CHICAGO - Whether they draw straws or names out of a hat, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema earned the distinction as the first head coach to address the media at Monday's kickoff to the 39th Annual Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
With that honor, he also had the task of breaking the ice.
"Sorry I'm late," Bielema explained to a large panel of media members. "I was just on the phone with commissioner (Jim) Delaney and I now have the expansion guidelines right here in front of me."
Though it was a sublime shot at cracking a joke to kick things off, it was also a relevant topic that many knew would be asked early and often.
"I love the expansion of Nebraska for one reason," Bielema said. "To me, it opens up more recruiting possibilities to the west in addition to the ability to recruit more in Minnesota, the Dakota's and Nebraska itself. It might open up some more channels to the west and also just brings more value to the league."
With the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State already holding name recognition throughout the landscape of college football, adding the likes of Nebraska to a league that also features consistent programs such as Iowa and Wisconsin will do nothing but bolster the league image and make it a stronger conference top to bottom.
It will also open the possibility of a championship game to go along with the likes of the SEC, ACC and Big 12.
"I grew up in an era and age where it was always on TV and somebody was always playing in a championship game," Bielema said. "Personally for me it just brings so much value to our conference. You can't find anything like that."
With the addition of a 12th team, it can only be expected that the members of the league would be split into two divisions of six teams. By doing so, there runs the risk of losing some natural rivalries, such as Wisconsin-Iowa.
"Like all of you in this room, I haven't had much conversation about this part of it," Bielema said. "We're just kind of getting the news as you guys report it. I did like how the commissioner, with one of the first things he talked about, was the competitive balance and keeping the rivalries intact. The third part was the geography.
"As a person that participated here in the conference as a player, I know how important that is to you."
To further his point, Bielema discussed an experience he had with a former player during his first season under the helm at Wisconsin.
"One of the traditions that Coach Alvarez had was that he would allow the seniors to pick season goals. In that year we had a young man from Indiana of all players, Jason Pociask, raise his hand and quite simply one of the senior season goals he wanted was to beat Iowa.
"I was like if this is a kid from Indiana, playing at Wisconsin and wanting to beat Iowa, that made a huge statement about the impact of that rivalry to that young man. I think that's the case. We have a long-standing rivalry with Iowa and Minnesota that we would like to keep intact. But because it's a new conference, we'll have new rivalries."
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Coinciding with the expansion talk and division alignment was the talk of adding a championship game. At this early juncture, there have been murmurs circulating throughout the Midwest regarding that particular game being held at places such as Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Soldier Field in Chicago, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Ford Field in Detroit.
While that is still a ways off from being definitively set, it was a hot topic during Bielema's presser.
"When I went to the Big 12 conference and had an opportunity to play in the Big 12 championship game and earn a BCS berth because we beat Oklahoma, it gave us an opportunity to play into it," Bielema said. "It was an exciting time for our program. Not just the game itself, but the two weeks leading into it and the buildup of trying to get to that game.
"I'm in favor of it. I don't know where it will go, but for me personally I think it would be a very exciting thing."
The Twitter effect
In today's age of technology, one where you can find out what's going on before it's actually been 'broke' in the traditional sense, Twitter has been influential and a bit damaging.
So, knowing Bielema is a 'tweeter,' it was interesting to hear his take on the way the social media platform has changed the way outlets operate.
"It probably came to light more so last fall to me more than anything," Bielema said. "It used to be Facebook and we have to monitor that and make sure that the kids realize what they put out there about their personal life can become public knowledge. Facebook was kind of a warm up for Twitter."
At times a season ago, Bielema made certain news events known through his Twitter feed. He also made it known that he was pushing for an end of season rivalry with Nebraska. It's an essential tool that helps distribute information in an incredibly fast manner.
That is both a good thing and a bad thing.
"I think it came full circle when I kind of let it be known during fall camp that I was going to give them (the players) an evening off," Bielema said. "I let them know this a couple days in advance in case guys wanted to make plans to go home. By following some of our players Twitter page we found out they were going to be attending a concert in Milwaukee.
"So my point to these guys was that if I'm giving you time off I don't need you out there running around. I don't know what's going to go on at a concert, but I had an idea it wasn't going to be good. It's not a very good thing for a college football player to be doing. I didn't say anything until we were about to go that night and I said, 'Hey, how many of you are going to that concert tonight?'
"I didn't get a lot of hands in the air. I said you've got realize that I've seen five tweets saying that you guys were going to be involved."
It's not even just the information hub that Twitter and Facebook present controlling the aspects of social media, but it's also the use of cellular devices that make contact via player and coach or coach and player that much easier.
"Today's world is so different," Bielema said. "If I have to get a hold of a kid, I don't call him I text him. The NCAA puts certain rules on what you can do with recruits, but it's just a much easier way of communicating especially when kids are much more adapt at communicating."
The Badgers were picked to finish third in the league as voted on by members of the media in attendance. Ohio State was selected to finish first in the league with Iowa picked to finish second.
While the coaches and Associated Press polls have yet to be released, the Badgers are also receiving plenty of attention in national polls. Some have UW ranked as high as eighth nationally. With that high praise comes high expectations. And that has not gone by the attention of Bielema and his staff.
"Going back to 2008 we had some high expectations and were fortunate enough to start the year off right before we ran into a bit of a slide early on in the season. I did like the fact that we responded.
"Even when we went 12-1 my first year in 2006, I very seldom ever reference that season with our guys because what's history is history. We all learn from it and read about it but it does nothing for the future. I do like the fact that our kids, the majority of our players that are going to be significant, all went through the scars of that season themselves."
-On a side note, Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State and Greg Jones of Michigan State repeated as pre-season players of the year.
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For the first time since John Stocco returned for his senior season in 2006, the Badgers will have a returning quarterback starting fall camp. Senior Scott Tolzien is back and looking to build upon his success from a season ago.
"As a head coach it's an unbelievable feeling to know that answer is already there and to know that answer is Scott Tolzien," Bielema said. "He's a perfectionist, he's a detail guy and I think as a person he's grown even from a year ago to today so much. He's got unbelievable confidence and personality.
"I thought the best quote I saw of him from the off-season and somebody asked him about what he saw in winter film studies and he said he was just glad the guy he was watching was him. I thought that was an interesting perspective. He got to watch himself perform and the pressures that were involved with it have ultimately made him a better player."
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There were a number of players that were limited during spring camp in March and April. Immediately, John Clay, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland come to mind as impact players that were sidelined by their respective injuries.
On Monday, Bielema made it clear that fall camp should introduce a chance for those players to get back on the field.
"From an injury standpoint, most of our guys should be 100 percent healthy," Bielema noted. "We might have a few guys being limited. Mike Taylor and Chris Borland are two linebackers that play a significant role for us and are coming off some major surgeries. They might be a little limited as far as double day practices. As far as the opening day of camp they are full go.
"John Clay is full go and ready as well. It's an exciting time for us at Wisconsin and for the most part it should be something we'll be able to stay excited about going into the year."
Check back later this afternoon for a more specific notes package regarding the UW football team when Bielema meets with local reporters.
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