As I travel from coast to coast evaluating high school football players, I am often asked -- since I'm a native Midwesterner who is based in Chicago -- what the Big 10 needs to do to reclaim its once glorious position as the elite conference in the nation.
As it is, the Big 10 ranks no better than third but probably fourth or fifth behind the SEC, Big 12, ACC and the Pac-10. Think about it. What's left? The MAC, WAC, Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt. That's a frightening thought.
I have often suggested that the primary way for the Big 10 to get back in the fight is to invest in more aggressive recruiting, as the SEC and Big 12 have. Big 10 schools don't pay assistant coaches as much as they do in the SEC and Big 12. They hire the most effective recruiters. And they recruit the best players in the country.
But let's not run over old ground. How about some other ways related to aggressive, non-stop recruiting that could create a resurgence in the Big 10?
1. If the conference would add one more member and introduce a postseason playoff, it would be a tremendous boon to recruiting. As it is, the Big 10 season ends in November but the other conferences play to mid-December and have championship games that give recruits more exposure to their recruiters and their programs.
Pittsburgh? I think Pittsburgh would be terrific addition to the Big 10. Why? Adding Pittsburgh to Penn State would give the Big 10 control of western Pennsylvania and one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation.
Missouri would be a good addition, too. Then the Big 10 would have control of St. Louis and Kansas City, two excellent recruiting areas.
In selecting a 12th school -- two six-team divisions for a playoff, remember? -- it is important to consider population, recruiting potential and publicity. Pittsburgh and Missouri would add so much more publicity for the Big 10, more than anything else you can think of.
2. Spring football. Illinois and other Big 10 states don't have it. But states in the SEC and Big 12 do. That should tell you something. Spring football would be a boon to recruiting. It would help to develop more athletes in football than other sports, like other states across the country, in an era of specialized sports such as basketball.
Think about this. Illinois in general, the Chicago area in particular, has more players in the NFL than any other area outside of Los Angeles. But Illinois is a basketball state. Kids play 12 months a year. In the offseason, football players lift weights and engage in 7-on-7 competition. Spring football offers more opportunities to develop skills and to be exposed to college recruiters. The extra time in the spring and in November and December is what coaches in the SEC and Big 12 covet, what gives them an edge over the Big 10.