One of the reasons the Big Ten is the pre-eminent conference in America, other than it's based in the Midwest, which is God's Country, is that we have our own network. And with that network, the Big Ten has changed the landscape of college sports, specifically football. The Big Ten Network premiered in 2007, and has steadily grown into something that is the envy of college sports--an entertaining network airing quality programming while making a hefty profit.
And one could argue that the face of the Big Ten Network is Dave Revsine. Revsine is the studio host of the Big Ten Network's most popular program, the football pre-game and wrap up shows, and along with partners in crime Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, brings quality football talk and analysis that is better than anything you'll find on TV.
And why he agreed to be interviewed by us, I'll never know, but it was a great time. We discussed several different topics, to include the Big Ten Network, we covered all teams, all the new coaches, and I even tried to get him to give me a conference champion prediction.
And for whatever reason, Dave never even hung up on me. Once.
So find out why he made the leap from ESPN to the BTN, who's the most impressive new coach in the conference, who his darkhorse pick is, whether or not Dan Persa is going to win the Heisman, and Big Ten Word Association.
DAVE REVSINE, ON OTE....NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!
Well, almost now. Make sure you enter Off Tackle Empire's Obligatory Prediction Competition. I mean, I'm going to kick everyone's ass this year, so you guys are playing for second, but still, it'll be fun.
Okay...DAVE REVSINE, ON OTE....NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!
After the jump.
OTE: You seemed to have a pretty good thing going, by all appearances, while you were at ESPN. When you came to the Big Ten Network, a lot of so-called experts said the network was going to fail or linger in obscurity for years. What made you take the leap from a company like ESPN to such an unknown commodity at the time?
Dave Revsine: I was really impressed with the people running it. I came out for a second interview, and I had dinner with Mark Silverman and Jim Delany. [ED note--Silverman is the President of The Big Ten Network, and well, we all know who 'Consider Them Rolled' is] I just felt like they really knew what they were doing. It was pretty obvious from the word go. I always had respect from afar for Mark and Commissioner Delany, and I felt he (Delany) was a real innovator, and everything he touches was always a step ahead, and this would allow me to stay one step ahead. And Mark Silverman really impressed me as well. Just a very sharp guy. I don't know that I really felt like I knew what it was going to be, but when they told me, and I understood the breadth of what it was going to be, there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to succeed. So, it really wasn't that tough a choice. I loved ESPN, they made me a great offer to stay, but this is kind of in my blood. This is what I grew up following, and this is my conference, so for me it almost turned into a bit of a no-brainer once I met those guys.
OTE: The success of the Big Ten Network has, in some ways, driven conference expansion because you have teams like Texas or other conferences looking to start their own network because of the revenue Big Ten schools are seeing because of the network. Do you think that the Big Ten Network is unique in that regard, or better lined up for success because of the big fanbases of the schools in the conference, or do you see a scenario where every conference or multiple teams will have their own network sometime in the future?
DR: Well, I guess I can't speak too much to those other conferences just because I don't know all of their intricacies. I think the reason the Big Ten works and the Big Ten Network works is first of all the equity in terms of revenue. To have a really successful conference I think you have to be cohesive in that way. You have to agree that it will be cyclical, at some point some programs might be up, others might be down, but in the end you all help one another and you all succeed with one another. I think the other reason is what you talked about in the size of the schools and the scope of their alumni bases. You have Big Ten fans all over the country; in fact, we have more subscribers outside the Big Ten footprint than we do inside of it. And we're on everywhere there; it's not like we're not on in the Big Ten footprint. There are so many more Big Ten fans all over the country who want to watch Big Ten sports and who are passionate about their teams. I hear it all the time from people that this is a dream come true for them. They might live in Florida, California, or New York City, yet they get to watch their team--every single game. If you think about it, it's pretty remarkable where we've come in such a short period of time.
OTE: Did you see this kind of success this early when you came to the Big Ten Network?
DR: Once I met those guys (Silverman and Delany) I never thought it wouldn't be successful. Now did I think that it would change the landscape of college sports that you're kind of implying in the way that it has, or this idea of owning your own television product within the conference, did I envision that? No, maybe I didn't, but I knew the Big Ten Network would be a success; I had no doubt. The way that people watch sports now is you're interested in your little slice of whatever it is. Everything's getting more and more specialized, and as a sports fan, what are you interested in? You're interested in your team, and in the teams that impact your team. And that's what we are. So if you're a Big Ten fan, you care about your team and the teams you're going to face later in the year. And I also think that the Big Ten has such a history together, and you know all these teams very well. Sure, you're going to root against them when they play your team, but ultimately there's a familiarity there and a comfort level there. One team might be your team, but it's also your league, and I think the Big Ten Network appeals to that as well.
OTE: One question about expansion, and then we'll get to football. Do you see the conference adding teams, or will they stay at twelve for the foreseeable future?
DR: I can only go off of what Commissioner Delany says, and he says for now the door is closed but you always monitor what's going on, and if things start to change and there's this dramatic overhaul, you have to consider it. In the short term, they made an unbelievable addition in Nebraska. Not just a home run, but a grand slam home run. I think it's going to be incredible, and they seem to be pretty comfortable with what they've done.
OTE: Okay, let's get to the important stuff, the upcoming season. You, Gerry DiNardo, and Howard Griffith just came back from seeing each team in the conference for your pre-season shows. First off, it looks like you three are having a ball doing that, and secondly, give me your general impression of the conference overall.
DR: Well, to address your first point, we do have a blast. I really, really enjoy those guys, and I think that has been a huge part of out studio show success. When the show's over at night, we all go out to dinner afterwards, and hang out, and enjoy one another's company. I've known Gerry, I worked with him at ESPN and kind of recruited him to come here. I'd never met Howard, we were in college at the same time and I'd seen him play, and it's just been great to get to know him, he's just a fabulous guy. I think the three of us hit the ground running, because we enjoy being around each other so well.
In terms of what we observed, I think it's a really balanced league. I think there are several teams that have a really good shot at winning it, but I don't know that there's an overwhelming favorite. I'm not sure there's a team you look at and say national championship. Are there a couple of teams that if they get all the breaks, can they compete for it? Absolutely. What it is is a conference that's going to have really, really solid teams, and I think we're going to have interesting races. And that's something that's very intriguing, the two divisions that have been set up to feel like it's going to go down to the wire in that final weekend.
OTE: Would you mind playing a word association, where I give you each team, and you give me a word or a short phrase to describe your impression of them?
Sure, might be a little bit more than one, though.
Ohio State: Transitioning, but talented
Minnesota: On the right track
Purdue: Better than people think
Penn State: Solid
Iowa: Has a chance
Michigan State: Very impressive
Illinois: THE darkhorse
OTE: Not counting Bo Pelini, there are four new coaches in the B1G this year (Kevin Wilson, Jerry Kill, Brady Hoke, Luke Fickell). Which one of those four has impressed you the most, and why?
DR: I'd say Kevin Wilson. Look, that's a tough situation. I think he's gone in there with a real positive message, and I don't think he cares about anything that's happened before. I think he's set up better than any coach that's ever been set up there has, in terms of the resources they've given him for things like money for a staff, the facilities are better than they've ever been, and I kind of like the way he's attacking it, I really do. They've all been impressive, they're all great hires, but if you ask me to pick just one, I think it's him.
OTE: What's your impression of Luke Fickell and how he's handled being thrust into the limelight the way he has?
DR: I think it's been tough, Ted. I had a chance to sit down with him the day that he was introduced, and I thought that he was obviously nervous that day, and it came across. But it was such a difficult situation to be put in, too, because I felt he thought there was a lot he couldn't talk about, but when we came back for camp a couple of months later, it felt like he was growing into it. As in he felt more comfortable as a leader, and figuring out what it was all about. I think there's been an evolution just in this short time before any games have been played.
OTE: You've mentioned Kevin Wilson earlier, and Jerry Kill also seems like a no-nonsense guy. Between Kill and Wilson, who has a better opportunity to turn it around, and why?
DR: I think Kill is going to do a great job. The HUGE thing that stood out with Minnesota was the continuity of the staff. Combined, his staff has been with him for 84 years, which is staggering when you think about it. Yeah, it's a new situation, a new set of players, and it may be more difficult in some ways than in some of the other places he's been--although I'll tell you, he's been in some tough situations--he's been through this before. I have no doubt that they'll get back to where they were when Coach Mason was there, minimum. They'll go to a bowl game, be competitive, and occasionally have a great year. I have no doubt about that, because he's a winner.
OTE: Last new coach question. Like Kill in Minnesota, Brady Hoke seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan after initial backlash when the hiring was announced. Is Michigan going to get back to being Michigan this year?
DR: Well, it's going to be tough to do this year. It will be interesting to watch Al Borges (Michigan Offensive coordinator) and how he's going to use Denard Robinson. Again, you've got such an experienced staff, Borges has been to so many different places and so many different situations that I think he knows enough that when you come into this with a weapon as dynamic as Denard Robinson, you have to figure out a way to use him even though it's not necessarily in the kind of offense he normally runs. It's a little bit of an odd fit, but they know how good he is. I worry about depth on defense, in particular. If they were to get some guys hurt on defense, which is almost inevitable, would they have enough guys there to fill in some gaps. So, will they be back to being Michigan this year? I guess it depends on what you define being Michigan is. They won seven games last year, and I certainly see them winning as many as that this year. Will they be competing for the division title? I just think that would be a pretty big stretch.
OTE: Do you see any coaches on the hot seat for 2011?
DR: The Luke Fickell situation is interesting in that he's dealing with a one year contract.
OTE: Do you think he has a legitimate opportunity to be back next year, or do you think this is a one year deal?
DR: I think it would be a wonderful story if he was back next year. Here's a kid who's from Columbus, who loves the Buckeyes, and if they have a good year, there's still a lot of talent there, and maybe an alum who's passionate about the place is the solution. Other than that, I know a lot of people are going to say Ron Zook, and I think that's preposterous. I'll tell you what, if there's one team that really stood out to us that has the potential to be much better than people think they're going to be is Illinois. You think of what they did last year, with first year coordinators to come in and make the kind of difference they did, and now think about this year. The team knows the system better, Nate Scheelhaase is a year older--they've got a lot of talent. I think they're going to be really good.
OTE: That really leads to my next question. I was going to ask you to give me two darkhorse teams for this season. Most everyone is picking Wisconsin and Nebraska in the title game, and I'd like you to give me two teams that you think are flying under the radar. It sounds like you're alluding to Illinois as one, do you have another?
DR: Yeah, I would say Illinois, and does Michigan State count as a darkhorse, because they were co-champions last year and won 11 games? [ED Note: Like I'm going to tell Dave Revsine 'no, it doesn't count, pick a new team until I'm happy with the answer' We stuck with MSU]
OTE: Darkhorse teams aside, who are you picking in the championship game?
DR: Ted, I don't make predictions. All I do is make fun of other people's picks.
OTE: Are you a fan of the Conference championship game staying in one place, like Indianapolis or Chicago, or would you like to see it move around the footprint of the conference?
DR: Indianapolis is a great place to start. Indy works really well because of how compressed it is, in that you have all these great restaurants. and you can walk from the hotels to the arenas, and it just works. So it's great to start it in Indianapolis, but I'd love to see it get to a few other places. I do think that with anything that's kind of in the spectacle of a major event, it's nice to see a lot of different towns host it, but I can certainly understand why they started with Indianapolis.
OTE: Your alma mater Northwestern has kind of a Heisman campaign going for Dan Persa. Assuming he's healthy and puts up the numbers he did last year, what are his odds of a) making it to New York as a finalist, and b) winning it?
DR: Well, those are two pretty big assumptions, first of all. It seems unclear at this point as to whether he'll start or play against BC, so I think it's tough to make the assumption that he produces at the level he did last year. But if he does, and if they win 8 games, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Darnell Autry got invited to the Heisman ceremony, Damien Anderson finished fifth, so yeah, it's possible as they've had guys in the discussion fairly recently. Can he win it? For him to win it, he'll have to put up ridiculous numbers, and they'll have to have one of those 10 win type seasons, and I think it would all really have to come together for him to win it. But is it unreasonable to have a campaign around him? I don't think so at all. He is a phenomenal, phenomenal player.
OTE: Give me one guy on offense and one guy one defense, from any team, that we've probably never heard of, but will by the end of the season.
DR: He was a big name in recruiting, and I don't know what's going to happen at tailback for Ohio State, but Rod Smith certainly stands out. On defense, I wouldn't say never heard of, because people who follow Big Ten football know who Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston are, but I think they've got a real chance at Purdue to have a very good defensive line, and so I'm going to go with those two guys.
OTE: Who do you think has the toughest schedule going forward in the conference?
DR: Nebraska, no doubt in my mind.
OTE: What's the one conference game you're looking forward to the most?
DR: I am really fired up about Nebraska going to Wisconsin. I think that's just going to be incredible. You've got a game that has a chance to be the preview of the conference championship game, you're at Camp Randall, which I think is as fun a venue to see a college football game as there is in the country, and you've got all the hype of Nebraska playing their first conference game, so I think it's going to be tough to beat that one.
OTE: With the Big Ten adding a ninth conference game in 2014, would you like to see the conference move to an SEC style of scheduling, i.e. conference games in the first couple weeks of the season?
DR: What that would do would give you more intrigue earlier in the season, and I don't see any negatives to that. I understand the philosophy of one or two more manageable games at the outset, but I kind of like the idea of playing games that count right away, certainly from a television perspective. It's hard for me not to look at it from that point of view, and it helps us. It's better games and more interesting games earlier, so I would certainly support it if they did it. I understand why coaches aren't necessarily overly enthused about it, but I think the positives out weigh the negatives pretty significantly.
I can't thank Dave Revsine enough for his time and his candid answers. We hope to catch up with him later in the season.