Big Ten Football Q&A: Newcomers, Northwestern's Union Movement and Melvin Gordon

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IJanuary 31, 2014

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 16: Melvin Gordon #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after making a touchdown during the first half of play against the Indiana Hoosiers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Every Friday we'll dig in to the Big Ten mailbag, so don't be afraid to ask us questions via the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter: @andycoppens or via e-mail at 

You've got many Big Ten questions, and I've got your B1G answers. We're starting to get more and more every week, so join the cool kids and get your questions in early! This week is all about "what if" scenarios in the B1G mailbag. 

So, let's get your burning questions answered. 

Unlike the last two times the Big Ten went ahead and added schools to the mix, neither Rutgers nor Maryland come in to the league with fanfare or competitive expectations. No one is going to confuse the Terrapins or Scarlet Knights for Penn State or Nebraska.

Having said that, I am going to go with Maryland as the team that is most likely to have the better inaugural season.

The reasons are multiple, but I'll start with the most obvious one first—stability.

Rutgers will be breaking in two new coordinators, and that means new systems and schemes to be implemented in a short amount of time.

While Maryland will bring in three new coaches, they're all position coaches. The overall schemes aren't changing for the Terps, and that's an early advantage over the other newcomer. 

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Secondly, there is more talent on offense with the Terps. Quarterback C.J. Brown, who is back for an extra year of eligibility, leads an offense that has the potential to be explosive. 

Brown finished last year completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven touchdowns.  

He also has one of the better wide receivers in the league in Stefon Diggs. He is coming off an injury and surgery, but a name folks my age will immediately recognize—Keenan McCardell—will also coach Diggs. 

The question is if Maryland's defense is good enough to hold up in the Big Ten East; however, the defense of the Scarlet Knights has about as many, if not more, issues to deal with. 

Maryland also gets Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State at home, while Rutgers faces trips to Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State. 

All of those things combine to make it more likely that the Terps will be more successful in Year 1 of their Big Ten adventures. 

It is very interesting that the Big Ten is the epicenter of this movement to try and unionize college football. Not because of the larger debate that is going on, but because of the exact point Dave brings to the table.

Northwestern stands alone on an island as a private institution in a sea of public universities. It can play by a different set of rules—whether it is academics, admissions or a host of other things, there's more room for change to happen quickly at a school like Northwestern. 

PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

However, unionizing would put private schools on a whole different footing than the public schools they compete against. The fact is, should this movement happen across all colleges, there would be 50 different sets of rules at play for each state and the public schools in them. 

The players will become state employees, and that means the collective bargaining laws in the state bind them. It would create an uneven playing field within just the public universities—as some would be "right to work" states, while others have major limitations on what can and can't be negotiated under collective bargaining. 

Northwestern players don't have to worry about draconian rules, or state employee collective-bargaining rights, and it could potentially put it at a major advantage in what it could offer players in a CBA agreement. 

The other thing to consider is the stance the Big Ten has taken about paying players. Yes, I said it...and anyone who thinks that isn't the ultimate goal of this labor movement, ask yourself what the original goal of the unions were at first and where they were just 10 years later? 

As the saying goes, the road to hell is often paved in good intentions. 

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spoke very bluntly this past May about what would happen if paying players more than a stipend would happen. When talking about the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, he said the following has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten's schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs. Several alternatives to a 'pay for play' model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten's philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes.

Whether you think Delany is bluffing or not, I can tell you from talking to others around the conference that the Big Ten is very serious about not going down the pay-for-play road. 

Delany addressed that further in September, saying he believes there should be a way for those that want to get paid for playing to bypass the college system altogether, according to Dennis Dodds of

Maybe, just maybe it would work better in football and basketball it would be better if more kids had the opportunity to go directly to the professional ranks. Let the minor leagues flourish, or let them go to IMG [academies]. Let agents invest in their body, let agents invest in their likeness but don't come here [and say], "We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.”

It all leads me to believe that the Big Ten institutions would not kick the Wildcats out of the league. What is more likely is that the Big Ten finds a way to act as a block. 

Will that mean moving away from the athletic-scholarship model, to more of any Ivy League or D-III model? Only time will tell, but in my time around the Big Ten, I've learned to take what Jim Delany says seriously. 

This movement to unionize college football may never actually happen, but there are a lot of moving parts to deal with, and the public versus private school matter is one that could force the Big Ten's hand. 

Well, wasn't that lesson in labor laws and unions fun? At least we're back to talk about players and you

Nick brings up the most important factor working against any running back ever winning the Heisman Trophy again. There is a huge bias toward the glamour position of quarterback, with a QB winning the award 12 of the last 13 years.  

However, if any school has a player who can break that mold it is Wisconsin. Other than Mark Ingram in 2009, the last running back to win a Heisman came from the University of Wisconsin, and his name is Ron Dayne. 

The question is, what does a running back need to do to win a Heisman Trophy? It isn't setting unreal records that no one ever thought would be broken—just ask another Wisconsin running back, Montee Ball, about that. 

He tied Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record (39), while also rushing for 1,923 yards and totaling over 2,200 yards from scrimmage in 2011. His team even won its conference and played in the Rose Bowl, but none of that mattered. 

Oct 12, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) during the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium.  Wisconsin won 35-6.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

So what would Melvin Gordon need to do then? First, it's all about the team.

The Badgers need to beat LSU to start the season, and Gordon needs to have a massive game too. 

Wisconsin then needs to remain undefeated and in position to make a run at the College Football Playoff at season's end. 

Gordon also needs to be the home run hitter he was for the better part of the 2013 season. If he can continue to rip off touchdown runs of 80, 70, 60 or 50-plus yards on a consistent basis, he'll stay in the national consciousness. 

The best thing is that people will go in to 2014 knowing exactly whom Gordon is, something that the casual observer or fan may not have entering this past season.  

I wouldn't underestimate his chances, especially given the fact that he talks so openly about that award being a goal of his in coming back to the Badgers. He's hungry for team and individual success, and at a school that focuses so heavily on the run, he could very well rack up the numbers and attention needed to break the QB monopoly on the Heisman Trophy. 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can continue the debate or get your questions answered by following him on Twitter: @ andycoppens


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