CHICAGO – When Michigan All-American offensive tackle Jake Long chose to return to the Wolverines for his senior season, his decision had a greater impact on the future of Michigan football than many could imagine.
After the Rose Bowl, running back Mike Hart told Long that he was going to follow Long's lead. They were going to be a package deal – either for the Wolverines or the NFL.
"It's an honor to know he has that much confidence in me and wants to play with me that much," Long said. "It definitely made my decision a little bit harder."
Long, who is a candidate for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, has spent the offseason watching game tapes and film of NFL teams.
"I know what I have to improve on, and the coaches know what I have to improve on," Long said. "I just want to work hard to make sure every part of my game is 100 percent."
With allegations surfacing that NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games he officiated, other leagues are making sure they take precautions to avoid a similar situation. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said one of the ongoing challenges in intercollegiate athletics is controlling gambling. He said the conference has safeguards in place.
"We do everything that we can think of and then some," Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Dave Parry said. "About three years ago, we did background checks on all of our officials, all of our timers, all of our technical advisors around our replay system. We had three or four guys red-flagged, and we followed up with a second background check. We harp, plead, beg and constantly remind everybody involved with the officiating of the game.
"People will forgive an incorrect judgment and they might even forgive if you are not in real good physical shape, but the one thing that has to stand the test of time is integrity."
Parry added that the conference does random background checks every year on officials. The conference also holds a three-day clinic at the end of July in which they go over rule changes and expectations with officials. This year, the Big Ten combined with the Big East and MAC for the officiating clinic.
Back to the Basics
Today marks the first day coaches are not permitted to send text messages to recruits, and opinions on the rule varied among Big Ten coaches.
"I'm not a coach that really believes you've got to coddle and love them up. I want football players," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Today's society has gone to how many notes did I get, how many times a coach has come see me.
"I'm a little blunt in recruiting. When a kid comes in on an official visit I'll say, 'Hey I'm not a big text guy.' Now, I'll send them a nice hand-written note after we meet with them, but I don't get into sending 15 text messages a day."
Meanwhile, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was disappointed in the rule change. He hopes there are some modifications when the NCAA board re-evaluates the rule on Aug. 9.
After several Penn State football players were involved in an off-campus altercation, coach Joe Paterno decided to punish the entire team by making them clean up Beaver Stadium following each home game this season. When asked how the players reacted, Paterno said, "I didn't ask for a reaction. I told them. We're not exactly a democracy."
But that wasn't the only "punishment" for the Nittany Lions. The team spent a few weekends building a Habitat for Humanity house as well.
"You feel good about yourself for helping people," linebacker Dan Connor said. "You leave feeling a lot better about yourself and what you are doing for the community."
As for the players involved in the off-campus incident, Paterno said he's not sure what he's going to do regarding additional disciplinary action.
The Indiana Hoosiers have dedicated the upcoming season to late coach Terry Hoeppner. The players will wear a patch on their jerseys with his initials and a sticker on their helmets that says "Play 13." It was Hoeppner's goal to get Indiana back to a bowl game, which means the Hoosiers would play 13 contests this season.
Northwestern players went through a similar situation last year with the sudden death of coach Randy Walker. Senior offensive lineman Dylan Thiry said the loss of their coach will hit the Indiana players going into preseason camp, but the key will be learning from it.
"When we went through it, coach Fitz put it as the eyes of the nation are on you right now. How are you going to respond to this?" Thiry said. "There are things that came into the equation, bumps in the road. But it's all about how you respond to it and being able to move forward from something like that."