Highlights, lowlights and oddities from the first day of Big Ten Media Days
The first day of Big Ten Media Days is in the books, and boy, it feels good to be back.
On Thursday, the first of two sessions, there were vague answers from the Big Ten commissioner, Jim Harbaugh talking about “Ohio” and an old friend’s welcome-back party to the B1G.
Here are the 5 biggest takeaways:
1. Kevin Warren is still not great at communicating
No one wants to relive all of the back and forth from last fall, when the Big Ten couldn’t make up its mind about football season. Are we heading toward another strange season?
On Thursday, commissioner Kevin Warren spoke about a “decentralized decision-making process” when it comes to COVID and that each institution would make its own rules with how to deal with that. It’s a tricky situation, since some schools are requiring students to be vaccinated this fall, and other schools are not. He said the league members will get together in August to finalize policies.
I guess that’s better than September, but we’re kind of on a little timeline here.
Warren said, “One of the things I did learn last year is that we’re as methodical as possible, that we bring people together.” This is college sports in a nutshell: So much time, so little progress. The Big Ten has had all this time to think about what it will do with COVID for the fall, and Warren still can’t give a clear indication as to what is going to happen?
Warren mentioned that “maybe the communication wasn’t as clean and perfect as it could have been at times.” Uh, ya think? This season isn’t exactly off to a roaring start either in that department.
The SEC, which announced its policies earlier this week, is once again looking like a much more organized outfit. Considering the news this week that Oklahoma and Texas are trying to join the SEC, the Big Ten needs to get its act together — and quickly.
2. The B1G is ready for NIL
There weren’t any surprising reveals of QBs earning up to $1 million before their first start, like Alabama’s Bryce Young, but B1G coaches seem excited about the possibilities for NIL. It’s especially interesting for programs like Nebraska and Iowa since they are the only shows in town, so to speak. Nebraska coach Scott Frost mentioned Thursday that he feels Nebraska is uniquely positioned to take advantage of NIL, and I tend to agree.
Here’s what will be interesting in the NIL era: Will programs like Nebraska and Iowa thrive because they have the market to themselves, or will programs in bigger cities (think Northwestern and Minnesota) do better because they have tons and tons of businesses within shouting distance? Minnesota coach PJ Fleck spoke about having 18 Fortune 500 companies in Minneapolis and how they aren’t in some small, little college town. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Evanston and Chicago are the best places for NIL.
If I’m picking, I think everyone wins — brands, athletes, big markets and small markets.
3. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t lost his wit — and he revealed Michigan’s QB1 heading into fall camp
Of course, the main attraction on the first day was Harbaugh, who shared that he is excited to “beat Ohio.” He referred to Michigan State as Michigan’s rival, interestingly. That checks out, because those games are much more competitive than any game with Ohio State has been the past 15 years. Harbaugh also compared any talk of his being on the hot seat to “World War II propaganda.” Well, OK then.
For the bit of news: Harbaugh shared that Cade McNamara is the team’s QB1 heading into fall camp. I guess this makes sense. McNamara performed pretty well last year in relief of Joe Milton, who has since transferred to Tennessee. Former 5-star recruit J.J. McCarthy is a true freshman, and Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman — though more accomplished in college than McNamara — is the new guy.
Harbaugh is desperate to find his own guy at QB and develop him into a multi-year starter, which is something that he hasn’t been able to do since taking over in 2014. Is McNamara that guy? He’s probably more of a placeholder, until Bowman or McCarthy get up to speed. McNamara’s familiarity with Josh Gattis’ offense is his biggest strength, which is why he’s in the lead heading into fall camp. Let’s see how long he can hold onto the job.
4. It’s all good between Scott Frost and Nebraska’s new AD — for now
What did you expect Frost to say about his new boss, Trev Alberts? Frost wasn’t at Alberts’ opening press conference since he wasn’t in town, but the duo has reportedly met four times, including before Alberts even started the job. Frost said he was really excited when Nebraska hired Alberts, who like Frost is a former Nebraska star with long ties to the program.
Frost says he and Alberts are “on the same page” as far as rebuilding this program. It’s funny, because that’s not a term I’d have associated with Nebraska at any point in the past few years, whether that be with the Big Ten and its COVID policies, or even in-house with trying to get rid of the Oklahoma game this season. And what about that tweet the other day from the Nebraska account poking fun at Iowa, which has beaten the Huskers 6 consecutive times? The Huskers could use some “on the same page” in their building, because I haven’t seen much of it.
It’s obviously a situation to monitor moving forward. Former AD Bill Moos hired Frost, extended Frost through 2026 and spearheaded the expansion of the football facilities on campus. Alberts is not obligated to stick with Frost long-term, obviously.
Let’s see how a couple of former Huskers can co-exist in a high-pressure situation. So far, so good.
5. An older, wiser Bielema
Most figured new Illinois coach Bret Bielema would command a ton of attention in his return to the B1G, and he certainly did. The former Wisconsin coach seems to have been humbled after abruptly leaving the conference back in 2012 for Arkansas, where he lasted 5 seasons and finished under .500 overall.
He spoke about how he has learned from his success (at Wisconsin) and failure (at Arkansas), and how that has made him a more well-rounded coach. He understands that a lot of it is about the people you surround yourself with, and he feels like he has a good one in Illinois AD Josh Whitman. Bielema even looked back on that infamous Iowa tattoo he got while playing there: “I got that tattoo at 19. It was a great idea then, not so much now.”
Most importantly, he recognizes the importance of recruiting in Illinois, where prior coach Lovie Smith failed to adequately cover.