CHICAGO – Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days kicked off with the conference’s longest-tenured head coach, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, stepping in front of the media for his 21st time. The day also included Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who was asked about comments he made regarding Urban Meyer earlier in the week.
Harbaugh offers no clarification on Meyer comments
One of the most anticipated podium sessions Friday morning was for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, following comments he made on a podcast earlier this week about former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
Past podium sessions from Michigan’s unconventional head man have been entertaining, but the ante was upped heading into this year’s Media Days when Harbaugh juxtaposed Meyer’s on-field success with his off-field controversy during an interview on The TK Show podcast.
Harbaugh started his press conference discussing the players he brought with him to Media Days and the first few questions he fielded from the media were about his new offensive coordinator and Michigan being picked to finish first in the Big Ten East. When Harbaugh was finally asked about his Meyer comments, he dismissed any need to clarify those comments and had no regrets about making them.
“I don't think it was anything that was anything new or anything of a bombshell,” Harbaugh said. “It's things that many of you all understand and have written about.”
The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is regarded as one of the best in sports, but it has been one-sided recently with the Buckeyes winning 14 of the last 15 meetings. With Ryan Day replacing Meyer as Ohio State’s head coach Michigan will look to pivot that trend, and you can bet these comments will resurface in the week leading up to their Nov. 30 meeting in Ann Arbor.
Targeting calls will become less frequent
Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo took his usual time on the dais Friday to discuss changes to the rules heading into the next football season. Although 2019 is an off-year for rules changes, changes are made in the interim if they apply to player health and safety. The targeting rule qualifies under those guidelines, and going into 2019, targeting is getting a small tweak that could have a significant effect on how it is administered in-game.
According to Carollo, all elements of a targeting call have to be confirmed and officials will not go into a review with a stance. In other words, every targeting call will continue to be video reviewed, but in those cases when it is not conclusive that a targeting has taken place, the call will be overturned and the player will not be removed from the game. In the past, video review had to have conclusive evidence to overturn a call made by an official on the field.
“We want to get this play correct,” Carollo said. “It's a very important play as far as health and safety, but it's also our largest penalty, so we want to make sure that we get that correct, and if we aren't sure, the player will stay in the game.”
Carollo estimated this change would have eliminated about 10% of the targeting calls that were made in conference play during the 2018 season.
Division realignment not quite on the front burner yet
Since the Big Ten Conference eliminated the Legends and Leaders divisions in 2014 and separated the conference according to geography, the Big Ten’s East Division has won every Big Ten Championship game, by an average score of 37-18. The topic of conference realignment is one that was discussed heavily during the course of Big Ten Media Days, with coaches coming down on both sides of the debate.
The change to East and West divisions were initiated, at least in part, by the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference in 2014. Both schools were placed in the difficult East Division and have combined for a 20-66 conference record over the last five years, with neither posting a winning conference record during that span. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, however, came out on Friday as a proponent for keeping the status quo.
“I don't think you're going to be able to realign the conference to make everybody happy,” Ash said. “I like where it's at right now, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.”
Maybe the most interesting comments about a potential realignment, however, came from Penn State head coach James Franklin. Conference coaches usually do a good job of not acknowledging the elephant in the room – that the East Division is significantly more difficult than the West – but Franklin came the closest to making that concession by discussing the strength of the East Division and comparing it to the SEC West.
According to outgoing commissioner Jim Delaney, the discussion of eliminating divisions altogether and elevating the two teams with the best records to the season-ending Big Ten Championship game has been started being seriously discussed after this past season. Whether they came down on the for or against side of that discussion, though, Big Ten head coaches were fairly unanimous about not believing it was a move the conference would make in the near future.