Michigan Wolverines: Gary Barta

Big Ten lunch links

May, 15, 2014
May 15
12:00
PM ET
The spring meeting of Big Ten athletic directors is over. Back to the offseason lists and polls.
  • Wrapping up from Rosemont, the “cost of attendance” discussion remains alive.
  • Good take by Andrew Logue on the complexities of Jim Delany.
  • More Big Ten athletic directors weigh in on the eastward movement of the league. Just don't expect the football championship game to go the way of the basketball tourney.
  • Iowa AD Gary Barta comments on the status of the Hawkeyes’ series with Iowa State.
  • Illinois wants to make it clear: No alcohol sales at Memorial Stadium. But is Michigan heading in a different direction? Other athletic directors discuss the issue.
  • Michigan State and Notre Dame would like to keep playing, but the format of the series will change.
  • More details from the incident that that led to the arrest of former Minnesota and Rutgers QB Philip Nelson.
  • Former Chicago prep star running back Ty Isaac is leaving USC. Next stop, the Big Ten?
  • Solid results for Big Ten football programs in the NCAA’s new report for 2012-13 on academic progress rates, including a big jump for new member Maryland.
  • Rare insight into the work of Mark Pantoni, the Ohio State director of player personnel, a job with a wide range of responsibilities.
  • Tom Shatel remembers the football career of a former two-sport Nebraska star who continues to bring a grinder mentality to his alma mater.
  • Ex-Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez fails a physical with the Eagles. Some insight into the alleged bike theft by Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas.
  • A Rutgers offensive line recruit brings plenty of intensity.
  • Eugene Lewis looks like a worthy replacement for Allen Robinson at Penn State. James Franklin has watched “Moneyball” at least seven times. A new Nittany Lions logo arrives as part of a $10 million scoreboard replacement project.
  • It’s a tradition at Michigan for its quarterback pledges join in the recruiting battle.
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The SEC and ACC think eight is great, but the Big Ten has no plans to go back on its move to nine league games beginning in the 2016 season.

The Big Ten isn't ignoring the upcoming college football playoff and the potential paths to the field of four, but its reasoning for the move -- namely, to play one another more often in an expanded conference -- hasn't changed.

"Fans like Big Ten games," league commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday. "If you look at Big Ten attendance around Big Ten games, it tends to be better than the average nonconference game. Also, the commissioners have been clear about strength of schedule and winning championships in conference as the tiebreakers in the college football playoff.

"That's an additional reason for us to do that."

But the move to nine league games doesn't mitigate the challenge of nonconference scheduling. In fact, the unbalanced home-road ratio, combined with a league-wide initiative to stop scheduling FCS opponents, has created new issues to navigate.

Several Big Ten athletic directors this week talked about a smaller inventory of nonleague opponents. This drives up the cost for Big Ten teams to schedule home games that aren't returned (guarantee games). Most Big Ten teams require seven home football games per year to meet budget demands.

"Where are the guarantees going to go as far as the demand and the supply of the opponents to come in and play you?" Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said. "You only have three nonconference [games]. You can have one home-and-home situation and then have to buy two games to get to your seven.

"If the net on those games becomes a level where the visiting team's making more than the home team, then you have to start looking at other options."

Hollis has been reluctant to explore neutral-site games, and while some Big Ten teams have them scheduled -- Wisconsin opens the next three seasons against SEC opponents at neutral sites -- most want to keep games on campus. The Big Ten is working with its schools on scheduling for the 2016, 2017, 2018 seasons and beyond. Hollis thinks more scheduling agreements will happen in the short term rather than games 10-15 years in advance.

One idea discussed this week at both ACC and Big Ten meetings is league members scheduling one another in games that don't count in the conference standings. Michigan and Minnesota considered scheduling a nonleague game in 2010, a season where the longtime rivals weren't on each other's slates.

Iowa and Penn State last season scheduled a nonleague wrestling meet and will continue to do when the teams don't match up on the Big Ten schedule.

"We put together our own parameters in terms of the cost," Iowa AD Gary Barta said, "so I could see some of that happening potentially in other sports."

Michigan State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series with Arizona State, which Hollis called a "blessing" because of the quality of the opponent and the location. The Spartans play longtime rival Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017, and Hollis told local reporters that MSU and Notre Dame have a verbal agreement for a home-and-home series in 2026-27, as well as a possible neutral-site game in Chicago in 2023.

The SEC's and ACC's schedule decisions sparked strong reaction because the five major conferences, competing for four playoff spots, won't have a standardized schedule model. But Big Ten leaders don't seem concerned about the differences.

"I could conceive of somebody playing eight conference games and four very strong nonconference games, and having a stronger strength of schedule than somebody who played nine conference games and three weak nonconference games," Delany said. "So we've tried to address it with more conference games, one major game against an opponent from a group-of-five conference, and that we're not playing [FCS] teams."
Last week at this time, you learned the six prime-time games to appear on ABC/ESPN this fall. Now the Big Ten Network is up to bat.

BTN has selected six games to appear in prime time this fall. They are ...

Sept. 13

Penn State at Rutgers, 8 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesNew to the league, Kyle Flood and Rutgers will be featured prominently in the Big Ten's prime time schedule.
Sept. 27

Cincinnati at Ohio State, 6 p.m. ET
Illinois at Nebraska, 9 p.m. ET

Oct. 4

Michigan at Rutgers, 7 p.m. ET

Oct. 18

Nebraska at Northwestern, 7:30 p.m. ET

Nov. 15

Michigan State at Maryland, 8 p.m. ET

*Kickoff time set at a later date

For those who missed them, here are the ABC/ESPN prime-time selections:

Sept. 6

Virginia Tech at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Sept. 20

Miami at Nebraska, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 4

Nebraska at Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 11

Penn State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 25

Ohio State at Penn State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Nov. 1

Illinois at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

[+] EnlargeJordan Westerkamp
AP Photo/Nati HarnikOne of the league's new and entertaining rivalries, Northwester and Nebraska will meet under the lights this season.
Here's the breakdown of Big Ten prime-time games by team:

Ohio State: 4 (three home, one road)
Nebraska: 4 (two home, two road)
Penn State: 3 (two road, one home)
Michigan State: 2 (one home, one road)
Rutgers: 2 (two home)
Michigan: 2 (one home, one road)
Illinois: 2 (two road)
Northwestern: 1 (home)
Maryland: 1 (home)

Additional Big Ten-controlled prime-time games could be announced in the coming weeks.

More notes:

  • The MSU-Maryland game means the Big Ten will have at least two prime-time games after Nov. 1. The league previously avoided such games based on the preference of its members, not a conference-wide policy, as you've probably been led to believe. Additional November prime-time games could be announced, so stay tuned. Also remember that the Big Ten controls only games played at its stadiums, so if your team plays a road or neutral-site nonconference game, hang tight if it hasn't been announced.
  • Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin don't appear on the Big Ten's prime-time schedule. Iowa fans undoubtedly will be disappointed with no Big Ten prime-time games for the second consecutive season, as the Hawkeyes are a legitimate contender in the West Division. The problem likely is a schedule with the two most appealing games -- Wisconsin and Nebraska -- at the very end, when weather is a bigger factor. The Black Friday game against Nebraska has consistently been a noon ET ABC national broadcast, a spot not worth relinquishing. Still, I wouldn't want to be athletic director Gary Barta today. Wisconsin faces a similar issue as its top home games -- Nebraska and Minnesota -- come at the end of the season. Although it would have been great to see Nebraska-Wisconsin under the lights again, the Nov. 15 date likely prevented it. Indiana had three home prime-time games last year and has been a frequent night-game participant in recent years. Purdue gets the Notre Dame game, but its chances for an additional prime-time contest were hurt by last year's 1-11 clunker.
  • Not surprisingly, both new Big Ten members receive prime-time home games this fall. Rutgers will play its first two Big Ten home contests -- against Penn State and Michigan -- under the lights, while Maryland hosts the defending Big Ten champs in mid-November. "As new members, they're thrilled," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, told ESPN.com.
  • Remember, this list and the ESPN/ABC list contain only games controlled by the Big Ten (i.e. in Big Ten stadiums) Additional night games involving Big Ten teams include Wisconsin-LSU in Houston (Aug. 30, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN), Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), Purdue-Notre Dame in Indianapolis (Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and Nebraska at Fresno State (Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network). The kickoff time for Rutgers' opener Aug. 28 against Washington State hasn't been set, but it will be a night game.
  • While Iowa and Wisconsin fans likely won't be pleased with the list, Ohio State and Nebraska supporters are celebrating. Urban Meyer's desire for more prime-time games is clearly paying off with three home contests and four total to date. Nebraska will play nearly half of its regular-season games at night after playing just one such contest last year. After day games against Florida Atlantic and McNeese State to open the year, the Huskers play five consecutive night games between Sept. 13 and Oct. 18 (they have an open week Oct. 11). I really like the Nebraska-Northwestern game at night. It has been one of the more entertaining games since the Huskers joined the league, as all three matchups have been decided by three points or fewer.
  • This year's prime-time schedule contains only one date, Oct. 4, where both BTN and ABC/ESPN are airing games at the same time. That night, Nebraska visits Michigan State on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 and Michigan visits Rutgers on BTN. There were two such dates last year (Sept. 7 and Sept. 14).
  • Rudner said of the prime-time slate, "The process this year was about as smooth as we've had in the last seven years. Once you get to the point of recognizing the value and importance of prime time, then it becomes fairly easy to get approvals [from schools]."

OK, that's a lot to digest. Thoughts on the prime-time schedule? Send 'em here.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. We wrap up the series today with a look at the importance of coaching continuity in the Big Ten going forward.

It's no coincidence that a historic downturn in Big Ten football has coincided with a historic stretch of instability among the league's coaches.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesIowa's Kirk Ferentz has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach.
Think back to 2005, a season that ended with two BCS bowl wins and teams ranked No. 3 (Penn State) and No. 4 (Ohio State) in the final polls. Seven of the league's 11 coaches had been at their schools for six or more seasons. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, three years removed from a national title, logged his fifth season in Columbus. Three coaches -- Penn State's Joe Paterno, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Michigan's Lloyd Carr -- all had held their jobs for more than a decade (in Paterno's case, four decades).

The Big Ten coaches that year had combined for four national championships, five Rose Bowl titles and seven BCS bowl victories.

Since 2005, the Big Ten has gone through 17 coaching changes (not counting Nebraska's after the 2007 season). Seven teams have made multiple changes, including Penn State, which introduced new coaches earlier this month and in January 2011 after not doing so since February 1966. Last season, Indiana's Kevin Wilson was the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders division. He was hired in December 2010.

As the Big Ten invests more in its coaches, it also must ensure it has the right leaders in place for the long haul.

"If you believe strongly in the person you have," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com, "continuity is invaluable."

Few programs value continuity more than Iowa, which has had two coaches (Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry) since the 1978 season. Ferentz, who just completed his 15th year at the school, has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach. He's one of only four FBS coaches to start before the 2000 season (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Troy's Larry Blakeney are the others).

Iowa awarded Ferentz with contract extensions both in 2009 and 2010, the latter a whopping 10-year deal with a salary of $3,675,000. The Big Ten hasn't set the pace nationally in coach compensation, but Iowa's pledge to Ferentz, often the subject of NFL rumors, jumps out. Ferentz's salary is frequently debated and scrutinized, especially when Iowa struggles like it did in 2012, but Barta's loyalty to him hasn't wavered. Iowa rebounded to win eight games last season.

"Because of that commitment, we made our statement," Barta said. "We're going to fight through this with the person in whom we have great confidence and trust. There's no guarantees in life, but because of Kirk's past performance, because of his long-standing approach at Iowa and his proven success, it was a risk I was willing to take. Knock on wood, so far it has worked out terrific."

Barta sees a similar approach from Big Ten schools like Michigan State, which won Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles in Mark Dantonio's seventh season as coach. Dantonio in 2011 received a contract designed to keep him a "Spartan for life," and his newest deal is expected to more than double his salary from $1.9 million in 2013.

"Continuity breeds success," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said, "and that's the hardest part sometimes on the institutional side, to keep that commitment, keep that contract whether it's an assistant or a head coach. … It requires a high level of confidence and a high level of trust."

The day of playing musical chairs with coaches, of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon
There have been similar long-term commitments at other Big Ten schools. Northwestern awarded coach Pat Fitzgerald a 10-year contract in 2011. When Indiana hired Wilson, it gave him a seven-year contract, longer than the initial deals new coaches typically receive. Athletic director Fred Glass links Indiana's lack of continuity -- the school has had five coaches since 1996 -- with its on-field struggles (only one bowl appearance since 1993) and knows the school needs a more patient approach.

"Stability is an important thing in our league," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who applauded recent moves like MSU retaining Dantonio and Penn State hiring James Franklin. "The best example I'll use is men’s basketball where we're having tremendous success, in large part, because of the stability we have in a number of our programs. I think we need to get that in football."

While Big Ten football has struggled in recent years, the league is surging on the hardwood, in large part because of veteran coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo (19th year), Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (13th year) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (10th year). Six of the league's 12 basketball coaches have been in their jobs for at least five seasons.

Continuity doesn't guarantee success, but it often correlates. Barta has tried to create "an environment of longevity and long-term commitment" at Iowa, while also recognizing the pressure to win and, in some cases, the need to part ways with a coach.

"The day of playing musical chairs with coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said, "of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right."

After several years of transition, the Big Ten hopes it has the right men at the top -- and the ability to keep them there.
As we've written for the past several days, Big Ten athletic directors have a whole host of decisions to make over the next few months, including how many league games they should play, how to align the divisions, the next bowl lineup and even what to call the divisions.

"We've got some heavy lifting to do here for the next few months," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said.

But what if all that huffing and puffing turns out to be a Sisyphean task? There's one thing that could send conference leaders scrambling back to the drawing board: more expansion.

The decisions the athletic directors will make for the 2014 season and beyond will be based on the new 14-team format with Maryland and Rutgers joining. Many people suspect the Big Ten is not done adding members and could soon grow to 16 or even to 20 members. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee recently informed us that conference expansion talks are "ongoing."

The athletic directors are well aware of the possibility that more teams could be coming at just about any time.

“Based on the last three years I’ve been in this business, you’d be crazy not to think about it," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "But it’s hard to model anything because you don’t know what to model. The minute you get yourself convinced that you’re going to go from 14 to 16, for all you know you’re going to 18, and a lot of people think the ultimate landing place is 20. Who knows?"

For now, all the decisions they make will be based on a 14-team model only.

"You make your decision based on today," Iowa's Gary Barta said. "And today, we have that many teams. We can’t worry about something that’s not established yet. I don’t know if and when there will be more teams. Right now, we’re going to make decisions based on the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, and we’re going to make them with the information we have, consistent with our principles."

"It’s hard to predict the future," added Northwestern's Jim Phillips. "No one would have predicted we’d be at this place we’re at right now. I don’t think you can get polarized by the what-ifs or the potential of what might be and lose sight of where you’re at."

The league's ADs will do their best to come up with the best framework for a 14-team league. If future expansion arrives in time for the 2014 season or shortly after it, at least the conference has gained lots of recent experience in how to deal with it.

"When you get into the discussion of things like 10 [conference games], you say, 'Wow, if we had a couple more teams, it would be easier,'" Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a natural. But it's not something that motivates you to say, 'We've got to position this in case we have another team, or two more teams.' We don't do that."

"What I've liked about our league is, when we added Nebraska, we felt like we needed to settle and watch the landscape. We thought the East Coast was important, and we got two good pickups relative to that principal. So I think we deal with what we have now, sit, monitor the landscape, and if something emerges down the road, we're positioned to be able to absorb."
Earlier today, I wrote a story about the construction craze gripping college sports, including the Big Ten.

Even in a long story, I didn't have room for all the good notes and quotes from the reporting process. Luckily, that's why we have this blog.

Iowa is an interesting case study. The Hawkeyes, one could easily argue, have been doing just fine in the Big Ten under Kirk Ferentz. Yet outside of their recent improvements to Kirk Ferentz, their football facilities were lacking. Now the school is completing a $56 million upgrade that includes a new practice facility to replace the old bubble and eventually new offices. Will that make a difference competitively for Iowa, which has been cranking out NFL players under Ferentz?

Hawkeyes athletic director Gary Barta said the practice bubble was built in the early 1980s and had a life expectancy of 10-to-15 years.

"Was it a disadvantage for us?" Barta told ESPN.com "I don't know. I do know that the facility had outlived its lifespan, and it was time for a new one.

"My goal, first and foremost, is to hire and retain the best people. Then you have to make sure to give those people the tools to be successful."

Several athletic directors who were interviewed said having new and state-of-the-art facilities are critical in recruiting.

"When you have 17-to-18 year-olds who are being toured around the country to decide where they want to take their talents and perform, they are looking with a critical eye at facilities," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "They know these are the places where they're going to spend a disproportionate amount of their time. And it's the right thing to do; if you're going to ask world-class athletes to come to your institution, you want to provide them with the very best you can in terms of the facilities they're going to be operating in."

"Kids are smart," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "We can say all we want to about our commitment to the program, but [they're thinking], 'Let's see how that manifests itself.' The perception is so important. When kids come in, when fans come in, when parents come in, they can see there's an institutional commitment to the sport."

While Glass noted in the story that Big Ten television revenue has had a huge impact on his program, others said they still rely mostly on donations to fund major facility improvement projects. At Michigan, for example, Brandon said the TV money might help get a project finished sooner but doesn't pay for the whole thing.

"The extra TV revenue has been terrific," Barta said. "I don't want to oversell it or undersell it. But without the contributions of our donors, we wouldn't be able to do it either. So it's a combination of support and contributions."

Schools have to decide on their priorities when undertaking construction projects. Things like new or expanded stadiums can help increase revenue, while the recent big push for better training and operations centers enhance the quality of the athletes' experience but don't add any dollars to the bottom line.

"You have a student-athlete focus, and you have a fan focus, and you have to make decisions accordingly," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "We’re trying to be extremely aggressive within the resources we have available at Michigan State to provide the best for both of those segments of our population. It becomes a challenge. You have to have a global perspective, and you have to have a long-range perspective and make sure that you can generate the funds necessary for the debt capacity that you’re building."

All of the ADs I interviewed for the story said they don't get caught up in the arms race, though each admitted they pay attention to what other schools are doing when it comes to facilities. The unanswered question is whether building craze will ever slow down.

"I'd like to say cooler heads will prevail and stop the escalation, but I'm not sure they will," Indiana's Glass said. "It's a marketplace, and at some level if athletic departments are generating the money, I'm not sure I see the downside of reinvesting it in their athletic programs. If it leads to the academic side subsidizing the athletic side, then think it's gone too far and hopefully the market will reorient itself."

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