rest of the Big Ten would not agree. We're still the guy that barely made the guest list to the party as a favor to someone. Bringing in one of our former eastern rivals would be like bringing an uninvited guest to the country club. I can already hear the Michigan fans complaining about having to travel to New Jersey.

Of course Paterno knew these comments would get out, and he knew they would be readily dismissed. So he preemptively got in front of those who would discredit him and his ideas.

Asked what sort of response he had received, Paterno raised his eyebrows in a facial shrug.

"You know, it's a conference that's dominated by a couple of people," Paterno said. "If I start talking, they're polite, but they snicker.

"They don't know I know they're snickering, but they're polite. ...I wish I were younger and going to be around [another] 20 years."

So people are polite, but they snicker. Keep this in mind. Now let's read Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's response.

Delany responded to Paterno's comments Monday, saying that while a league championship game has its benefits, particularly from a marketing perspective, expansion requires much more.

"It's not the reason you would expand," Delany told ESPN.com. He also said Paterno isn't the only Big Ten coach who has stumped for expansion in recent years.

That's a very polite answer. But am I the only one that can envision Delany snickering when he makes that comment?

But that's petty and beside the point. Let's look at Delany's reasoning for not expanding.

"The issue has come up with our football coaches a couple times -- with the extra week and if we did expand, would we be more competitive?" Delany said. "I would say in some years they might be right. But has it enhanced the competitiveness of the ACC in football? Has it enhanced the competitiveness of the WAC? I don't know.

"Just because you have a championship doesn't make you more competitive. It's about coaching the players. The SEC game has been a marketing bonanza. I wouldn't discount that. But others have struggled with it."

So championship games don't work as well in the ACC and WAC, so we shouldn't take a chance on them? I fail to see this short-sighted logic. The SEC game is a marketing bonanza because it usually features two teams ranked in the top ten in with the winner going to the national championship game. Plus they have Vern Lundquist and all of CBS hyping the game like it's the Super Bowl and talking about Tim Tebow like the kid can walk on water. Marketing determines the success of the game, and that is Jim Delany's job. Get the deal with Conseco Field and ESPN to broadcast the game on prime time television and it will be just as successful as the SEC game.

But Delany is correct that more has to be taken into consideration than just a football playoff. There are dozens of other sports that have to be taken into account. Forcing teams like Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois to send their swimming, field hockey, and wrestling teams to Syracuse or Rutgers would be more of a burden on their athletic department budgets when they are replacing local games those teams can usually bus to. And academics have to be considered as well. The Big Ten should not lower their academic standards just to get a football playoff game.

I applaud Delany for being selective. I don't want to pluck someone like Eastern Michigan or Akron just to get 12 teams, but I get the impression  Delany is playing hard ball and holding out for Notre Dame. While the Irish would make a perfect fit, they clearly have another agenda...money. Their fat television contract has them sitting pretty. And the BCS pays them $1 million per year whether they go to a BCS game or not. They are in no way interested in giving up that money or sharing it with Delany.

So it's time for the Big Ten to move on. There are plenty of good schools out there that would make a good fit geographically and academically with the Big Ten. The fact is not having a conference championship game is a huge disadvantage. A one loss SEC team will always leapfrog a one loss Big Ten team due to the extra feather in their cap that the SEC championship game brings. The day may be coming when a one loss SEC team may leapfrog an undefeated Big Ten team. The media was already pushing for that last season when it appeared Penn State could go undefeated.

If and when that happens, we'll see who will be snickering then, Mr. Delany.

 

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