A few weeks ago, Penn State coach Joe Paterno made a call for the Big Ten to follow the path of the SEC, Big 12, and ACC to expand to 12 teams in an attempt to help the Big Ten be a bigger factor on the national stage.
But last week, Paterno took a much different stance from the one that he’d taken just a couple of weeks prior, saying that expansion is something that should be left in the hands of Big Ten commish Jim Delany.
If there’s someone who’s never been afraid to speak their minds, it’s Joe Paterno. And for him to back off on an opinion like he’s a young coach who doesn’t know his place just baffles me, especially because his comments were spot on. The issue about expanding the conference is one thing, and he shouldn’t have backed on off opinions that he felt strongly about, but what I’m looking more at is his reasoning behind wanting expansion – competitiveness on a national level.
I know the Big Ten has all that wonderful tradition, their assured BCS bowl berth, and the nice little financial windfall that comes with that assured BCS berth. But can Delany really look himself in the mirror and say that the Big Ten is as much of a major player as it could and should be? If he is, he’s got some twisted reasoning.
In the first two seasons of the BCS era, the Big Ten was 4-0 in BCS games, with Wisconsin winning consecutive Rose Bowls, Ohio State winning the 1999 Sugar Bowl over Texas A&M, and Michigan defeating Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
But since then, with the exception of Ohio State’s national championship win in the 2002 season, the Big Ten’s performances have dipped. We all know about those embarrassing losses that Ohio State had the national championship game in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but it’s a lot more than that. In the last 15 BCS games Big Ten teams have played, they’re 4-11. Most embarrassingly, since Wisconsin’s back-to-back wins in the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls, the Big Ten has lost in its last six appearances in the Rose Bowl.
Paterno pointed to the long layoff between the end of the Big Ten season and postseason play, and he’s not the only one who’s commented about it with the Big Ten’s increasing futility in the biggest of big games.
Firstly, there’s the issue of freshness.
While Big Ten teams finished their seasons before Thanksgiving, the other conferences are playing on into December, and while that extra layoff certainly
Case in point, Ohio State in 2006 and 2007. In the 2006 season, the Buckeyes had more than a month and a half between the end of their regular season on November 18 and the BCS National Championship Game against Florida on January 8, and it was the same case the next season when they ended the regular season on November 17 and faced LSU on January 7. Each time, their SEC opponent was fresher, having played in the SEC title game on the first weekend in December, which meant much less time in between the end of their seasons and the start of their bowl preparations.
The long layoff is not only a detriment in terms of freshness, but it could – and has – also make a difference if a Big Ten team is one of multiple serious contenders in the national title race.
In that 2006 season, #1 Ohio State finished their regular season on November 18 with a 42-39 win over #2 Michigan, cementing their place in the national title game. Not only did the wait begin for the Buckeyes to see who their opponent in the national title game would be, but the wait began for Michigan to see if they would be that opponent.
Even after their loss to the Buckeyes, Michigan was #2 in the BCS the following week, but over the next few weeks, their hopes evaporated. First USC jumped into second spot and knocked the Wolverines to #3, and then when the Trojans fell to UCLA, it was BCS #4 Florida, who beat Arkansas in the SEC title game on December 2, moving into the #2 slot to earn a title showdown against Ohio State, not Michigan.
All the same, could it also be a factor in regards to the Heisman Trophy?
Say we’ve got a Heisman race as tight as last season’s, when Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy were all separated by a hair. Say Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor is one of the prime contenders for the award, and that going into late November and the end of his regular season, he’s locked in a tight battle for votes. After Pryor has finished up his season, those contenders from the other major conferences could have two extra chances to prove themselves worthy of the award.
Now, I’m by no means against tradition, history, and all that good stuff, but if it’s not obvious by now that some changes should be made, or at least heavily considered, in the very near future. Would expansion be the key? I’ll discuss that in my next piece tomorrow, so stay tuned.