The SEC, as we all know, has been the best college football conference in America for the better part of the last decade. The Big Ten used to hold that honor – and it held it for a long time – but no more.
Are Big Ten coaches and officials frustrated that they are no longer top dog?
“Well, I think everybody wants to be No. 1,” Big Ten Network college football analyst Gerry DiNardo said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “I think the challenge (is) to be the best within the framework of your conference.”
Unfortunately, the Big Ten is at a decided disadvantage when it comes to recruiting – and not just because there are more prospects in the Southeast than in the Midwest.
“I’m of the belief that the recruiting rules have to change,” DiNardo said. “I think that the SEC right now is absolutely the No.1 conference, and one of the reasons is the unofficial visits have become so important to recruiting. An unofficial visit is a visit paid for by the student-athlete. When you’re in the Southeast Conference footprint, there’s a lot of prospects who are within driving distance to your campus. In the Midwest, that’s not true. You look at Iowa. You look at Minnesota. You look at Wisconsin. You look at places that are hard to get to – (like) Nebraska.”
“For the Big Ten to continue to compete,” DiNardo continued, “I think the recruiting rules have to change to where you can bring a prospect in as a junior on an official visit – meaning that the university pays for the visit. That’s something that would help the Big Ten. I’m hoping legislation moves in that direction. The population of the country has moved toward the Sun Belt, and along with it the prospects have moved toward the Sun Belt.”
Two other big factors for recruits, of course, are the quality of facilities and the quality of head coaches. The SEC has invested a lot of money in each of those entities in recent years.
The Big Ten just needs to catch up.
“Yeah, I think this is part of it,” DiNardo said. “We’ve seen Ohio State just redo their locker room and upgrade their facilities – and I have to tell you, Ohio State’s facilities were very good before the upgrade. We’ve heard James Franklin, the new head coach at Penn State, talk about (upgrading their) facilities. We’re going to see Iowa open up a new standalone building this summer. It’s certainly an issue.”
“One thing about the Big Ten as it compares to the SEC,” DiNardo continued, “(is that) the Big Ten schools have more sports. Some of them have hockey, which in the Big Ten footprint is a very important sport that has to have success. There’s a handful of schools in the Big Ten that have to compete for a national championship in hockey. It’s not a very good revenue-producing sport, but it’s a very expensive sport. So as you look at the culture of the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten, it’s a little bit different with the number of sports and what sports are most important to the region. So it presents the athletic directors and the presidents of the Big Ten institutions a couple more problems than perhaps the SEC has.”