Fischer: Big Ten football needs to gain new perspective

829415.png

Fischer: Big Ten football needs to gain new perspective

There was a degree of ickiness in covering Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, asking various teams the same questions about the Penn State scandal and if those teams planned on going after Penn State's players. Most teams said no, a few teams said yes. This in itself has sparked a good debate among people who think it's unethical to pick over the carcass of a program decimated by NCAA sanctions.

Illinois left a bad taste in everyone's mouth when they sent eight coaches to State College to talk to prospective transfers. Commissioner Jim Delany bristled at the notion of conference members being allowed to go near the Nittany Lions, but was out-voted by university presidents who unanimously agreed that any Penn State player who wanted to transfer to another school be given the opportunity to stay in the Big Ten if they desired. I tend to agree. If players want to transfer, they are going to transfer. Why should they go to Syracuse or anywhere else without an opportunity to stay in conference?

I respect Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, who said emphatically they won't take any Penn State players, but if one of them called and said they really want to join your program and you had room, why would you turn them down? Illinois claims that's all they were doing, responding to calls from interested Penn State players. You can argue the tactfulness in which Illinois went about "fielding the inquiries," but it's not fair to call it wrong or unethical.

The fact that we're even having this debate is what's really troubling me. On the heels of the scandal, the focus of the Big Ten was clouded by more ethical dilemmas and questions of integrity. The NCAA, by the way, could have prevented all of this in the first place by issuing the death penalty, thereby suspending the program and allowing all Penn State players to go wherever they wanted without the charges of competitive maleficence (the fairness of sanctions is another discussion, so I'll just stick to the current reality).

But that reality has me down. It led me to ask coaches and players on Thursday if the culture of college football is out of control. Of course, they said no, they all still believe in college football, it has changed their lives for the better. The most encouraging response came from NU's Fitzgerald.

"Unfortunately, there's been a very terrible tragedy, a set of circumstances that are unfortunate," Fitzgerald said. "The conference has a black eye and that's understandable. I don't want to mitigate the tragedy at Penn State, but we're going to have to move forward and learn from it. And if we don't, that would be the real tragedy. In society if a tragedy like this happens again, then shame on all of us."

Still, I was looking for more. I wanted to look into the eyes of a 19-20 year old and see that college athletics means something to him beyond the dollars signs of a potential NFL career, or the perks that go along with being a star athlete on campus. I admit putting them on the spot, but part of the burden falls on their shoulders to help us believe in the good of college football again.

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase offered this:

"The thing you have to think about at the end of the day, every day is the victims, you have to feel for them and have to understand why people are upset," Scheelhaase began. The first person on the day I heard mention the victims. Thank you, Nathan.

"As a player, it's tough to go through," he continued. "Because you didn't have anything to do it with it. I can only speak for my experience and what college football has meant to me. I would not have been able to travel to great places or meet the awesome people I've met if it weren't for playing college sports. I've grown tremendously from it."

I was starting to turn the corner until I actually had a chance to talk to Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien and the three players he brought along to the media session. I give them credit for showing up since reports the day before said no Penn State players would be attending media day. Their motto was about sticking together, being a family and taking an us-against-the-world approach. I don't blame the players, they aren't responsible for Jerry Sandusky's actions, but a little sensitivity would go a long way in helping restore the image of the school and program they profess to love so much.

Nobody really wants to hear O'Brien talk about business as usual and how he still expects 108,000 fans to pack the stands and how they are going to 'fight their butts off'. It sends the message that we have learned nothing. We, as a schoolprogram, are sorry for nothing. No, O'Brien wasn't there when all of this went down, but he's there now and he'll have to share in the burden of changing the culture.

We all have to share in that burden. The media, the fans, we all have a role to play in bringing perspective back to college athletics. Which is why I had a hard time talking X's and O's on Thursday and getting too excited about the upcoming season. I'm sure I'll come around.

Until then, I'm more interested in how coaches and players around the country, or at least in the Big Ten, can demonstrate how they are going to repair their sports tarnished image. And, if Team Outlaw, the new moniker Penn State has embraced, will further disgrace itself or prove further why it should have been outlawed altogether.

Be sure to tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 10 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for Fischer's report on this topic.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals. 

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Nemanja Nikolic channels his inner MJ in jersey number

Jersey numbers can be a big deal in soccer. Who is the team's No. 10? Who is the No. 9?

Nemanja Nikolic, a forward who joined the Chicago Fire this offseason as a Designated Player, didn't have the choice of either number that is famously associated with marquee attacking players because both were taken by returning players on the Fire. Instead, he landed on a number more famous in Chicago sports than in soccer.

Nikolic will be wearing 23.

The Fire announced the jersey numbers for the 2017 season with Nikolic's 23 a part of the list. Every returning player kept the same number as last season.

It goes without saying that wearing the No. 23 in Chicago comes with an extra bit of notoriety. Ever since Michael Jordan donned the No. 23 for the Chicago Bulls, it has been a common sight to find the best player on a Chicagoland high school basketball team wearing No. 23. That doesn't translate to the world of soccer, but in Chicago fans will notice.

A spokesman for the club said the number was more coincidence than intentional MJ reference, but if Nikolic has a good season don't be surprised to see signs at Toyota Park referencing Nikolic's jersey number.

In the preseason some of the players have been wearing different jersey numbers from what they will in the regular season. Nikolic has been wearing No. 9 in preseason matches.

Here is a list of the other newcomers and the numbers they will be wearing:

Jorge Bava: 1

Dax McCarty: 6

Djordje Mihailovic: 14

Juninho: 19

Daniel Johnson: 20

Stefan Cleveland: 30