Big Ten letters! Fans ask about McCaffery, bowls

OK, the mail has been steadily streaming in. That makes sense since there has been a lot going on these days, what with the bowl season, hoops heating up and … oh, yes, Fran McCaffery! Let’s dig in and address the best of your questions and comments.

And, as usual, thanks for writing! You can keep the notes coming at the bottom of this post.

My piece on Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his behavior in the Wisconsin game elicited many responses. Check out a few of them here. I’ve responded to them below.

Is this a blog or a sports story? Just cover the story and leave your own editorial comments out of your writing.

Fran’s a passionate guy and as a Hawkeye fan, I really like that.  He fights for his kids and I believe that they know it.  I wish Fran wouldn’t have had physical contact with the official but from the video it’s not completely clear who initiated that contact. Without that slight contact, we wouldn’t be talking about this. I don’t believe those T’s cost us the game. Wisconsin shoots better than we do – especially the 3’s – and that’s what cost us the game.

Bob Knight wouldn’t make it today. I was a grad student at IU in the middle/late 80’s and I saw him break a lot of clipboards on the floor of Assembly Hall. Those didn’t even raise eyebrows then. Now, they’d all be front-page news and fines. – Matt Vincent

Is there a review of officials in the Big Ten? I was very surprised by the way the game was officiated. I can see why Fran felt slighted. I think it is very obvious that the Big Ten has a need for Wisconsin to be rated very highly; even the announcer was routing for the Badgers. They still almost lost. Because Iowa is not a perennial power house it doesn’t get the calls. I would really like to see the evaluations of the officials from that game. – Jeff Durst

Would it be fair to say that there are two culprits here? The first culprit is the officials. The second is Coach McCaffery. Fran says it was because of his passion for the game. Is he going to really try to tell me or anyone that he had more passion for the game than John Wooden? Wooden had only two technical fouls his entire career as a player and a coach. Do you think that Fran might be helped in learning self-control by reading some of John Wooden’s philosophical writings?Doug

What is the BIG doing, or what should the BIG do, about the quality of officiating in the league.  Officiating has been getting worse throughout my lifetime, with the officials seemingly determined to keep certain teams in games, inconsistent calls, favoring certain coaches. Dude, Zach McCabe will take 10 charges this year, and all but one will be called blocking fouls. – Kasey

Many of the letters went along these lines, asking for officials to be held more accountable, etc. That’s all well and good. Point taken. We all can improve at our jobs. Lord knows, officials are criticized and critiqued like few other professions.

And the fact that Fran will “fight for his kids” is noble, too.

Having said all of that, McCaffery isn’t excused for his behavior. Not many other coaches behave like he has. Even worse: A pattern has developed with McCaffery. This is his second high-profile explosion at Iowa. (Remember the chair slam? Sure you do!) Who knows how many he has had in practices. My point: McCaffery needs to learn to control himself. He’s supposed to be a leader and needs to set a better example. The coach of a major university can’t behave like he has. Just because things don’t go the way you perceive them to go doesn’t give a person license to act boorish.

Regarding your Best of the Bowls piece, Michigan State should get the credit for best game and best win. It made all of us B1Gers proud. – Jim Somers

No doubt, MSU’s win over Stanford was the Big Ten’s best win. Heck, there were just two in the postseason, with Nebraska’s win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl being the other.

How can the best ending be anything other than MSU’s stop?Hank

Yes, there was drama in that ending, with Kyler Elsworth making that flying tackle on fourth down to squash Stanford’s last-gasp effort. I just thought the Minnesota-Syracuse Texas Bowl had more high-wire drama, with the quick exchange of the lead and the Gophers dropping a sure game-winning touchdown pass on the second-to-last play of the game. Good stuff.

The Big Ten’s lack of success in football vs. the SEC stands out sorely. Does the SEC recruit differently than we do here in the Big Ten? David Sywassink

A dissertation paper probably could be written on this subject. Many point to shifting population demographics from north to south as being a reason for the supremacy of the SEC. Whatever. I can’t explain it. And anyone who says they can is lying. I think the SEC has a pretty nice collection of coaches in Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, Kevin Sumlin, Gary Pinkel, Gus Malzahn et al.

I also think the Big Ten has been hurt in the last ten to fifteen years by a lack of top-shelf quarterbacks. But the biggest difference between the Big Ten and SEC is on defense, especially along the line. The SEC is loaded with big guys who can move. The Big Ten has its share, but they just don’t have as many.

Could it be argued, Mr. Dienhart, that maybe Urban Meyer ‘overachieved’ with this Ohio State team the past two seasons? As a lifelong resident of Columbus and OSU alum, I have never — NEVER — seen a Buckeye defense this bad, hence I think Meyer was lucky to even win 24 in a row. Right or wrong?D.J.

Interesting perspective. Yes, the Buckeye defense has issues last season, especially when it came stopping the pass. But to say Meyer “overachieved” may be a stretch. There still was plenty of talent on the roster the last two seasons. And OSU has had light lifting in the non-conference, and the Big Ten hasn’t featured myriad elite teams. Still, having typed all of that, I think Meyer has overachieved to a degree. To open 24-0 was incredible—good or bad schedule.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (10 Comments)
Bob on 1/9/2014 @ 1:35pm EDT Said:

I have said it before and need to say it again because apparently the big 10 network forgets! Iowa has a winning percentage against the SEC. Why can you guys not at least give credit where it is due!,?

Jonathan on 1/9/2014 @ 3:10pm EDT Said:

Funny, I actually agree that this was one of the worst Ohio State defenses in history. But everyone more/less kept their jobs (namely Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs), so I expect the ineptitude to continue.

Jeff on 1/9/2014 @ 4:03pm EDT Said:

I’m sorry, the Big Ten NEEDS Wisconsin to be “rated highly”? Could someone explain that one to me? Conspiracy theories are fun …

Jim Schultz on 1/10/2014 @ 11:59am EDT Said:

I agree that Fran was out of line with what he did, but is the punishment being handed out by the BIG consistant. Bo Pelini went crazy on the officials in the Iowa football game and Tom Izzo questions the officiating in the his post game interview after the Ohio State game. What is the BIG doing about these?

Kim LeFever on 1/10/2014 @ 12:08pm EDT Said:

Indiana fan here to say the BIG officiating is horrible. I love the NCAA’s new rule on handchecks and think the officials are ok calling this our front, but how about clearing up the post play. It is a football game down low every night. I would just love for Basketball to be played the way it was meant to be played including palming calls (yes, I know Yogi gets away with this), traveling (all of the Big Ten players), and most importantly the MOVING SCREENS (Yes you Wisky and MSU, just wish IU would set one once in a while!).

dang82 on 1/10/2014 @ 12:10pm EDT Said:

Not counting the two technical fouls on McCaffery and the three intentional fouls in the final minute of the game when Iowa was trying to come back, Wisconsin was whistled for 22 fouls while Iowa was whistled for 20.

If the officials were supposed to be acting on behalf of the Big Ten to make sure Wisconsin is rated highly, they weren’t doing a very good job…

SChawki on 1/10/2014 @ 12:40pm EDT Said:

Regarding officiating and Iowa basketball it was apparent in last nights Northwestern game that Iowa will have play much more timid. The announcers even bragged that Northwestern was trying entice Iowa into physical play by being more physical themselves. Why? Because they knew the officials would be quick to whistle Iowa. I found the double foul on both players when McCabe got leveled and ended up on the floor extremely humerous, and when Zach questioned it he was T’ed. I am afraid since McCaffrey exploded Sunday, this is going to be an ongoing thing with officiating and Iowa basketball, and I for one really dread this. I don’t know why I even waste valuable time fretting about it, but I do enjoy rooting for the U of I. Unfortunately I would really love to see collegiate sports played on the level without the big money and officials not being bookie puppets. I say unfortunately, because sadly I believe what I stated is probably reality. To use the phrase that these so-called experts love to throw around “The University Of Iowa sports is NOT brand name sports, and that my friend makes them suseptable to these unbecoming cancers of collegiant sports.

Mary Anne on 1/10/2014 @ 2:54pm EDT Said:

There should be a Ted Valentine school for the referees. He was the one referee who all the coaches respected. When he was on the floor, you knew the calls would be evenly and fairly called. We have watched him his whole career (yes, we are that old), and while we regret his retirement, he richly deserves a good rest.

J. Harrold on 1/10/2014 @ 3:00pm EDT Said:

Dienhart: Did you happen to see how matta and izzo were all over the refs in that MSU vs OSU game …the whole game? And how Izzo had to be restrained by his assistants from going after the refs ? No techs. Ryan is like Izzo and Matta….constant ripping on the refs throut the whole game. Fran does not do that. He does get animated when it reaches the point beyond staying silent.

You keep bringing up the chair incident….that was not directed at the refs, he was trying to get his team awakened, period. His players love him, and so do the Iowa fans.

You admit you love the Wis. team…clearly you pick your favs, and Fran is your whipping boy…get a clue.

Dave on 1/10/2014 @ 4:06pm EDT Said:

It’s amazing how Izzo can spurt off about the refs on national tv and no word about it. A fine would be in order for almost every other B1G school.