Ohio State-Michigan: New BTN film looks at controversial ’73 game; Conference didn’t allow attorney waiver on vote

The mystery remains 40 years later: What was the exact vote among the Big Ten athletic directors that sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over Michigan in 1973?

The BTN could have taken the easy route in solving the mystery, but it didn’t in its new documentary, Tiebreaker. (Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.)

The film examines the storied rivalry and the fallout from the ’73 game, arguably the biggest controversy in Big Ten history.

For now and probably forever, the essence of Ohio State-Michigan will be defined by the 10-year war between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. Among those games, the 10-10 tie in Ann Arbor in 1973.

Here are the facts: The tie left both teams at 7-0-1 in the Big Ten; Ohio State was 9-0-1 overall and Michigan was 10-0-1. Who goes to the Rose Bowl?

The conference did a vote the next day of athletic directors. It was assumed that since Ohio State went the previous year, and since Michigan dominated the second half, the Wolverines would go to Pasadena.

However, Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin broke his collarbone at the end of the Ohio State game. The injury likely swayed the ADs, who didn’t want the Big Ten to be embarrassed again in the Rose Bowl. In a stunner, they went with Ohio State.

For 40 years, the exact outcome of the secret vote and how each AD voted remained a mystery. It is at the core of the documentary, as the BTN tries to provide some answers.

There are only two people who know for sure. Unfortunately, health issues prevented former Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, 85, from appearing in the film.

The other person, Big Ten attorney Byron Gregory, only talked off-camera for the film. He provided some details, but he cited attorney-client privilege in declining to answer questions about the exact vote.

Gregory’s answer leads to another interesting question: Why didn’t the Big Ten just waive the attorney-client privilege to allow the network it owns to get a direct answer?

“All of the ADs at the time were assured the vote would be confidential,” said BTN president Mark Silverman. “The conference decided to honor that and maintain the attorney-client privilege.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine in today’s media landscape that a vote like that would be done in complete secrecy. Twitter would have exploded.

“It was a different time, and things were done differently,” Silverman said. “You didn’t have Twitter, the Internet, and 24/7 coverage. That’s one of the things that comes across in the film.”

From the documentary’s perspective, it probably was better that the conference attorney didn’t tell all. Instead, the uncertainty left the BTN to sift through the myths and legends to finally unravel what really happened.

It all adds up to a highly compelling film. The highlight was a reunion meal with participants from both teams.

While the players were friendly and showed considerable respect for the rivalry, the bitterness on the Michigan side remains strong 40 years later.

Franklin from Tom Dienhart’s column at BTN.com:

“How did I find out we weren’t going to the Rose Bowl? People were calling me. A reporter from the New York Times called my apartment to tell me Ohio State was voted to the Rose Bowl. I didn’t believe it until I heard it from Bo.”

“I never saw Bo so upset, bitter, frustrated, confused. He always told us if we did this, we would get this payoff. Well, we did what he asked but didn’t get the payoff. He just couldn’t explain it. That’s the kind of stuff you don’t forget.”

“Were politics involved? There always are, but I don’t think there were active politics. There wasn’t enough time for that. The Big Ten had lost four Rose Bowls in a row and felt Ohio State gave the league a better chance to win than Michigan because I was hurt. But I could have played. I was throwing the ball in December. C’mon. I would have played. Are you kidding me? We were denied our reward for three seasons. I never got to go to a bowl despite going 30-2-1 as a starter in three years.”

“Even if I couldn’t have played, we could have won with Larry Scippo at quarterback. He was talented. A good, strong arm, threw a tight spiral. He had all the ability. Who said we couldn’t win with Larry?”

“If any good came from it, it was the fact the Big Ten opened up to allowing more than one team to go to a bowl. It makes me feel good to know that.”





Will they care about Iowa hoops in Brooklyn? Pressure on BTN president to sign deals with area cable operators

Let the record show I wrote the first Rutgers to the Big Ten story. It only took 23 years for it to come to fruition.

Back in Dec., 1989, when Skip Myslenski and I broke the news in the Chicago Tribune that the Big Ten was adding Penn State, I reported on a conference memo about identifying a possible 12th school. Rutgers and Pittsburgh were tops on the list.

However, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for Rutgers. “They`re too far East,“ said one conference source back then.

Not anymore.

The Big Ten finally made its move to the Atlantic by officially adding Maryland to the conference today, with Rutgers’ party imminent. And like the Penn State deal in 1989, Commissioner Jim Delany executed the moves under the radar, which I’m sure pleases him to no end.

As was the case back then, it’s mostly about television. However, the stakes are much higher now.

Back then, the Big Ten didn’t have its own television network. It does now, and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers allows the BTN to greatly expand its footprint. Currently, the network is in 53 million homes and available to 90 million.

Now consider the possible BTN boost from an estimated 15 million homes in the DC (Maryland) and New York/New Jersey (Rutgers) areas. With BTN subscriber fees at an estimated 85 cents per month, the potential windfall is huge. Do the math. Probably in excess of $100 million per year.

Of course, that’s if the BTN can land deals with the various cable operators in the area. A big challenge for network president Mark Silverman to say the least.

Rutgers doesn’t register much beyond its campus in New Jersey. Also, the New York cable operators played hardball about adding the Yankees YES network. So Silverman might not find them to be overly excited about hitting up their subscribers with another fee for a new channel. He will know he is in trouble if he has to explain to them where Rutgers is.

I can hear an NY cable operator now: “Nobody in Brooklyn cares about Iowa basketball.”

Maryland has a much more avid following in DC, but cable operators in that area also might have reservations about the expenses of adding the BTN.

Silverman is traveling today and unavailable for comment. You could be sure he already is in full talk mode with various cable operators.

As a child of the Big Ten, I’m not overly thrilled with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. With 14 schools, it now means fewer games between the traditional opponents. Illinois-Rutgers doesn’t do as much for this Illini grad as Illinois-Indiana in basketball.

But it is what it is, and the potential money is too much to ignore. If Silverman can cut deals with the various cable operators, the BTN will be that much richer.




Improbable tale: BTN show recalls Northwestern’s run for roses in ’95

I grew up going to Northwestern football games, which is to say I didn’t see many Wildcats victories. They were epic bad, bottoming out with a record 34-game losing streak from ’79-82.

So the notion of Northwestern going to the Rose Bowl was as preposterous as getting a sunburn in Chicago on Jan. 1.

Then a miracle happened. On Jan. 1, 1996, the purple rode into Pasadena.

The latest edition of Big Ten Elite (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, BTN) chronicles Northwestern’s incredible 1995 season. The Wildcats, under third-year head coach Gary Barnett, won the Big Ten with a 10-1 record and faced USC in the Rose Bowl.

The Wildcats, 7-2 going into Saturday’s game against Michigan, are decent now. But at the time, their rise from last to first had to rank among the most unlikely stories in college football history.

Big Ten Elite executive producer Bill Friedman grew up two blocks away from Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field) in Evanston. So obviously this story hit home for him.

Here’s Friedman on:

Completely unexpected: The Wildcats went 3-7-1 in ’94 and that was a good season for them at the time. Nobody could have forseen on Sept. 1 (1995) what was going to happen to this team.

For me, what stands out is the (17-15 upset victory over Notre Dame in South Bend in the season opener). Northwestern was a 20-point underdog taking on the blue bloods of college football. But when you watch the game again, you can see Northwestern was the better team. It wasn’t a fluke. They outplayed Notre Dame. Then you start to think, ‘Hmm, maybe this team is pretty good.’

Interview with players and coaches: One of the strengths of the show is that we were able to talk to everyone, with the exception of (fullback Matt Hartl, who died of cancer, in 1999). You have Gary Barnett (and his wife, Mary), Darnell Autry, Pat Fitzgerald, Steve Schnur, Rob Johnson. We have all the people you’d expect to hear from and then some. And they all gave candid and honest interviews about how that year affected their lives.

Friedman’s Rose Bowl story: I was born in 1973 and left for college in 1992. My best friend and I always said, ‘If Northwestern ever goes to a bowl, we’re going to go.’ It didn’t matter where or what bowl. We were going to be there.

It just so happens that not only did they make a bowl, but it’s the Rose Bowl. We were away at school, and my friend’s mother stood in the freezing rain to get us tickets.

I went out to Pasadena a couple of days early. I didn’t have a car and I had nothing to do. Each day, they opened a section of the Rose Bowl so you could go and see the inside of the stadium. I must have spent two or three hours sitting in there each day. I kept taking pictures of the endzone. I couldn’t believe it was purple and white.

Even thought it’s been 17 years, the images still are very vivid.



BTN analyst J Leman uses faith to heal people in Target

J Leman is a former Illinois linebacker who just was hired to work a couple non-conference games as an analyst and sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

But then I saw the following video in which Leman (on the left) talks about practicing “Power Evangelism” and healing people in a Target. With him is former Illini quarterback Tim Brasic.

Let’s just say it is a bit out of the ordinary for a college football analyst.

Leman said on the video: “I love to see people freed from pain. We had a back pain healed. He went from a very high level of pain to zero.”

Leman, who simply uses J for his first name, also dealt with a situation in which he helped a person who “had multiple encounters with the supernatural in dreams.”

Leman’s personal site makes it very clear where he stands regarding his faith. He writes:

Wherever I go, I can’t wait to empower the people I connect with to tap into the grace and power of Jesus Christ. My deepest desire is for everyone to know their true identity in Christ! And I want them to know they have the ability to bring His Kingdom to a broken world.

It didn’t take long for J Leman to get into the Internet spin cycle. Deadspin, as is usually the case, got everything rolling with a post today. Boers & Bernstein enjoyed the video so much, they played it at least twice (from what I heard) during their afternoon show on WSCR-AM 670 in Chicago.

Does Leman’s strong religious convictions matter if Leman does a good job for BTN? Perhaps not.

However, everything is linked these days, and your association with a network goes beyond the booth. Not sure that the BTN was looking for this kind of publicity.

Let’s just say, thanks to the Internet spin cycle, I wouldn’t be surprised if Leman’s video started trending really soon.










Q/A with BTN President: A regret and bouncing back with 4-plus hours of coverage today

The Big Ten Network did what it is supposed to do today. Cover the big news and cover it hard.

The BTN was on the air for 4-plus hours this morning covering the fallout from the NCAA handing down harsh sanctions to Penn State. The network had reporters in State College and Indianapolis, numerous phone interviews, and the studio team of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith offered clear and measured analysis.

All in all, it was quite a contrast to what occurred nearly two weeks ago when the BTN was hammered from not airing live coverage of the explosive Freeh Commission press conference. Instead, the network ran a replay of an old football game.

What changed? I just did a Q/A with BTN President Mark Silverman.

Why didn’t the network cover the Freeh press conference?

We wanted to have covered it. Frankly, it was human error. There was an internal communications issue. We regret not having shown that press conference.

What went into the decision behind today’s coverage?

We need to cover the story as well as any other news entity. We knew this was going to happen, and it allowed us to get ahead of the game.

I like we have such experts on the Big Ten. You have Howard, who was a former player; Gerry was a former coach; and Dave brings the journalistic integrity. You bring it all together and try to provide as thorough coverage as possible.

When you didn’t cover the Freeh press conference, there was a perception that the BTN, which is owned by the conference and member schools, doesn’t want to handle negative news. How do you address that perception?

That couldn’t be further from the truth. The conference wants us to be credible. We’re going to be honest and candid in our coverage. It’s not in our best interest to sugarcoat things.

I wanted to bring in reporters from other entities today. I didn’t want it to be only our announcers. I wanted to have a cross section of people to have the debate and discussion. These are difficult topics, and we want to handle them carefully. But we have to be candid.

Since November, we haven’t shied away from this topic. We had a big miss which we regret, but other than that we’ve covered the story well and have been a service to our viewers.

DiNardo was a friend of Paterno and has spoke of his admiration of the coach. Yet he has been critical about what transpired. What’s been your reaction to how DiNardo has handled this situation?

Gerry is a professional. He brings a candid view. But if you look closely, you could see the emotion he’s experiencing over someone he considered a close friend.

Going forward, if the Penn State football team falls from the weight of the sanctions as expected, what will be the implications for their games from a ratings standpoint?

That’s a difficult question to address. What kind of impact will it have on ratings remains to be seen. I just don’t know the answer.