Bears

Fischer: Big Ten football needs to gain new perspective

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Fischer: Big Ten football needs to gain new perspective

There was a degree of ickiness in covering Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, asking various teams the same questions about the Penn State scandal and if those teams planned on going after Penn State's players. Most teams said no, a few teams said yes. This in itself has sparked a good debate among people who think it's unethical to pick over the carcass of a program decimated by NCAA sanctions.

Illinois left a bad taste in everyone's mouth when they sent eight coaches to State College to talk to prospective transfers. Commissioner Jim Delany bristled at the notion of conference members being allowed to go near the Nittany Lions, but was out-voted by university presidents who unanimously agreed that any Penn State player who wanted to transfer to another school be given the opportunity to stay in the Big Ten if they desired. I tend to agree. If players want to transfer, they are going to transfer. Why should they go to Syracuse or anywhere else without an opportunity to stay in conference?

I respect Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, who said emphatically they won't take any Penn State players, but if one of them called and said they really want to join your program and you had room, why would you turn them down? Illinois claims that's all they were doing, responding to calls from interested Penn State players. You can argue the tactfulness in which Illinois went about "fielding the inquiries," but it's not fair to call it wrong or unethical.

The fact that we're even having this debate is what's really troubling me. On the heels of the scandal, the focus of the Big Ten was clouded by more ethical dilemmas and questions of integrity. The NCAA, by the way, could have prevented all of this in the first place by issuing the death penalty, thereby suspending the program and allowing all Penn State players to go wherever they wanted without the charges of competitive maleficence (the fairness of sanctions is another discussion, so I'll just stick to the current reality).

But that reality has me down. It led me to ask coaches and players on Thursday if the culture of college football is out of control. Of course, they said no, they all still believe in college football, it has changed their lives for the better. The most encouraging response came from NU's Fitzgerald.

"Unfortunately, there's been a very terrible tragedy, a set of circumstances that are unfortunate," Fitzgerald said. "The conference has a black eye and that's understandable. I don't want to mitigate the tragedy at Penn State, but we're going to have to move forward and learn from it. And if we don't, that would be the real tragedy. In society if a tragedy like this happens again, then shame on all of us."

Still, I was looking for more. I wanted to look into the eyes of a 19-20 year old and see that college athletics means something to him beyond the dollars signs of a potential NFL career, or the perks that go along with being a star athlete on campus. I admit putting them on the spot, but part of the burden falls on their shoulders to help us believe in the good of college football again.

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase offered this:

"The thing you have to think about at the end of the day, every day is the victims, you have to feel for them and have to understand why people are upset," Scheelhaase began. The first person on the day I heard mention the victims. Thank you, Nathan.

"As a player, it's tough to go through," he continued. "Because you didn't have anything to do it with it. I can only speak for my experience and what college football has meant to me. I would not have been able to travel to great places or meet the awesome people I've met if it weren't for playing college sports. I've grown tremendously from it."

I was starting to turn the corner until I actually had a chance to talk to Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien and the three players he brought along to the media session. I give them credit for showing up since reports the day before said no Penn State players would be attending media day. Their motto was about sticking together, being a family and taking an us-against-the-world approach. I don't blame the players, they aren't responsible for Jerry Sandusky's actions, but a little sensitivity would go a long way in helping restore the image of the school and program they profess to love so much.

Nobody really wants to hear O'Brien talk about business as usual and how he still expects 108,000 fans to pack the stands and how they are going to 'fight their butts off'. It sends the message that we have learned nothing. We, as a schoolprogram, are sorry for nothing. No, O'Brien wasn't there when all of this went down, but he's there now and he'll have to share in the burden of changing the culture.

We all have to share in that burden. The media, the fans, we all have a role to play in bringing perspective back to college athletics. Which is why I had a hard time talking X's and O's on Thursday and getting too excited about the upcoming season. I'm sure I'll come around.

Until then, I'm more interested in how coaches and players around the country, or at least in the Big Ten, can demonstrate how they are going to repair their sports tarnished image. And, if Team Outlaw, the new moniker Penn State has embraced, will further disgrace itself or prove further why it should have been outlawed altogether.

Be sure to tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 10 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for Fischer's report on this topic.

Under Center Podcast: What's the Bears' ceiling this year?

Under Center Podcast: What's the Bears' ceiling this year?

After the Bears' statement-making 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, Laurence Holmes, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte and Alex Brown sat down to talk about how far they think the Bears can go this season. They also debate whether they trust kicker Cody Parkey after a 3-3 performance, and look ahead to Thanksgiving Day's matchup with the Lions. 

You can listen to the entire podcast right here, or in the embedded player below. 

Cody Parkey’s bounce-back game reveals something important about the 2018 Bears

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USA Today

Cody Parkey’s bounce-back game reveals something important about the 2018 Bears

 Cody Parkey, of course, noticed the two news helicopters hovering over Soldier Field Wednesday night. Maybe they added a little bit of pressure to his kicking practice session four days before he connected on all three of his field goal tries — including a game-clinching 48-yarder — in the Bears’ 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings. 
 
Or maybe the literal hovering over his every move didn’t affect him at all. 
 
“They just added a little extra wind for me,” Parkey quipped. 
 
Parkey’s confidence in himself didn’t waver after he missed four field goal attempts off an upright a week ago, even if the rest of Chicago might’s lost faith in their team’s kicker. While Matt Nagy framed his calling of a pair of two-point conversion attempts after the Bears’ two touchdowns Sunday as wanting to be aggressive (“we just felt like we had some good stuff down there in that area,” he said), perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence it came a week after his kicker missed two PATs. 
 
But Nagy’s confidence in Parkey was there when he called on him for that 48-yard field goal with a little under three minutes remaining in, at the time, an eight-point game. Had Parkey missed the kick, Minnesota would’ve taken over possession in optimal field position to drive downfield and tie the game. 
 
Instead, Parkey nailed the kick, and nearly the entire Bears’ sideline rushed onto the field to celebrate with him. 
 
“Parkey’s a dog, man,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “Practice makes perfect. He’s a great kicker and I’m glad he got back to showing it.”
 
“You support your guys,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “There’s always going to be people out there that are hard on you that can never do what you do. I think that’s he’s handled it very well. Very respectful, very humble about it, and he came out tonight and he played one of his best games for us.”
 
“We all believed in him in the locker room,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “There was never a doubt. That happens week to week in the NFL. But we just continue to come together closer as a team, support our guys, have each other's back. I'm happy for Cody. He was big time tonight. He definitely delivered for this team and put some points on the board when we needed them. They were crucial, and he did a heck of a job.”
 
And cornerback Prince Amukamara: “We knew that he had a tough time last week and was very hard on himself. For him to hit the first one and hit the last one, we knew how huge that was and he crushed it. He ended up breaking us down at the end right here. And that goes with what I've been saying all year, we have genuine love for each other and guys celebrate others' success."
 
That last point is important. The Bears have a certain positive spirit in their team, one instilled by Nagy that permeates every corner of Halas Hall. How often do you see so many players sprint off the sideline to celebrate with their kicker after he hits a field goal that isn’t a game-winner? 
 
“That was pretty cool,” Parkey said. “Obviously they saw me down last week and they picked me up. I think that’s just really special about this team and it shows how close we are.”