'There will be changes': Michigan State AD Alan Haller hints at future Big Ten moves

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
(From left) Michigan State University athletic director Alan Hailer, head football coach Mel Tucker and head basketball coach Tom Izzo are interviewed during a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit on Monday.

Detroit — Change is coming to Big Ten football.

While he was light on details, that much seemed certain, according to Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller.

During a meeting with the Detroit Economic Club on Monday at Motor City Casino, the leader of the Spartans’ athletic department said discussions have already begun within the conference, including last week during the annual spring meeting of athletic directors at Big Ten headquarters in Chicago.

“There will be (changes),” Haller said when posed with a question from the DEC membership. “We’re working through them.”

Similar discussions have begun around the country, namely among the Power Five conferences, after the NCAA Division I Council announced last week that it will relax restrictions on college football's conference championship games, allowing conferences to determine the teams that would participate in their respective title games.

The decision allows conferences to eliminate the practice of simply having division winners face off in the conference championship games, something many believe will allow for better title-game matchups, regardless of divisions, a move which could increase opportunities to reach the College Football Playoff.

It’s a stance the ACC has pushed often since the playoff era begin and a cause also championed by the Pac-12, which revealed immediately after the NCAA’s announcement that it had scrapped its divisions for the upcoming 2022 season. The Big 12, which had begun discussing division alignment, put those plans on hold. There has been no word yet on plans from the Big Ten and SEC.

Haller’s comments Monday, though, seem to indicate the direction the Big Ten is heading and Haller is making sure Michigan State is a key player in the discussions.

“Michigan State has a seat at the table … because of our history of academic performance, competition performance and what we do in the community,” Haller said. “So, while we have a seat at the table, it's important for me as the athletic director to make sure we stay at the table, because what you see next year at this time will be much different than what we're doing right now.

“So, I'm focused on making sure Michigan State's name is still at the table and we stay at the table with all these changes. But there will be changes, quite a bit of them."

Again, Haller didn’t offer much in terms of details or a timeline of when things could shift in the Big Ten. But it seems likely a move to eliminate divisions in football would happen before any sort of division realignment.

The Big Ten first went to divisions in football in 2011 and realigned to East and West divisions in 2014 with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference. Since that realignment, no team from the West has won the Big Ten Championship game, creating an imbalance that could be eliminated by dissolving divisions.

Of course, a truly balanced schedule would still be impossible with teams playing nine conference games — or perhaps eight, if there’s a switch there, too — and rivalries will likely be protected.

So, what it all looks like remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — change is coming.

Football recruiting

Mel Tucker has enough on his plate when it comes to leading Michigan State’s football program.

So, when two of his former colleagues got into verbal spat last week — Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher took exception to Alabama’s Nick Saban calling out the Aggies’ recruiting techniques –— Tucker did his best to avoid the topic Monday at the Detroit Economic Club’s meeting at Motor City Casino.

“Oh, boy,” Tucker said. “Here we go.”

Tucker and Fisher coached one season together — in 2000 at LSU — under Saban. Tucker left the next season for Ohio State and Fisher was at LSU until 2006 before becoming the head coach at Florida State. Tucker, who began his career as a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1997-98, spent one more year with Saban at Alabama in 2015.

But even with those close ties, Tucker opted to stay out of the fight.

 “I don't have an opinion on that,” Tucker said. “I'm really focused on our program and how we go about our business and what we have to do. We have our own challenges, so that's where my focus is.”

The main focus, at the moment, for Tucker and his staff is recruiting.

Plenty of official visits are on tap this month, as the momentum continues to build after the Spartans went 11-2 last season, Tucker’s second at Michigan State.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of our organization,” Tucker said, “and this next month or so, month-and-a-half or so, is going to be critically important to our success in recruiting. As we start to have players on campus for official visits, the competition for players is going to be strong.

"We're recruiting nationally and we’re in it with some of the best players in the country at every single position. So we’re going to put our best foot forward and keep chopping.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau