July 31, 2007

Big Ten notes: No time off

CHICAGO One year after Big Ten football teams said "bye-bye" to bye weeks with the addition of the 12th game, the league's coaches would like to see the off week return.

"They were unanimously supportive of getting a bye week," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. "They were split on whether or not the bye week was so important as to move the last game beyond Thanksgiving."

Right now, the Big Ten schedule ends the weekend before Thanksgiving. For the schedule to begin a week earlier at the start of the season, it would require an NCAA rule change. To move the season back a week would require all teams to be in agreement.

So, what's the solution?

"I think that the short-term answer may be for those institutions willing to move a game at the end of the year, maybe Week 12 will be a bye week," Delany said.

Other rules issues

One rule change that will take place this season affects kickoffs. The ball will now be spotted on the 30-yard line instead of the 35, giving more opportunities for returns and fewer touchbacks.

"I like the rule change because it puts one of the most exciting plays back into the game of football," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "There are so many touchbacks from a ball being kicked off on the 35-yard line. If you move it back to the 30 and the ball is going to be in play, your kickoff return units are going to have to be outstanding.

"Your field position should certainly be a little bit better. Where it puts tremendous pressure is on your coverage units. Your coverage units are going to have to be that much better, and we're going to have to be seeking out outstanding kickers. But all in all, it's a good rule change. It's going to be great for the fans."

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who is considered more of a defensive-minded coach, wasn't in favor of the change.

"I believe that when they changed that rule, it had a bigger impact on the game then they had thought," he said. "Now there won't be as many kicks into the end zone and you will have to run five more yards to cover. The ball will be coming out quicker and more effectively. You will need to have great speed, and it will make it more critical for teams to have a kicker who can put it in the end zone."

Enhanced performances

During his opening address, Delany said one of the challenges the conference continues to face is banned substances. Prior to this year there have been two levels of defense, one at the NCAA level and one at the university level. However, the athletic directors and presidents of the universities added a third level of defense. The administrators unanimously approved a conference-wide performance enhancing drug-testing program that will affect about 10 percent of athletes annually. While the 10 percent includes all student-athletes, Delany said there could be a greater concentration of testing in one sport. In addition, he said a positive test would result in a one-year ban from competition.

Ray of sunshine

Prior to wrapping up his opening statement, Dantonio updated the media on the condition of offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr.. An incoming freshman, Ray was diagnosed with cancer following the Michigan State spring game. Dantonio said Ray underwent 14 hours of surgery Monday to remove a tumor on his leg.

"He's in good spirits," Dantonio added. "I think it was a very successful surgery, so we'll see how that goes. Our hearts go out to him and his family."

Ray hopes to begin taking classes at Michigan State in September, but he may have to wait until January - depending on his recovery time. Nonetheless, Ray wants to get back on the football field at some point.

"He wants to play football again - maybe a year and half, maybe a year, maybe two years," Dantonio said. "We don't really know, but the attitude that he has displayed as a person throughout the entire process is unbelievable."

Tidbits

When Brewster was hired by the Gophers, he stressed the importance of recruiting - especially in the state of Minnesota. Brewster lived up to his word during the spring evaluation period. At least one person from his staff visited all 392 high schools in Minnesota.

How many did Brewster visit?

"I was in over 100," he said.

  • Second year Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked if he thought he would stay at his alma mater for his entire coaching career, similar to Joe Paterno's 41-year stint at Penn State.

    "I'm going to have to win a lot more games than four if I'm going to be there as long as Joe Paterno," he quipped.

  • Speaking of Paterno, the subject of when he'll retire was once again broached.

    "The only time it bothers me is when people decide where I should go," Paterno said. "I'm healthy now and I don't bother with what people think. It's kind of flattering that so many people are interested in what I do. When I think that I can't do the job that Penn State deserves, then I'll start thinking about leaving the game.

  • For the first time since 2003, Iowa was not named as one of the top three teams in the conference's preseason poll. This year Michigan was picked as the favorite, followed by Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Big Ten only announces the top three teams in its preseason poll.



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