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ASK CFN (6/22) ... The Big Ten Network
Posted Jun 22, 2007

How will the Big Ten Network work? What's the toughest position to play outside of quarterback? Has a freshman quarterback ever led a team to a national title? These and more in the latest ASK CFN.

Pete Fiutak

Fire over your questions to me at I might not be able to answer them all, but I promise they're all read. Any e-mails sent to this address may be published or edited unless requested otherwise. (Please put ASK CFN in the subject line, and PLEASE keep the questions short ... it makes my life easier.)

I can’t sort out the wheat from the chaff anymore between the posturing of Jim Delaney’s crew and the “customer service” arms of Time Warner and Comcast.  I’m a DirecTV convert, so all I care about is, to see my Buckeyes, do I need to order ESPN’s Gameplan?  (This would be a double-edged sword, as shelling out the $110 is a given when it means 4 or 5 Ohio State games.  The marginal cost of UGA/Colorado and the like was zero last year; now I’ve got to justify the expense as well as the 15 hour Saturdays).

More generally, is this shift to specialty sports networks good or bad?  Are we moving toward a pay as you go system, where I don’t have to subsidize Oxygen, Lifetime, and the Poker Network?  Or are we simply moving toward choosing between the all-inclusive $300 a month TV bill or watching whatever the program director deems is “what the public wants” (Pac 10 football, are you kidding me)?
   -West Coast Buckeye

A: Here’s basically what you need to know. The Big Ten network will be on DirecTV’s Total Choice Package and on AT&T. The big problem is with Comcast, the cable monster that just about everyone who doesn’t care about the NFL (whose package is only on DirecTV) has.

Comcast, who wants to make the network a pay channel and not offer it on the basic service, isn’t exactly doing cartwheels over the network, to the point of ticking off Big Ten head honcho Jim Delaney, and is sort of in the right. No, Indiana basketball fans (or non-sports fan Comcast customers who’d have to foot the bill for the Big Ten Network to be on basic cable) aren’t going to watch Iowa volleyball, and yes, women’s sports are second tier (as Comcast put it) compared to football and men’s basketball, whether Delaney feels offended by that or not.

For football fans, for now, you’re not going to miss out on anything you didn’t already have. The games that were normally broadcast on ESPN and ABC will still be there. However, if you want, say, Illinois vs. Northwestern, which was nowhere to be found last year, you’ll have it. That’s a plus. The other cool positive will be the archives. The Big Ten has a library of games going back to 1960, and when it quickly realizes that no one will watch men’s wrestling or women’s softball, it’ll play a ton of the classics.

Now, is something like the Big Ten Network a positive? Yeah, as long as it doesn’t start to take away from the games you normally don’t have to pay for to get. For example, the NFL Network ticked off a ton of people late last year by televising games that many without DirecTV had no shot to see. It’s also a positive if you’re an Ohio State fan living in Los Angeles, or even Columbus. You’re underestimating the cost of going to a game when you factor in the gas, food, parking, and everything else that goes along with it. The sports packages are almost always a tremendous deal. Now you’ll have more chances to see more games, and that’s always good … for now.

Past ASK CFNs ...    
- The most underrated head coach
- The Top Ten NFL receiver prospects 

- Why did Brady Quinn slide?
- The Virginia Tech situation

- Creating a MWest-WAC super-league
Mid-majors who should be in the bigs
The potential new superpower
The 5 best coaching jobs
March Madness for football?
Potential Bowl Shockers
Tim Brewster?
Fox's BCS broadcasts
- Is Brady really better than Russell?
Hot & Cold Bowl Programs
- How ineffective was Reggie Ball?
- A 2007 Top 10 Mock Draft
Can Michigan win a national title?
- BCS possibilities for several teams
- West Virginia schedule, BCS rules
- Toughest coaching jobs
- Hidden Heisman 5

- Is Temple worst ever?
- Oklahoma-Oregon fiasco
- Has Bob Stoops lost it?
- Is Colorado done?

I'm curious how many angry emails you got for the Notre Dame comment last week: "a ridiculous pipe-dream for a team that's still being overrated because of the brand name." – CP

A: Not as many as I got last year when I suggested the defense was going to stink and that the Irish weren’t remotely close to being able to hang with the top teams. What angry Irish fans who think I’m biased don’t understand is that I desperately want Notre Dame, more than anyone else, to be really, really good. It’s always better for the sport when the Yankees of college football are good because of all the publicity generated. However, there’s a flip side to the notoriety.

Had Notre Dame been in one of the BCS leagues last year, it wouldn’t have come within 50 miles of the BCS. This year, the lines still stink, the defense will still be lousy, and Quinn, Samardzija, McKnight and Walker aren’t there to carry things on offense. Think of it this way; without Quinn last year, Notre Dame doesn’t beat Michigan State or UCLA, and I’d argue it wouldn’t have come up with the win over Georgia Tech in the opener. That’s a 7-5 record, and now the Irish appear to be a little worse. Now, if/when I’m wrong and the Irish goes 5-1 out of the gate, I’ll give out all the due respect and love, but from where I sit, it’s my call that this won’t be a great first half of the year. Read our previews on the ND opponents and you’ll see what I mean.

I was just wondering why Miami hasn’t won about 3 or 4 national titles with the talent they've had lately.  When you think of all the NFL superstars of today I would bet that almost half of them came from the U.  Was it possible that the athletes made Larry Coker look really good but since they're gone he's fired?  They obviously were cheated out of the 02 title but shouldn't they have won more than one? – RS

A: 1) They obviously weren’t cheated out of the 2002 title. Whether you agree with the pass interference call or not, the Canes still had several chances to beat the Buckeyes.
2) What’s changed about Miami football in the last few years? The ACC. Fine, so the league hasn’t been the juggernaut everyone expected it to be since Miami and Virginia Tech joined, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the old Big East. The overall depth of the ACC is better, and Miami’s offense has taken a dip, meaning that on any given week there’s a chance to get tagged by a jacked up team with a decent amount of talent.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that the offensive line has struggled over the last few seasons or that the receiving corps has taken a nosedive. However, what many are forgetting about when it comes to the Canes over the last few years, the defense hasn’t dropped off, and while there were way too many close calls against teams like Duke and Nevada, nine of the 12 losses since joining the ACC were by seven points or fewer. (Fun stat. How many years did it take Miami to lose three games by more than seven points before joining the ACC? Four and a half, starting early in 1999 and going through 2004.)  It might not just take a little more offense, or a few more good breaks, to be back among the elite.  

I’m sorry, perhaps I should get my eyes checked because I thought you write in your own words that you think that Conference Championship Games are, in your own words, “Gimmicky”. The masses whom read your articles DEMANDS that you at least attempt to explain that line of thought. - Al in North Carolina

A: They’re not as gimmicky as the college basketball conference tournaments, which are completely meaningless since the NCAA tournament is all that matters, and they render the entire regular season worthless (if you actually believe that the conference tournament champion is the true title holder over the regular season champion). The college football versions are gimmicks to make more money. That’s it. All leagues should find a way to play everyone in conference, like the Pac 10 has done, and decide the champion the right way.

What is the toughest individual position to play in college football outside of quarterback?  As a former D-1 defensive back I can say without a doubt that the cornerback spot is the most difficult position athletically, however, college schemes are generally so basic that most corners don't even need to think beyond a 3 deep drop, a 2 deep jam, or a man to man technique.  The next on my list would be the Mike (middle) linebacker, however, most schemes leave the coverage calls to the safety's which leaves the Mike to only call out the strength of the offense, which everyone already can see (freshman not included in that one).  What position, outside of the qb, has the highest level of difficulty when you combine mental tasks and physical ability? – JW

A: Strong safety. Quarterback might be the toughest to play, but an average talent can be a legend behind a great offensive line and with stars around him (just ask Jason White, Ken Dorsey and Danny Wuerffel). A top-shelf defensive tackle is the toughest position to find a star, but strong safety is probably the most demanding (outside of quarterback). At the collegiate level, a strong safety has to be part linebacker, part corner, and all leader. You’re right in that the safeties have to make a lot of the calls, and usually, it’s the strong safety who has the most responsibility. The more you can ask from your strong safety, the more your defense can do.
Along the lines of the strongside/weakside linebacker question you fielded in last week’s column, I've had the same questions about the safety positions. You have free safety and strong safety, but the free safety doesn't seem to get as much mention in certain formations, as least in the setups I've seen. What kinds of differences are there between the positions, and are many of the differences more dependent on the scheme, or on the player filling the slot? – CM

A: Keep in mind here that I’m talking about strong and free safeties in a general sense, since the formations and responsibilities have changed so much recently, especially with the Cover Two, which is basically a zone defense.

A strong safety, for the most part, is responsible for making more plays against the run and for dealing with the tight end on deeper pass plays. The strong safety is normally the bigger, more intimidating of the two safeties, and is usually the one who patrols the middle of the field and delivers the highlight real hits. He’s closer to the linebackers than the free safety.

The free safety is usually the faster of the two, lines up deeper, and is the one you’ll see helping out the corners on the deep passes. He doesn’t have to be as physical as the strong safety and is allowed to fly around and free lance a bit more, since he has more space to run in. He patrols things more against the pass. You can survive with an average tackling free safety, but if your strong safety can’t hit, you’re in trouble.

Has a freshman quarterback ever lead a team to a national title? Think it'll ever happen if not? I'm wondering because I'm an Oklahoma fan and it seems like we're gonna have red shirt freshman Sam Bradford starting for us, but I think the team is good enough to compete for a NC. – Paul

A: C’mon Mr. Sooner … 1985 ring a bell? One of my favorite players of all-time, OU’s Jamelle Holieway, stepped in for Troy Aikman, who broke his leg in an early season loss to Miami, and became the only true freshman to lead a team to a national title. Bernie Kosar took the Canes to a national championship in 1983, but he was a redshirt freshman. 

A couple years ago as an engineering student, recruiters from potential employers would regularly treat my peers and me to $150 steak dinners and box seats at NBA games along with picking up obscene tabs at bars and in some cases strip clubs.  We also got paid twice what we were worth for internships, which for many involved a week in Las Vegas or Orlando.  My wife received similar treatment from major accounting firms along with a $5000 signing bonus for a twelve week (yes, twelve week) summer internship for which she got paid $25/hr while doing no meaningful work.  My point is, how are these benefits different than the ones Reggie Bush allegedly took?  If the NCAA wants "student"-athletes, then athletes should be allowed benefits consistent with those that many non-athlete students receive.  Keep in mind the allegations against RB involve no money from boosters and no money from USC.  In order to sustain success, corporations need to hire the best engineers, the best accountants, the best lawyers, and yes, the best football players.  The money that gets thrown around during recruitment is just part of the process.  – AP

A: Your wife got drunk in bars and went to strip clubs? Sweet.

I’d try to argue for you, but you’re so dead-on that I have no real comeback outside of the antiquated and childish notion of amateurism. For most students, getting paid to do work in their field is a must to being prepared for a future job, and in the real world, expense accounts, tabs, and perks are all part of the costs of doing business. College football is a business. A big one. Lots of people are making lots and lots of money off of it, but the NCAA keeps it’s bizarre rules in place because 1) it’s able to maintain more control, 2) it’s able to keep all the money from the corporate sponsors, and 3) because the players aren’t around long enough to form any sort of a cohesive unit to challenge the system. Recruits and players should be allowed to take cars, cash, ham sandwiches, whatever they can get from anyone who wants to provide them. Many already do. It should be allowed and not seen as some sort of an evil.


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