A Great Win, With Great Respect, In A Great Atmosphere

-8Ohio State won its first game today, beating Navy 34-17.  It was an excellent game, with Navy ripping off huge runs and gashing Ohio State with its great running game, and Ohio State responding with some big plays.  Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback made a bad play but made some good plays and now has a win under his belt, and the Ohio State defense bounced back from some bad breakdowns to stop Navy at the end and allow the Buckeyes to come away with the win.

But I don’t really want to write about the football right now.  Instead, I’d rather write about the coolness of playing the United States Naval Academy, and the great displays of sportsmanship by college athletes from both schools before, during, and after the game.  This was a game where there wasn’t any chippiness, or cheap penalties, or showboating for the cameras.  Both teams played hard, but fair and within the rules.  The Ohio State players obviously had great respect for Navy, and I think the Midshipmen felt likewise.  When the teams honored each other by listening respectfully to both alma maters at the end of the game, it was a fitting and moving end to a great exhibition.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad that Ohio State won.  But I also want to point out how refreshing it is to see college athletes behave with class, and dignity, in a manner that reflects well on both institutions.  This is what college sports really should be about.

Ohio State fans used to make fun of Notre Dame for playing the service academies every year; we said it was just a way for the Fighting Irish to pad their win totals against overmatched opponents.  After this game against Navy and the game in 2009 that I was privileged to attend in Ohio Stadium, we know differently.  Even though this game with Navy was a nail-biter, and even though the Buckeyes’ victory was a hard-fought one, I’m hoping that the Ohio State Athletic Department schedules Navy again, and sees whether Army and Air Force might fit on future schedules.  Playing them is a way to honor their service to our country and their role in securing our freedoms.  When you hear the National Anthem on the same field with young men who soon will be placing themselves in harm’s way for the good of the country, it just has a different feel.  I admire those Navy players, and I’ll be rooting for them to win every other game they play this year.

Finally, thanks to Mike N for the great photos.  The photo at the top of this post, of the rows of assembled, white-clad Midshipmen on the field prior to the game, should give us all chills, and the photo below of Carmen Ohio being played while both teams stand respectfully, will remind us of how college sports can be great.

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A Welcome To Buckeye Nation, And A Pledge

Today is National Letter of Intent Signing Day!  I use initial caps, because for college football fans, it’s a Big Day.  The recruiting wars are finally ended, and the fans of each school count up the number of two-star, three-star, four-star, and five-star athletes who will be joining their teams.  By all accounts, Ohio State, its head coach Urban Meyer, and his hard-working assistants did pretty well this year.  Ezekiel Elliott, whose announcement that he will become a Buckeye is shown here, is one of the more heralded members of the Ohio State class.

When I think of National Letter of Intent Day, however, I think of kids, and their parents.  A high school student who is a stud athlete is still a high school student.  They may run faster, and bench press more, and catch footballs better than your ordinary kids, but deep down they are the same mass of raging hormones that you find in every kid of that age.  They are making a huge decision that could have tremendous, long-term consequences for their lives — and they and their parents are hoping that they make the right decision.  It’s a huge, emotional matter for any high school student about to go away from home to college.  Just imagine what it must be like for a kid who not only is leaving the cocoon of their family, but moving into new territory where their every move will be scrutinized and deconstructed by rabid college football fans.

So, on this National Letter of Intent Signing Day, I want to welcome all of the young men who have committed to come to The Ohio State University — but I especially want to welcome their parents to the family that is Buckeye Nation.

I also want to make this pledge to those parents:  no matter how high the athletic stakes, how big the game, or how colossal the blunder, I will always strive to remember that we are talking about young people here.  I will try to bear in mind that everyone makes mistakes, that we all have committed youthful indiscretions that we regret, and that people can mature and grow and shouldn’t be forever defined by a single, ill-advised decision.  I will always seek to give your kids the benefit of the doubt, just as I would hope that other parents would do with my kids. I suspect I’m not alone in this, so please remember that, for every fan who goes over the top there are dozens, if not hundreds, who support your youngster and wish only the best for him.

Welcome to Buckeye Nation!

The Pathetic, Performance-Enhanced World Of Professional Sports

Every week brings new allegations about professional athletes using performance-enhancing substances and odd treatments for injuries.  This week is no different.  The allegations get made, and the athletes issue denials, and the games go on.  Who’s to know whether that great athletic performance you so admired was the result of hard work, careful training, and focus, or the juice of the root of the exotic zub zub tree?

It’s appropriate that the issue of performance-enhancing drugs was raised this week, because it’s Super Bowl Week — the week of the worst wretched sports excess in an America that is characterized by wretched sports excess.  Want to know why some athletes take performance-enhancing drugs?  Take a look at the outrageous trappings of the Super Bowl, the money-drenched parties, and the adulation poured on the participants, and you’ll have the answer to your question.  If you have a chance to become a household name who will be paid tens of millions of dollars to play a sport, wouldn’t you be tempted to take drugs that might allow you to realize that goal?

I’m heartily sick of American professional sports.  I’m sick of the ludicrous contracts, the players who are all about themselves and not about their teams, the blowhard jock-sniffing owners, the celebrity coaches, the athletes who have become cult figures, the luxury boxes, the mindless endorsements, and just about everything else that has to do with professional sports.  Whatever innocence once existed in sport is long gone, and a sick money culture has taken its place.

This week, I’m going to protest by not watching the Super Bowl.  I’ll watch college sports instead, and try to convince myself that the huge amounts of money floating around student athletes haven’t ruined the college games, too.  I know that my little protest will make no difference, and the Super Bowl will set another viewership record, but I don’t care.  I’ve had it.

Big Ten BMWs

This season BMW and the Big Ten Conference announced a partnership to make the BMW the “official luxury automobile”  of the Big Ten.

I suppose we all just have to accept the fact that college athletics is awash in cash and that conferences like the Big Ten want to maximize their generation of money by selling the naming rights of championship games and entering into “partnerships” with corporations that then can use the affiliation to market their products during TV broadcasts.

Still, it seems odd for the Big Ten to enter into this kind of deal at the same time that Ohio State — one of the Big Ten’s flagship schools — is wrestling with NCAA sanctions because some of its football players traded athletic gear for tattoos and allegedly were paid a bit more than they should have been on odd jobs.  I’m not excusing their conduct, but the money involved in their activities was chump change compared to the cost of a BMW automobile.  Isn’t it flat-out hypocritical for an amateur athletic conference to have an “official luxury car”?

Happy National Signing Day!

Today is National Signing Day.  For those of you who don’t follow college football — and if you fall into that category, you really should reconsider your life priorities — National Signing Day is the day that high school athletes sign letters committing to attend certain schools.  National Signing Day has become a kind of holiday for sports fans, even though the only sports-related activity is the athlete picking up a pen and signing his name.  It has become like Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, or the day that pitchers and catchers reports for spring training.

The dynamics of National Signing Day are interesting to observe.  Most teams go into the Day with a roster of “verbals” — athletes who have already verbally committed to sign their letter of intent.  However, there are always a few holdouts who announce their decision on National Signing Day, usually by picking among the caps of competing teams and putting on the hat of the winning school.  As a result, evaluation of recruiting success or failure becomes perversely skewed to the holdouts.  Fans of schools like Ohio State, which already has “verbals” from more than 20 excellent athletes, will focus on the holdouts and feel let down if their team doesn’t land one, when they should be focused less on the prima donnas and more on the corps of fine players who long ago agreed to be part of their school’s program.

When National Signing Day comes, coaches get to finally talk about their recruits.  After they have done so, I imagine they breathe a sign of relief, and then start planning their next recruiting trip.