The Sugar Bowl, Now Not So Sweet

The Ohio State University and the Buckeye Nation got a shock yesterday, as the NCAA announced that six players would be suspended for violations of NCAA rules.  The players include starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting tailback Dan “Boom” Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting lineman Mike Adams, and two reserves.

The players apparently accepted discounts on tattoos and sold items they had received from the University, including uniforms, Big Ten championships rings, and the tiny “gold pants” that Ohio State players receive when the teams beats Michigan.  The incidents occurred two years ago, when the players were freshmen.  Pryor, Herron, Posey, and Adams will be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, but will be permitted to play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl.  In the meantime, Ohio State is appealing the penalties as being overly harsh.

I feel sorry for the players — who evidently say, with conviction, that once they were given the items they thought they were free to do whatever they wanted with them, and who used the money they received to help their families — but I feel especially sorry for the University.  Ohio State views itself as more than a school with a good football team.  It believes itself to be, first and foremost, a world-class research institution and learning facility that just happens to have excellent sports programs.  When an incident like this occurs, it hurts that self-perception, and no doubt causes people elsewhere in the country to conclude that Ohio State is just another “football factory,” and nothing more.

It leaves a bitter taste on the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, at a time when the school and the team should be enjoying a successful season capped by another Big Ten championship and looking forward, with unimpaired focus, to a chance to shake off the “can’t beat the SEC” canard against a talented Arkansas Razorbacks team.

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Presidential Elections Are A Choice, Not A Referendum

UJ’s post about what might have happened if John McCain were elected makes a good point.  Although I don’t agree with all of UJ’s conclusions, his comparison is the kind of analysis that voters engage in when they decide how to vote for President.  I think many voters decided McCain wasn’t up to the job when he was knocked off kilter by the economic shock during the 2008 campaign.  He seemed to panic, with his talk about suspending the campaign to go back to Washington, whereas Obama displayed the poise that Americans like to see in their leaders during times of crisis.

Presidential elections are a choice between competing human beings, not an abstract referendum on whether the existing President should be retained.  That is why, in my view, presidential approval polls really don’t mean much.  The fact that President Obama’s poll numbers are low is irrelevant if his 2012 opponent’s poll numbers are lower still, or if that opponent makes a significant misstep during the arduous months of campaigning.

We’re now at the point in our years-long campaign cycle where Republican candidates (and perhaps some fringe Democrats) will finally decide whether they are running for President and then begin raising huge sums of money, visiting Iowa kitchens and New Hampshire political luncheons, and so forth.  The potential Republican candidates — be they likely contestants such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin, or dark horses like Chris Christie — and their staffs should already have done the same kind of point-by-point analysis that UJ has undertaken.

In that regard, UJ’s list of President Obama’s “accomplishments” is a good place to start.  If you are going to be compared to the President you are trying to unseat, why not begin by distinguishing your position on specific issues that are viewed, by some at least, as that President’s most significant accomplishments?