CHICAGO—The Windy City played host to the 41st annual Big Ten Media Days, although the scene at the Hyatt was remarkably different from any event the conference has ever hosted.
As anticipated, the Penn State scandal was the overwhelming centerpiece on day one, and most coaches crafted their words very carefully at the podium. Translation: There were very few solid sound bites. Conference commissioner Jim Delany provided perhaps the most intriguing audio of the afternoon, while Bret Bielema made his stance on recruiting Penn State players abundantly clear.
As for the winners and losers of day one (and yes, there can be winners and losers even when there's only a microphone involved), here they are.
Penn State’s new head coach has been put in an impossible situation, and thus far he’s handled it brilliantly. This trend continued on day one.
He was short at times, refusing to provide any input regarding the status of his roster, choosing instead to keep the focus on what he can control. It was a powerful voice, and even when he said very little, he had an impressive presence at the podium. He used the word “adversity” throughout his 15 minutes and talked a great deal about rallying the team, the city and the fans.
“Our coaches have stories of adversity in their lives,” O’Brien said. “And the measure of a man is how you overcome adversity. I talked to them about without a shadow of a doubt they're going to be able to play six to seven Bowl games per year in front of 108,000 screaming fans in Beaver Stadium, and I expect it to be 108,000 fans in Beaver Stadium.”
Although he’s yet to coach a game, it truly doesn’t feel that way. Tough times ahead, but it’s starting to feel more and more like Penn State has the right guy for the job.
First, we must include that Tim Beckman wished his mother a happy birthday before he went into his statement, which is always appreciated. Well done, coach. Hats off there.
Other than that, however, Beckman spent a good amount of time with the mic explaining the team’s current recruitment of Penn State players. There’s nothing illegal here; they’re operating within the scenario that the NCAA has created, but the entire thing is still difficult to process. Beckman clarified that the team did not come onto campus, but that they sent eight coaches to talk to players at two establishments outside campus. EIGHT.
“We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us,” Beckman said. “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.”
Again, there’s nothing wrong (at least rules wise) with anything Illinois is doing, but I imagine the first-year head coach would have liked different headlines to discuss.
Bret Bielema has proven over time that he’s not shy in front of a crowd. This continued in Chicago, and Wisconsin’s head coach provided the most definitive stance when it came to recruiting Penn State players.
He was also the first one to speak, which set the bar for the rest of coaches that followed.
When he wasn’t discussing his marriage or his wife yelling at him (which brought on one of the few laughs of the day), Bielema was candid when it came to Penn State. He made a firm stance that they weren’t currently recruiting players, which is not something that most coaches that followed were willing to do.
“I'm going to be their biggest fan for every week of the year for the guys that stay there and stick it through,” said Bielema. “My hat's off to the coach and all the players staying strong.”
Going first on a day like this couldn't have been easy, but Bielema was spot on throughout.
To be completely blunt, oh my goodness was Kirk Ferentz boring.
He was asked on multiple occasions about being the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, and despite being a younger coach with plenty of energy, he came off like the “old guy” at the podium.
There was very little substance in Ferentz’s answers (outside of perhaps addressing the turnover with the coaching staff), and he gave the most formulaic answer regarding Penn State recruitment, which left much open to interpretation.
“So I think first and foremost, everybody needs to be compliant,” said Ferentz. “I think after that, it's a matter of people doing what they feel is appropriate. And that's what we try to do as much as possible. We'll try to continue to do the same moving forward.”
Uh...so you're saying that. Well, what are you saying exactly? Kirk Ferentz...future politician.
The B1G’s head honcho was asked some tough, insightful questions, and he did not shy away from any of them.
Although I’ve often criticized Delany’s public presence in the past, I thought he handled a difficult situation brilliantly to close out day one. Before being asked the question he would certainly have to answer, Delany was firm when discussing the sanctions that were placed on Penn State by both the NCAA and the Big Ten.
“I don't really care if it's a precedent,” Delany said. “I don't really care about whether or not they had jurisdiction or whether or not there was an underlying NCAA violation."
Whether you disagree with that or not, his stance was admirable, especially on a day where so few stances were made.
Outside of that, he was sympathetic for Penn State, he was stern if the question called for it and he was very honest. He didn't paint a bright picture, but he also expressed the need to look ahead.
Not an easy day to have 30 minutes in the spotlight, but he more than held his own.
Despite an influx of caffeine and the very quick, in-and-out coach appearance schedule, this was not a media day for the record books (aka, it was very much a snooze fest).
And when the majority of the coaches chose not to dive deep into their responses, the situation surrounding Penn State was being discussed, prodded and asked about.
The negativity that has engulfed the conference (and the game in general) over the past eight months boiled over into one day. This was not unexpected by any means, just another sign of what a challenging offseason this has been. Coaches chose not to dive deep into much regarding PSU or recruiting players (which was asked to each and every coach), and that is understandable to be quite honest.
It did made for a rather uneventful afternoon, however.
Media days are a sign that the season is right around the corner, and thankfully that is still very much the case.