Hickey: 10 things I'm looking forward to at 2023 Big Ten Media Days
This year, the SEC changed things up a bit by moving its annual football media days to the renowned party destination of Nashville. Out west, the Pac-12 is doing things up in the even more renowned party destination of Las Vegas.
And in the Big Ten, Media Days are coming to the envy of every bachelorette party: Indianapolis.
OK, so Indy’s a little square.
But it’s the perfect place for any such event because the city’s forefathers built everything in a convenient and accessible manner. And people are supposed to be, ya know, working at this event. There’s no risk of blowing off an interview with Bret Bielema because you’re hot at the craps table.
Make no mistake, there may be more work to be done at this year’s Big Ten Media Days than any before it.
After back-to-back years without a single coaching change, there are a whopping 4 new coaches coming to Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday — one of whom hasn’t even held the job for a month.
On top of that, there’s a new sheriff in town.
This is the first public setting for new Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti since he was hired to replace Kevin Warren this spring.
In most cases, Media Days is just a way to kill some time in the summer. But this year, there’s quite a bit to look forward to.
Specifically, the following 10 items:
1. Tony Petitti’s first big moment
Fresh off his heist of USC and UCLA, Kevin Warren used last year’s State of the B1G address more or less threatening other conferences that they were carrion and the Big Ten was prepared to leave nothing but the bones behind.
Warren has since taken his threats to various municipalities in the Chicagoland area as he looks for the best deal for a new Bears stadium in his role as team president. And it will be interesting to see what kind of tone Petitti sets in his first signature moment as Big Ten commissioner. His background lies in the marriage of sports and media, so one anticipates a potentially splashy introduction.
2. David Braun’s first big moment
A guy who hasn’t even served as a coordinator at the FBS level is suddenly the head coach of a Big Ten program. And one wonders how the rigors of dealing with Fargo media prepared former North Dakota State defensive coordinator David Braun for what he’s about to deal with this week — particularly with his new program under fire.
Braun has to be considered an absolute long shot to land the Northwestern head coaching gig on a permanent basis, but he could begin selling people based on how he comports himself in the limelight this week.
3. How Northwestern players respond to scrutiny
I’m genuinely curious as to how Northwestern players Bryce Gallagher, Rod Heard and Bryce Kirtz respond to a uniquely bad situation.
Will we just get a bunch of “no comments,” or will they push back against allegations of widespread hazing in the program? Acknowledge it was a problem? Defend Pat Fitzgerald?
There’s a lot of ways this could go for the Wildcats, particularly with a potentially divided locker room.
4. Ryan Walters’ first big moment
Braun isn’t the only former defensive coordinator making his head coaching debut. Despite his lack of experience, Purdue fans seem genuinely excited about new coach Ryan Walters, and this setting will provide a taste of why that’s the case.
5. A Nebraska coach who actually wants to be there
Scott Frost’s performance at last year’s Big Ten Media Days was an awkward disaster. There was only one coach at the entire event to fail the assignment, and it was him. But that makes sense, because he is one of the greatest coaching failures in Big Ten history.
From his body language to his utter lack of charisma, it was evident Frost had no interest in being there. Or maybe he just knew he had nothing to sell.
Matt Rhule, who I have previously covered at Big 12 Media Days, is going to set a very different tone. And it will actually have Nebraska fans embracing rather than dreading the upcoming season.
6. Discussing Wisconsin’s offensive reinvention
The very idea of Wisconsin running an up-tempo offensive attack is counter to everything we’ve ever known about the Badgers. So it’s exciting that Wisconsin will bring the principles who will play a major role in that transformation — new coach Luke Fickell, new quarterback Tanner Mordecai, and now-veteran running back Braelon Allen.
Wisconsin knows we will have questions, and did a good job making sure the right people are in place to answer them.
7. Hearing Jim Harbaugh say something weird
Jim Harbaugh isn’t trying to say quirky things, but invariably they will come out of his mouth. Like when he spoke of Michigan’s biological clocks being ready for training camp to start last year.
Of course, Harbaugh has some real issue to address, too. Northwestern’s scandal is in the spotlight at the moment, but his disastrous hiring and prompt firing of Shemy Schembechler was one of the more embarrassing episodes of the B1G offseason. And that’s in an offseason where Michigan also fired its offensive coordinator for potentially breaking the law.
8. Seeing whether the NBC and CBS presence is noticeable
Big Ten games begin their migration to NBC and CBS this season before jumping in full force in 2024. That being the case, it will be interesting to see what type of presence both networks have at this year’s Media Days.
9. Appreciating the last year without LA media
It’s the last year of Big Ten Media Days without USC and UCLA, which also means it’s likely the last year before this might expand to a 3-day event. Or perhaps even 4 days, as the SEC has already done.
That also means it’s the last Big Ten Media Days without Los Angeles media members attending. And I’m willing to guarantee a cultural clash with their Midwestern counterparts that will leave both sides irritated that they have to deal with the other.
10. Eating at White Castle
It will be a big week for Indy’s famed St. Elmo’s Steakhouse and its signature shrimp cocktail. Coaches, players and media members alike will all be there.
But like Harold and Kumar before me, I’m a man of simple tastes. The White Castle across the street from Lucas Oil will satiate my needs. Largely because there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else in downtown Indy where you can actually get food after 10 p.m.
But I’ve always taken a strange pleasure in getting my employer to reimburse me for White Castle. No one else turns that receipt in. But now you should feel empowered to as well.