- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Nick the Quick from Nashville writes: The B1G's programs are raking in the dough. The article Monday on B1G revenue should surprise no one. When will the lesser programs start making more solid and needed financial investments in their football programs? Seems so simple to me. Is it that simple or is this a case of jaded B1G fans desperately looking for answers on why these teams struggle but make money hand over fist?
Adam Rittenberg: Nick, this topic fascinates me, and I wrote extensively about it last season. It doesn't seem to add up: record revenues generated, but a football league that hasn't consistently been among the nation's elite. As Big Ten athletic directors told me, there are other factors to consider like sponsoring so many non-revenue sports, which is at the core of the league's broad-based philosophy but isn't the best business approach. Most Big Ten schools have made significant investments in recent years, whether it's facilities or coaches' salaries, but there's still a sizable gap in football budgets. As Indiana AD Fred Glass told me, Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, while Indiana made only about $4.5 million.
The money and investments definitely matter, but as B1G commissioner Jim Delany said, it's not a one-to-one relationship and doesn't guarantee success.
Glen from Minneapolis writes: Everyone has been saying the Gophers have become improved recently, including yourself. However, there always seem to be a caveat that follows (loss of Ra'Shede Hageman, Mitch Leidner's abilities to pass, etc.). I would like to know -- with your ranking of the Gophers' 2014 conference schedule as the second toughest in the league and first impressions post-spring game/practices -- will the Gophers make a bowl game? Should fans be as happy (or grateful) about a 6-6 record as they were with going 8-4 last season?
Adam Rittenberg: Asking college football fans to be pragmatic is akin to asking them to abstain from beer or charred meat on Saturdays. I get that. But I think it would serve Minnesota fans well this season. Minnesota very well could have a better team that ends up with a worse regular-season record. The crossover games are tough, and Minnesota has three very challenging league road games (Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan). But Gophers fans should expect at least six wins and a bowl appearance. Anything less would qualify as a disappointment from a fourth-year coaching staff that returns some nice pieces. Should fans be grateful at 6-6? No. But they also should be realistic about what Minnesota is up against.
Ethan from New Jersey writes: Do you think the B1G would ever allow permanent end-of-season rivalry games with either the Big 12 or the ACC like the SEC and ACC already do? (think Penn State-Pitt, Iowa-Iowa State, Nebraska-Oklahoma) I think if could give a true rival to some teams in the league without one and could sometimes prove the depth of the B1G by having consistent Power 5 play.
Adam Rittenberg: Ethan, the Big Ten really wants to make the final weekend about its own product, not out-of-conference games. The league wants to give Nebraska-Iowa time to grow. Maybe it evolves into a nice rivalry, maybe not. I hope the Big Ten considers allowing Penn State to play Pitt at the end of the season. There's no other league rival for PSU, and the Pitt series has a ton of history and typically took place between Nov. 19-30. I can't see Iowa-Iowa State moving to the end of the season. Aside from the 2001 game, it has taken place in September since the series resumed in 1977. Bottom line: The Big Ten wants to maximize its own rivalries that weekend, but it should be open to nonconference games involving certain teams.
Pete from Cincinnati writes: Agree with your assessment rating the strength of crossover schedules this coming season. This can't be an accident, can it? The conference knows the West needs credibility, and to get that it needs Iowa and Wisconsin to be successful. The conference's best shot at a title team is in Columbus. And while we're at it, let's do what we can to make sure the new guys don't wind up too high in the standings, lest people start talking. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Pete, while I appreciate your conspiracy theories and think Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to draw both Big Ten newcomers in Years 1 and 2, I don't know if the league is trying to achieve all the objectives you mention. Remember parity-based scheduling, which pairs historically more successful teams against one another more often? It should go into effect in 2016 and beyond. "You'll see Wisconsin and Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan," Jim Delany told ESPN.com last year. Wisconsin in 2016 has crossovers against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- in successive weeks, no less. Iowa has both Penn State and Michigan that year, in addition to Rutgers. So while I agree the West Division needs credibility, the initial crossover schedules aren't indicative of how things will be most years.
Punky's Girl from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Could Jabrill Peppers play as an occasional WR, like Charles Woodson did? If so, would he be a double threat?
Adam Rittenberg: He would be if he replicates what he did in high school as a two-way player at the college level. It could happen, but I don't think it will right away unless Michigan really struggles at receiver this year. Michigan coach Brady Hoke, asked in February about Peppers' potential to play offense, urged patience. Peppers first has to show what he can do at cornerback. "Could there be a play in there somewhere for him offensively?" Hoke said. "There could be. But let's let the kid walk on campus, go to a class during the summer and be a freshman."