I’m sorry, this is going to sound
like a contradiction, but I really hate the media right now. Never
have I seen a more unjust trashing of anything than the Big Ten
this basketball season. Not since the unjust preseason trashing of
Big Ten football two seasons ago has there been anything close.

Now, I’m going to sound a little biased, as this
conference has always been close to me, but it seems as though this
“Big Ten as the nation’s whipping boy” theme has
been around much longer than expected.

Take, for instance, the 2002 season in football. Before it even
began, Big Ten fans were told by the media not to hold their breath
as other conferences would dominate play throughout the entire
season. A 5-2 bowl record and a national championship run by Ohio
State told all doubters where to stick it.

But it started even earlier. There was 1997, when Charles
Woodson and Michigan were the unwanted visitors in Peyton
Manning’s Heisman run and Nebraska’s gift of a
championship to retiring coach Tom Osborne. The Heisman debate is
one that will never end, but the split national championship is
almost unforgivable. The fact that Michigan won, and that they were
voted out of the top spot after winning, is sick. The fact that
either two coaches voted Michigan third or one voted it fourth is
pointing to an all-out conspiracy theory.

The question I have is: Why do all this for Tom Osborne and not
for Joe Paterno and his squad three years earlier? Penn State
deserved a claim of the national title that Nebraska got all of in
1994 for going undefeated, but the Nittany Lions were told the Big
Ten was too weak for any thoughts like that.

No offense (not that this would offend anyone here, anyway), but
the Big 12 has been the most overrated football conference for
years, yet no one will ever say it. When teams are winning by
50-some points on a regular basis, it doesn’t equal good
teams in a conference. Why else did Oklahoma lose to Louisiana
State? The Sooners hadn’t seen a good defense all season. But
was there ever a national outcry that the Big 12 might be in a down
year? Not that I saw.

For years, Big Ten football, despite its success, has been
forced to survive in a negative environment because of a media
world that wishes to pick on parity, while praising dominance in an
unbelievably weak conference, (cough) Florida State (cough).

Now I see the same thing happening in basketball. Was it a down
year for the Big Ten? In terms of what happened before the
conference season began, yes it was. Dominant powers like Michigan
State and Illinois were unable to come up with multiple or —
in State’s case — any quality wins, and this left the
Big Ten wide open for criticism. But if this conference has been
known for anything, it’s finishing strong. Last season, with
five teams in the Big Dance, and no team seeded above No. 4, the
conference went 8-5 — each team won at least one game.
Wisconsin made the Sweet 16 and Michigan State reached the Elite
Eight. The Atlantic 10 last year? One-and-three with better-seeded
teams than the Big Ten. Conference USA went 4-3, but Marquette had
the conference’s only wins.

In 2002, Illinois and Indiana each reached the Sweet 16. The
Hoosiers went on to be the tourney’s runners up. Where were
the mid-majors? Well, No. 1 Cincinnati was ousted in the second
round by UCLA. Other than Kent State’s Cinderella run to the
Elite Eight, none made a splash on the scene.

In 2001, three Big Ten teams made the Sweet 16, more than any
conference except the Pac 10. Michigan State made the Final Four
for the fourth straight season too.

In 2000, three teams made the Elite Eight and two made the Final
Four (the Spartans were your champions that year too). In 1999, two
teams made the Final Four. The last time Michigan made the tourney
in 1998 was also the Big Ten’s last rough year — only
two teams made the Sweet 16 and no team advanced further than
that.

What I’m trying to get at is that, no matter the
situation, the Big Ten has been among the best in the postseason.
And now, because of some slipups back in November and December, the
entire conference is to suffer when it is traditionally hitting its
stride.

Where’s the love that this conference deserves?

Don’t think that the national media perception of the Big
Ten didn’t hurt the conference during selection time. How
else could 19-11 Maryland get a No. 4 seed over Wisconsin or
Illinois? Both teams had half the losses that the Terps did, but
still found themselves below the ACC Tournament Champion. Talk
about kicking a dog while it’s down. If the slightest bit of
respect can’t be given to the top teams, it’s no wonder
that Michigan or any other Big Ten team stood absolutely no chance
of cracking into the field of 65.

I can understand the media’s love for the mid-major
conferences and distaste for the Big Ten. Smaller conferences are
filled with great underdog stories and have many great
personalities. The Big Ten wins when no one expects them to and
ruins someone else’s great run (yeah, that was No. 6 seed
Purdue ending Gonzaga’s run in 1999). Mid-majors get some
pretty nice wins in the pre-conference season, which apparently
sets them for the rest of the season, and one or two of the teams
usually makes a Cinderella run. The Big Ten wins when it
matters.

So, to the media that have dogged the Big Ten: When low-seeded
Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois all advance further than
your beloved mid-majors, and when Iowa and Michigan make the semis
of the NIT (despite Michigan’s gauntlet of a draw), just eat
some crow and keep your mouths shut next season when you’ll
undoubtedly want to praise the Big Ten.

Kyle O’Neill insists he isn’t biased and can be
reached at
“mailto:kylero@umich.edu”>kylero@umich.edu

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