Senior Writer

Big Ten foes deal with aftermath of Ohio State mess


CHICAGO -- Luke Fickell knows the NCAA Manual, which is a great place to start in the Big Ten's makeover.

"I take the test like every assistant, like every head coach," said the new face on a bad situation.

That would be the annual recruiting rules test required by NCAA law. Coaches have to pass it to do any off-campus recruiting. Fickell's bylaw knowledge should be breaking news in Columbus for obvious reasons. There has been a lot of reading of the manual lately, just not much reading of the rules.

Ohio State's rookie/interim/battlefield-promoted coach knew where this was headed Thursday at the Big Ten media days. Reporters poked around the edges of the subject like Ohio State was the family shame, the drunk uncle hidden from view, the 800-pound invisible Buckeye in the room.

The school's scandal has lowered the Big Ten to commoner status. At least for now, and maybe for a while. No one wants to say it or maybe even write it. The issue is mostly localized to Ohio State, a convenient and popular piñata. But the Big Ten can no longer claim the moral high ground over its archrival, the SEC. Both flagship programs have committed major violations and changed coaches.

Forget about that Association of American Universities exclusivity. Less than a year after Nebraska jumped leagues, it was booted out of the AAU and became the only Big Ten institution, at least in the past 10 years, not to be a member of the prestigious academic organization.

It wasn't shame that was palpable, more like resignation. Something had changed. And it doesn't get changed back until Ohio State gets straight.

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Wisconsin's Bret Bielema took his (veiled) shots saying: "If I had a dream world, I would say hammer the guys that don't do things right."

Michigan's Brady Hoke had his fun referred to his school's mega-rival as "Ohio."

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio went Shakespearean, calling his mentor and former boss, "a tragic hero."

Tragic, yes. Hero to few. If it is possible to turn Jim Tressel into a four-letter bomb -- Trsl? -- then the world has a new cuss word.

"There are some people in every profession that instead of asking permission, they ask forgiveness," Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald said. "That's the whole thing. Are you asking for permission or are you asking for forgiveness?"

Trsl sure as hell didn't ask permission. Forgiveness is as gone as Terrelle Pryor from the campus that once loved him.

Commissioner Jim Delany spoke for 20 minutes mentioning Ohio State twice -- once in reference to Eddie George's induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, once in mentioning Aug. 12. That's the date of the school's appearance before the NCAA infractions committee.

"That's embarrassing," he said.

Even Joe Paterno, head coach of one of only two national champions to have never a major football violation, flubbed his chance to brag.

"Maybe," JoePa said in explanation, "we're lucky."

Luke Fickell will need more than fortune. There is no certainty whether he is The Good Jim Tressel who won six consecutive league titles or the guy scooping up poop behind the circus elephants. The school, the players, and the fan base remain in a state of suspended shock until the penalties come down.

At 37, Fickell has never risen above co-defensive coordinator. But as The Bad Tressel replacement, he is young, clean (as far as we know) and has more upside than anyone on the staff. And any term with the word "up" in it that's not preceded by "screw" is a good thing in Columbus these days.

It's also heartening that Fickell actually knows what "failure to monitor" means.

"I know that that's a big deal," he said.

Bucknuts are clinging to the hope that the program might actually come out of this mess relatively unscathed. The NCAA concluded in its case summary released last week that Ohio State will not be charged with failure to monitor or lack of institutional control, two huge commandments. That means less of a chance of enhanced penalties. While the infractions committee could always add more charges during that August hearing, Buckeye Nation has reason to feel optimistic, if not altogether proud.

There was another kind of pride sharing the room with that 800-pound invisible Buckeye. Northwestern's Dan Persa is the antithesis of Pryor. He is an Academic All-Big Ten pick, has a 3.6 GPA and said he knows it's wrong to take money in exchange for gear.

"Why would you want to risk that?" Persa asked. "Why would you want to jeopardize your team and yourself, your academic career to do something like that?"

Those are questions a lot of people have been asking. We know this: Delany did not have the power from the Big Ten presidents to suspend Tressel any further when the school started the joke of a process with a two-game suspension. The commissioner acted in good faith when he lobbied for the Buckeye Five to play in the Sugar Bowl. That was before the uncovering of Tressel's cover-up.

We also know that Delany read a riot act of sorts to his coaches at a Thursday meeting: This can't happen again. We know he is in agreement with SEC commissioner Mike Slive's suggested sweeping changes for NCAA reform. If the two most powerful men in college athletics can get together on that issue, anything is possible.

Delany, though, would not bite on the question: Is the Ohio State case a litmus test of a flawed system? He wouldn't even go as far as to comment on Ohio State's much-criticized, self-imposed penalties -- a vacation of the 2010 season and probation.

Are they possibly enough?

Does Ohio State really deserve Bielema's "hammer"?

"Typically my attitude is, we got more than we deserved," he said. "That's because I love the Big Ten."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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