Big Ten, Big Money, Big Changes

This week the Big Ten announced that, beginning in 2014, Rutgers and Maryland will join the conference.  That will bring the number of schools to 14 — and many people think the Big Ten is likely to add two more teams to end up at an even 16, with two eight-team divisions.  The pundits are talking about North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech, and other schools as potential candidates.

One of the traditional Ohio State fight songs — Across the Field — ends with the line “so let’s win that old conference now.”   Thanks to Commissioner Jim Delany, it’s not the old conference anymore.  With the addition of Nebraska, and now Rutgers and Maryland, what used to be a northern, Midwestern conference now stretches from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean and from northern Minnesota to below the Mason-Dixon line.  Everyone knows, too, that the expansion is all about money.  The Big Ten wants access to the New York City and Washington, D.C. TV and fan base markets and believes that adding Rutgers and Maryland will provide that access.  Rutgers and Maryland are joining because they will get far more money from the Big Ten than they would from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

What does it mean for Big Ten fans?  Sure, it means Big Ten teams will play schools who aren’t traditional powerhouses or traditional rivals — but Ohio State already does that, with its preseason schedule and with perennial Big Ten doormats like Indiana.  Rutgers and Maryland may not be top 20 football programs, but neither are most of the teams the Buckeyes play in their “pre-season” schedule.  If the addition of more teams means that the Big Ten schedule gets extended  and Ohio State loses a few games against the likes of San Diego State, I’m not going to cry about it.  The only problem I would have is if expansion causes Ohio State to not play Michigan every year, or puts the Buckeyes in a division featuring a bunch of new eastern teams.

What does this mean for college football?  I wonder how, with everyone chasing the almighty dollar, NCAA members can continue the pretense that college athletics is just about sacred concepts of amateur competition.  College football and, to a lesser extent, college basketball generate huge amounts of money — amounts so huge, in fact, that universities will abandon conferences they’ve belonged to for decades to get a bigger piece of the pie.  College football is saturated with TV money, product tie-ins, merchandising deals, sponsors, and other revenue generators.

So how can the NCAA justify suspending student-athletes who (in the recent case involving Ohio State) sell memorabilia for a few thousand dollars or a few free tattoos?  At some point, will someone choke on the hypocrisy?

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The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

A while ago, fake dogs became part of our pack.  They stay in front of our house.  That’s a good thing, because they really give me the creeps.

One of the fake dogs sits by our front door.  Kasey and I call him Red Eye.  When I first saw him, I gave him a good sniff.  He has no dog smell.  He smells the same as a rock or a tree or a fence.  And he’s always staring, with beady red eyes and his mouth open and his pink tongue hanging out and a dopey expression on his face.  He’s got on a dumb collar, too.  I guess he’s just supposed to look like a really stupid dog.  I don’t think he’s fooling anyone, except maybe for the looking stupid part.

Kasey doesn’t like the stupid fake dog.  She thinks it’s weird.  When we get back from a walk with the old boring guy, Kasey always stays as far away from the fake dog as she can.  Then she scratches at the door to get inside fast.

The other fake is just part of a dog.  Kasey and I call him Dog Butt.  It’s just a butt and a tail, sticking out of the plants in front of the house.  The butt never moves, and the tail never wags.  And even though everyone knows that the tail section is the best smelling part of any dog, this fake dog has no dog smell, either.  How can that be?  A dog’s butt with no smell is as disappointing as a food bowl with no food.

I feel sorry for Dog Butt.  Now, when I go outside, I always go to the bathroom next to Dog Butt.  I figure I might as well contribute a little of the dog smell that other dogs will expect when they see a dog butt in the air.

No need to thank me, Dog Butt!  Any dog would do the same.

At Woody’s Gravesite

When Michigan Week rolls around, members of Buckeye Nation naturally think of Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Ohio State’s iconic football coach who wanted — deeply, passionately, and unequivocally — to beat Michigan every year.

Recently I was near Columbus’ Union Cemetery.  It’s tucked right next to Route 315, one of the main thoroughfares that fans take to get to Ohio Stadium.  It’s also the location of Woody Hayes’ grave, and I decided to pay a visit.

Ohio State’s famous coach is buried next to his beloved wife, Anne, beneath a simple stone headstone in an unremarkable part of the cemetery.  His headstone, however, bears a memorable and beautiful quote:  “And in the night of death, hopes sees a star, and listening love hears the rustle of a wing.”

As befits Hayes — a much more interesting, multi-faceted man than the media caricatures of the fiery coach ever depicted — the evocative quote has an interesting back story.  It is a quote of Robert G. Ingersoll, a towering 19th century figure who is little remembered today.  Ingersoll was a brilliant and accomplished lawyer, politician — he famously described Republican James Blaine as the “plumed knight of Maine” — defender of Darwin and the theory of natural selection, and religious skeptic.

The entire quote from Ingersoll, attributed by the 1919 edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to Ingersoll’s statement At His Brother’s Gravereads:  “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud—and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word. But in the night of Death Hope sees a star and listening Love can hear the rustling of a wing.”

What better expression of the frail needs of the human condition for reassurance when confronted with the deep void of death?  And what does it say about the purportedly knuckle-dragging football coach when he chooses such a quote to mark his place of eternal rest?

When I visited Woody Hayes’ grave, a fan had carefully placed tiny pieces of homemade candy, in the shape of Brutus Buckeye’s face, on the top of the headstone, and another admirer had perched a small, painfully cute stuffed bear wearing an Ohio State sweater on the front of the marker.  They were part of the graveside scene, next to a military marker and an American flag moving gently in the breeze.  As I stood there thinking of Coach Hayes, I couldn’t help but wonder whether those dedicated and well-meaning fans, perhaps, appreciated only a small fraction of a vast and complex spirit.