Changes highlight Big Ten kickoff

Jeff Sherry

CHICAGO — In the ever-evolving world of college football, the Big Ten had become the country’s land of antiquity. It was the one place where the game’s old ways stood and tradition ruled.
But that appears to be changing.
The Big Ten opened its 25th annual kickoff luncheon on Thursday and conversation centered on many changes that will soon affect the conference. As the teams’ coaches addressed the media throughout the morning, an overriding theme developed: It’s about time.
“Things will be a little different,” said Iowa coach Hayden Fry. “But I think these are very exciting developments.”
Nearly all the coaches spoke in favor of the NCAA’s new overtime period and the conference’s much anticipated union with the bowl alliance.
Big Ten and Pac-10 officials announced Tuesday that they agreed to a deal — set to begin in 1998 — with ABC television and the bowl alliance. The agreement adds the two conferences and the Rose Bowl to the existing bowl alliance, and virtually insures that the nation’s top-two teams will meet for a national championship game.
“What we’ve got is good for college football and good for our league,” said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. “Look at the year Penn State had a couple years ago (12-0 in 1994) and they didn’t get to play for the national championship. It becomes a popularity contest in the polls. I prefer to have it settled on the field.”
The only coach to speak negatively of the new arrangement was Michigan’s Lloyd Carr, whose biggest concern was that a Big Ten team would be excluded when the Rose Bowl gets its turn to host the national title game.
“The first Rose Bowl where I see a Big Ten team not participating is going to be a very sad day for me,” Carr said. “In my view, it’s the greatest experience a college football player can have, and I hate to see it end.”
But Carr said the new agreement does have large financial benefits for the Big Ten. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the deal between ABC and the Big Ten and Pac-10 was worth a total of $518 million over a seven-year span. When asked to confirm the figure, conference commissioner Jim Delany declined to give an exact amount but said the reported figure was “a little bit low.”
Football isn’t the only sport that stands to benefit from the new arrangement. Delany said “a large amount” of the increased revenue will support women’s athletics and non-revenue men’s sports, depending on each university’s priorities.
Two other topics often discussed were: criteria to determine the teams for the national championship game, and the coaches’ reactions to the new overtime format.
Several criteria were suggested to select the teams that would compete in the championship, including strength of schedule, computer power ratings and the polls.
The overtime system, which involves teams taking turns on offense from the 25-yard line, was favorably received.