Fischer: Big Ten football needs to gain new perspective

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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.

How many more championships does LeBron James have to win to be in the conversation with Michael Jordan?

How many more championships does LeBron James have to win to be in the conversation with Michael Jordan?

LeBron James has made a ridiculous seven straight NBA Finals, putting him (again) at the center of the 'Greatest Player of All-Time' debate. 

Ahead of his third straight championship series against the Golden State Warriors, James discussed how his streak will shape his place among the greats.  

"I think it's gonna be great for my legacy," James said to reporters. "Once I'm done playing the game, when we look back on the game, and we say, 'Oh, this guy went to three straight finals, four straight finals, five, six, whatever, seven.' I think it's great to be talked about, to see what I've been able to accomplish as an individual. You talk about longevity and being able to just play at a high level for a long period of time, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that." 

The SportsTalk Live panel discussed his comments and debated how many more rings The King would need to be in the conversation with Michael Jordan. 

Here's what each had to say: 

CSN's Mark Schanowski

"He would have to win three to reach Jordan's six just to be in the conversation. All those losses in the finals are obviously going to have an impact, so we'll give LeBron the sportsmanship ribbon. Michael just collects rings." 

WGN Radio's Mark Carman

"I would say 100. I'm not giving that up ever. Yes, I am extremely biased. But listen, this is an incredible opportunity for him. You've got a phenomenal Warriors team. You've got, for whatever reason, Las Vegas is making Cleveland a huge underdog. This is a great chance for him" 

Bleacher Report's Seth Gruen 

"To me, it's not a number. To me, he's gotta stop talking like that because that's loser talk. And I don't mean to come off with this sort of meatballish take, but the reality is you would have never heard Michael Jordan say that. And that's why Lebron gets so much flack in the conversation comparing the two because he's in the business of raising trophies, not second place." 

Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine 

"I think when it comes to Jordan, as somebody who didn't grow up in Chicago, I want him to get closer to six titles because I wanna see this town explode over the debate between LeBron and Jordan. I think to have a legitimate case, though, and to at least put it in people's mind that he's better than Jordan, he's got to at least get to six."  

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chris Sale returns to Chicago

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chris Sale returns to Chicago

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Carman (WGN Radio), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report) join Mark Schanowski on the panel.

Chris Sale is back in town. Do the White Sox miss their old ace?

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta’s agent defends his client’s velocity drop. Does he have a point?

Plus LeBron James talks about his legacy, Tiger Woods’ fall from grace continues and the panel remembers legendary sportswriter Frank Deford.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: