The Big Ten Conference football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium last week had a surreal feel.

First was the gathering itself, one year after COVID-19 not only forced cancellation of the event but threatened the college football season itself.

Second was permitting children to ask the coaches questions during the televised press conferences. Although he probably wasn’t expecting a youth to ask the first question, and about in-state recruiting at that, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm handled it with professionalism.

It also helped that 48 hours earlier, Purdue secured a commitment from 4-star defensive end Joe Strickland of Brebeuf, outdueling Stanford and Indiana for his services. Strickland joins four-star quarterback Brady Allen of Gibson Southern and three-star linebacker Domanick Moon of Fort Wayne Sinder as in-state recruits for 2022.

“We feel like we have done a very good job at developing prospects from in state that want to go somewhere and make a difference,” said Brohm, probably repeating his sales pitch to Strickland. Brohm specifically pointed out his three biggest recruiting wins to date in his response: Rondale Moore (New Albany via Louisville Trinity), David Bell (Warren Central) and George Karlaftis (West Lafayette).

“Those three guys could have went anywhere in the country they wanted, but they chose to trust myself and our coaches and come to Purdue and make a difference. You can go anywhere in the country you want, but if you come to Purdue, we’ll make sure that we do everything we can to help you make a difference, achieve all your goals and do some special things. And when you do that at a place like Purdue it can be special. It can be a lot of fun. And when your family can share in it with you, it can be even more fun.”

The only real news that came out of the Big Ten media days was commissioner Kevin Warren’s appointment of former Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez as special advisor for football.

The timing of Alvarez’s appointment is interesting considering the tumult about to take place in college football if the rumored move of Texas and Oklahoma to SEC comes to fruition. Among the possible additions any conference could make at the moment, only Notre Dame has a bigger name and financial impact than those two football powers.  

Warren said Alvarez would be working on potential expansion as well as health and safety, scheduling and bowl partnerships.

It’s probably the best move Warren has made since replacing the retired Jim Delany on Jan. 1, 2020. Warren’s mishandling of the 2020 football season as well as an overinflated ego (delivering bad news last summer while sitting in front of a wall of press clippings telling the world how great he is) did not inspire confidence that Warren is the right man for the job.

“We’re at an inflection point in college athletics,” Warren said. “So whether it’s name, image and likeness, … whether it’s potential college football playoff expansion, whether it’s schools from one conference joining another conference, these are the kind of issues that we all will be dealing with here this year and for many years in the future.”

Warren did not answer a question about how the Big Ten will deal with COVID positives and its impact on games. Alvarez was one of several Big Ten athletic directors who manipulated the COVID excuse to cancel the Badgers out of Big Ten championship game contention. Most notably, calling off the Purdue game when quarterback Graham Mertz, two backup QBs and a few other key players would be out due to the 21-day league-mandated quarantine. Wisconsin’s chances of beating Purdue, or anybody else, were slim with a fourth-string quarterback.

The Big Ten would be wise to adopt the SEC’s policy of forfeits instead of declaring a no contest. 

David Bell and oft-injured Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. were among the media’s 10-member preseason honors list. Bell was one of five members from the West Division along with Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim, the reigning Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year; Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year in 2020 Brandon Joseph of Northwestern; Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum and Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn.

“He just makes plays,” Brohm said of Bell. “He competes for the football. Normally on a 50/50 ball, he’s going to come down with it. In a clutch situation where you need to make a play he’s going to get it done.”

Ohio State dominated the East Division selections with offensive tackle Thayer Munford and wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. In addition to Penix, Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson completes the East Division five.

Purdue alumni go 1-1

Kelsey Barlow, a “what if” story during the middle years of the Matt Painter era at Purdue, showed at age 30 he still is a very good basketball player.

Barlow led the Purdue alumni team, Men of Mackey, in scoring during its two games at the TBT winner-take-all $1 million tournament last weekend. Barlow collected 19 points in an 83-74 victory over the Ballinteers, a University of Tennessee alumni team, in the opening round at Columbus, Ohio.

Two days later, Barlow posted 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in an 80-69 loss to Carmen’s Crew, the hometown team made up of Ohio State alumni, in the Round of 32 Sunday.

Barlow had been an All-Big Ten Freshman Team member in 2010 and was a starting guard during his junior season in 2011-12 when he was dismissed from the team one month before the NCAA tournament for an incident at a West Lafayette bar. 

Former All-Big Ten forward Rob Hummel had 13 points and six rebounds in the Friday victory, which saw Men of Mackey lead by 12 points after one quarter and by as many as 19. Big man Isaac Haas added 11 points, while former Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson put up six assists, six rebounds and two points.

Hummel had 17 points against Carmen’s Crew, the 2019 TBT champions. Haas just missed giving Men of Mackey a second double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. 

Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.