Commentary: Response to Daily Northwestern Article Concerning NU Leaving the Big Ten
by Jonathan Hodges

It was a busy week for Coach Fitz last week as he grabbed both a defensive and offensive coordinator after letting go of previoayers in place, a HC with more experience, and an OC with some coordinator experience, hopefully

On February 7, 2008, Jake Simpson published an article in "The Weekly" supplement to the Daily Northwestern exploring a "what if" scenario of Northwestern leaving the Big Ten.  Given that this is a completely insane notion at this point, I refuted many of his specific points in a Letter to the Editor that was published on February 8, 2008 in the Forum of the Daily Northwestern.  The text of my letter is copied below:

In response to Jake Simpson's article ("What if NU Said Goodbye to the Big Ten," Feb. 7) regarding NU dropping out of the Big Ten conference, I must first say it is a completely ludicrous idea. The only sport that he considers is football - and the fact is that NU competes in 19 varsity sports and is very competitive in many of them, if not a perennial conference champion (see women's tennis). Sure, football is the cash cow sport, but the Big Ten athletic conference includes many sports and isn't solely about football.

Secondly, Jake refuses to acknowledge that NU football has been more than competitive in the conference since 1995, winning 3 conference titles (the only teams with more titles over that span happen to be Ohio State and Michigan, and that's it) and going to 5 bowl games in that span.

Just looking at NU's success over that span should throw the idea that NU should leave the conference out the window. To address his assertion that the Big Ten conference's membership has been in "flux," the fact is that the Big Ten membership has been one of the most stable over time and has led to the Big Ten being one of the preeminent conferences in the nation, not only in football but also in most other sports.

After the initial membership changes in the early 1900's, the only changes have been the University of Chicago dropping out (and dropping out of scholarship athletics altogether), Michigan State University joining (both occurring before 1950), and Penn State joining in 1991. NU has played an integral role in the conference, being both a founding member and a significant contributor in both the academic and athletic arenas over time.

If one were to even entertain the notion of NU leaving the Big Ten, the only recourse would probably be to drop to a lower level of intercollegiate competition, which would most definitely hurt the university's standing as one of the top nationally renowned academic institutions and one of the most well rounded colleges around. Being an independent is no longer a viable option for schools at the NCAA Div. I-A/FBS level of competition due to financial and scheduling reasons.

Notre Dame, Army, and Navy can pull it off due to lucrative TV contracts and a "tradition" of being independent along with historical matchups, which allow for easier scheduling of games. And joining a "lower tier" conference (like the MAC or C-USA) would not be in line with NU's commitment to excellence both on the field of play and in the classroom.

I know that myself and the vast majority of the NU community strongly support the university's place in the Big Ten and see the value in being part of such a solid group of peer institutions - and see how it gives advantages to the school athletically, academically, and as a whole.

- Jonathan Hodges

McCormick '05

Former Member of the NU Marching Band

I obviously would be completely against the notion of Northwestern leaving the Big Ten, if that were even in the realm of possibilities, but would support a discussion/debate about the potential of NU either going the way of the University of Chicago (moving to non-scholarship Div. III athletics) or the way of the Ivy League (not handing out athletic scholarships).  The fact is, though, that the original article in this scenario did not address those possibilities (only NU being an independent or moving to a "lesser" I-A/FBS conference, both of which are virtually impossible financially and academically for NU) and instead relied on faulty if not just plain wrong logic.

In any case, this issue should be pretty well put to bed at this point after heavy discussion on the message boards and my response in the Daily.  Northwestern is competitive if not the team to beat in the conference in many sports - and football, the main target of the article, has been very successful in the past decade and a half or so.  While NU is the only private institution in the conference and is vastly smaller than most other schools in the Big Ten, the fact is that NU has a home both academically and athletically in this community of peer institutions and provides a unique addition to the conference.  Finally, moving out of the conference would definitely hurt NU's financial standing (regarding athletics) and would most likely affect NU's academic standing by damaging the well-rounded community that is benefited by the presence of Div. I-A/FBS athletics.

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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