Day 1 of the Big Ten Media Days has come and gone, and all the coaches have had their say in front of the legions of Big Ten press.
That all said, not all press appearances are equal, and some folks handled themselves better than others over the course of the day. Penn State overcame some early concerns and came away looking like the class of the conference, while Illinois head coach Tim Beckman left more than a little to be desired compared to the rest of his compatriots.
So who's the head of the class? Big Ten lead blogger Adam Jacobi is handing out grades today.
The best performance at the Big Ten Media Days came from the team with its back against the wall: Bill O'Brien and the Penn State Nittany Lions.
O'Brien was forceful pushing back against bad news. When someone asked if he had an update on the status of coveted (and notably absent) tailback Silas Redd, O'Brien merely answered, "No."
When it was time to stick up for his team, though, O'Brien responded dutifully, saying that the measure of a man is how he responds to adversity. He also expects his home games to be packed and has no problems saying it.
Best of all was Penn State's decision to send its players to the media days after initially declining. That decision was entirely understandable. But instead of leaving everyone at home, Penn State swapped out Redd for Mike Mauti, who had been one of the vocal leaders of the team and is continuing his aggressive defense of the program here in Chicago.
Should Penn State fans be satisfied with Jim Delany's response to questions about the legitimacy of the NCAA's and Big Ten's involvement in punishing the Nittany Lions this week? No, not if they're looking for reasons to think Penn State was treated unfairly.
Should the rest of the conference feel good about having Delany in charge? On that front, most assuredly.
Delany was confident and forceful in his assertions of moral imperatives in the case of levying punishment against Penn State, and if nothing else, there's absolutely no question where Delany stands on any of the related issues. As mentioned, the implications of what he said could potentially be concerning, but this is such a complex issue that there's no way he was going to take (or explain) a perfectly popular stance.
On one hand, nobody was dressed better than Montee Ball, who went purple with his vest, pocket square and bow tie here. The returning Doak Walker and Heisman finalist was already on the short list for best player in the Big Ten; now he's on a similarly short list for best dressed in the conference.
On the other hand, Ball also decided to take the opportunity to change his name...sort of. According to Wisconsin, Ball's first name is now pronounced "Mon-tay," not the phonetically appropriate "Mon-tee."
Now, it's fair to question the logic of following up a 39-touchdown season—in which you're named one of the five best players in the entire NCAA—by informing fans that the name they associate with you is now wrong. But...actually, there is no but.
And look, as someone whose last name gets mispronounced frequently, trust me when I say that having a name with multiple pronunciations can be a point of pride. All great art is open to myriad interpretations and understandings. So if it's always been pronounced Mon-tay and we've all just been wrong for the last few years, our response is this: You're welcome.
Urban Meyer made his Big Ten media days debut on Thursday, and while he didn't say anything truly objectionable, that's only because he didn't say much of anything at all.
Consider the easiest moral track to take of the day, one that started with Bret Bielema's opening insistence that his coaching staff would not be pursuing Penn State's players because it wasn't the right thing to do. Brady Hoke agreed unequivocally. So did Mark Dantonio.
Meyer said he had a problem with actively recruiting Penn State players too. That's good. But when pressed, here's what Meyer said on that same front.
"I don't know enough about it," said Meyer. "I don't know enough about the rules. A player has a right to choose, especially by the rules, to go where he wants. To actively go get a player on another team, I'm not sure—I really don't understand the rules. I didn't look into it. I'm not really sure of the rules with that. [...] You're getting into a situation that I'm not quite very familiar with, and we're not going to get very familiar with it."
Now, deference to compliance in unfamiliar situations isn't exactly reprehensible. It's also a weak "out" when nobody else in the conference seemed to have a hard time explaining why they weren't about to actively recruit Penn State.
Ohio State fans should expect better from their coach than this—especially when he also refuses to feed the fandom by taking even one veiled shot at Michigan during the same appearance. Meyer knows he's coaching for Ohio State now...right?
Tim Beckman sounded like a cross between Urban Meyer (good!) and Tim Brewster (horrible!) in his appearance at media days—and that's probably the least objectionable aspect of his day.
Illinois was hounded by assertions from Penn State coaches and players on Wednesday that several coaches had been on campus, seeking out players and trying to recruit them. It was a serious enough situation that getting a coach not named Urban Meyer to condemn the move on moral grounds was essentially a layup (sports reference!), and Delany's only real comment about it was that Illinois had made the decision before Delany had a chance to meet with the coaches and athletic directors.
Not hard to read between the lines there.
But what really sent Beckman's appearance over the edge into "slimy" territory was this initial assertion, helpfully compiled by the Big Ten:
We did not go onto their campus. We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us. We did not go after them. They had the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us. And that's how we handled the situation.
Sounds like an equivocal denial of the reports—well! That's all settled. Hey, wait a second; we're going to need a follow-up on that one, Tim:
We were in State College, but we did not go on campus. We went to two establishments outside campus and called some individuals and if they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by.
Sliiiiiiightly different story with those details.
The deep irony here is that Illinois' aggression in pursuing Penn State's players is probably not only going to net the Illini zero players, but it's only going to result in Penn State banding together even more firmly. Every "us" needs a "them," and for Penn State, the "them" is visibly stalking them in State College, waiting to tear the team apart, fecklessly and futilely so.
So great job on that one, Illinois!