More (Sigh) Black Eyes For The Scarlet And Gray

Today the Ohio State football team, through Head Coach Urban Meyer, announced disciplinary action against four — four! — student athletes.

IMG_1846Running back Carlos Hyde was suspended from football activities pending the outcome of criminal and student code of conduct investigations.  Hyde reportedly was named in a police report relating to an alleged assault of a woman in a Columbus bar.  In the meantime, cornerback Bradley Roby was involved in a disturbance in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana and faces misdemeanor battery charges.  A freshman, Marcus Baugh, won’t be participating in team activities and will have to sit out the first game after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol, and yet another freshman, defensive lineman Tim Gardner, was sent home and will not be part of the 2013 team after being charged by Columbus police with “obstruction of official business.”

I hate to read this kind of news, because it is an embarrassment to the University.  It plays into every stereotype about Ohio State being a football factory.  After dealing with a series of NCAA violations that left the team ineligible for a bowl last year, the Buckeyes had been working hard to refurbish the team’s, and the school’s, reputation.  This news just makes the effort to restore the University’s reputation that much harder.

I recognize that student-athletes are young, and young people often make bad decisions.  That rationale may work for freshmen, but there is no excuse for upperclassmen like Hyde and Roby to be in a bar in the wee hours, putting themselves in a position where bad things predictably could happen.  They are supposed to be leaders, not problems.  Rather than setting good examples, they’ve made Urban Meyer’s job that much more difficult — and have provided more fodder for more crass jokes and snide comments about The Ohio State University.

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Honoring Coach Tressel

During the break between the first and second quarters of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, the University recognized the 2002 National Championship team and its head coach, Jim Tressel.  Tressel was hoisted onto the shoulders of his former players as the crowd at Ohio Stadium roared.

After the game, I was surprised to read some very harsh comments about this simple gesture.  Fans of Michigan, Wisconsin, and other schools — many of whom think Ohio State’s domination of the Big Ten conference is the product of a dirty program that skirts the NCAA rules and cheats — depicted the ceremony as Ohio State thumbing its nose at the NCAA and displaying its contempt for the rules and sanctions that ultimately resulted in Jim Tressel’s resignation.  I think that is a small, mean-spirited reaction to a desire to honor a storied Ohio State team on the 10th anniversary of its greatest achievement.

No one at Ohio State will forget how the Jim Tressel era ended — and I’m confident Coach Tressel won’t, either.  That reality shouldn’t mean that we can’t remember the good moments of the Tressel era, too.  There were many, and the 2002 National Championship is one of them.  I’m glad the members of that team, and Coach Tressel as well, were saluted for their accomplishment.

The Ineligible Bowl

This afternoon — at the weird starting time of 5:30 — the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Happy Valley.  Both of the traditional powers are undefeated in the Big Ten.

Normally the game would be a big deal nationally, but not this year.  Both teams are ineligible for the Big Ten championship game and bowl games.  Ohio State is on probation for one year due to NCAA violations.  For Penn State, post-season is off limits long term due to its awful institutional breakdowns in connection with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

For the players, that just means that today’s game is a bigger deal than it would be otherwise.  If you’re Penn State, the best way to keep your program going during your prolonged period of ineligibility is to beat teams like Ohio State that will be competing with you out on the recruiting trail.  If you’re Ohio State, you just want to try to run the table and win every game and preserve bragging rights.  Neither team has the chance to end the season with a high note in a bowl game, so the regular season really counts.

How do these teams match up?  That’s hard to say, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that this year’s Big Ten, top to bottom, is as weak as it has been in a very long time.  Ohio State has won impressively and in squeakers.  In some games its defense has played well and the offense has struggled, and in others its offense has been unstoppable and its defense has been a cheesecloth curtain.  The Buckeyes have won, sure, but it doesn’t seem that any of the wins really say a lot about the quality of the team.  Penn State, on the other hand, began the season with two losses as its offense struggled, but since then it has found a way to score and its defense has been solid.

I think you have to give the edge to Penn State in this game if Braxton Miller is sidelined after being knocked out of last week’s game.  Happy Valley is an intimidating venue under any circumstances, but this year the fans will be particularly pumped for the game.  As well as replacement QB Kenny Guiton played in leading the Buckeyes to a miracle win against Purdue, Miller gives OSU a big play threat  it doesn’t have otherwise.  It’s hard to see Ohio State grinding out a lot of points against a stout Penn State defense.  Penn State’s offense is led by senior quarterback Matt McGloin, who has played well after a shaky start, throwing for 14 TDs and good yardage and avoiding turnovers.  To win, Ohio State will need to bottle up McGloin, force some turnovers, and take advantage of every scoring opportunity that is presented.

Coach Tressel Finds A New Home

Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has accepted a new job.  He will be moving to Akron and taking a position at the University of Akron — not as a football coach, but as the Vice President for Strategic Engagement.

I’m happy for Mr. Tressel (although I will always think of him as Coach Tressel) and I have no doubt that he will do a good job for one of Ohio’s largest universities.  The NCAA “tattoogate” scandal that led to his resignation as Ohio State’s coach involved some unfortunate lapses in judgment on his part, but it shouldn’t mask his accomplishments with the Buckeyes.  Tressel not only took a moribund football program and quickly turned it into a powerhouse, he also made tremendous progress in the academic performance of his student-athletes.

I still respect Tressel’s efforts and achievements, even if I regret his missteps at the end of his tenure at Ohio State.  I suspect I’m not alone in that regard, and that many Ohioans will be interested in meeting with Tressel and hearing his ideas for the future of the University of Akron.  He’s an intelligent, hard working individual who dedicates himself to his job, and I’m sure he will bring those attributes to his new position.

I know one person who is thrilled to have Tressel in Akron:  Buckeye Bebe, who always has been one of his biggest supporters.  Aunt Bebe will be very happy to share the air of the Rubber City with the man who led the Buckeyes for so many years.  Who knows?  Perhaps they can meet and talk about football — or even strategic engagement.

The Buckeyes’ Ban — And Embarrassment

After months of trepidation and speculation about the ongoing investigation of tattoos, non-disclosures, and lack of institutional control in the Ohio State University football program, the NCAA dropped the hammer today.

The sanctions were more severe than was expected.  The NCAA deprived the football program of scholarships, put the Buckeyes on probation for five years, and — most important to Ohio State fans — imposed a one-year bowl ban to take effect in 2012.  The ban means that Ohio State won’t be able to play in next year’s Big Ten championship game even if, as fans fervently hope, the Buckeyes bounce back from this year’s disappointing season with a strong performance in 2012.  Ohio State has decided not to appeal the ruling, because the institution has decided — correctly, I think — that we need to put this whole sorry episode behind us.

I don’t think Ohio State fans should be arguing about whether the NCAA sanctions were consistent with past sanctions and whether the media has it in for the Buckeyes.  That kind of pathetic excuse-making and eel-wriggling is beneath our flagship state university.  Instead, Ohio State alums and supporters should feel angry and embarrassed that our fine institution has had its reputation sullied by the thoughtless actions of a few players in the football program, and we should insist that the University do whatever it takes to make sure that it never happens again.

Back To Square One With The SEC

The latest step in the ongoing saga of “Tattoogate,” former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel’s failure to disclose knowledge of apparent NCAA violations, and related issues occurred today, when the Buckeyes put in Ohio State’s response to the NCAA investigation.

Ohio State announced that it will vacate all of the Buckeyes’ wins from the 2011 season and that the football team will be on probation for the next two years — meaning the school will be teed up for bigger penalties if there are any future violations of NCAA rules.  The school also announced that former head football coach Jim Tressel was retiring, not resigning, and that Tressel will not be required to pay the $250,000 fine that was originally imposed upon him.

We’ll have to wait to see what this means from the NCAA standpoint.  The Buckeyes have a hearing before the infractions committee on August 12, and after the hearing the NCAA could decide to impose stiffer sanctions, including limiting scholarships and barring the Buckeyes from bowl games for a year or more.

Ohio State fans have had to absorb a lot of upsetting developments and embarrassment lately, so it is difficult to say how this latest news will affect the shell-shocked members of Buckeye Nation.  Ohio State’s share of the 2010 Big Ten championship will be no more, as will the Buckeyes’ latest win over The State Up North.  For me, the biggest sacrifice will be voiding the Buckeyes’ first bowl game win over an SEC team.  It has taken decades for Ohio State to get off the schneid against the SEC — and now, only a few months later, we’re back on the schneid again.

Terrelle Farewell?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that Terrelle Pryor — who was already suspended from the first five games due to an NCAA violation — has decided to forego his senior season at Ohio State.

The story is based on an interview with Pryor’s attorney, who read a statement from the Ohio State quarterback.  The attorney quoted the statement as saying:  “In the best interest of my teammates, I have decided to forego my senior year of football at the Ohio State University.”  It is not clear at this point whether the University has confirmed Pryor’s decision.

If Pryor does in fact leave the Ohio State program, it will simply be the latest domino to topple in the memorabilia sales/tattoo scandal that has brought down Coach Jim Tressel and given the University a tremendous black eye.  Pryor would leave with a checkered career that began with his status as a much-heralded recruit, saw him lead Ohio State to victory over Michigan and to some other big wins, but also saw him unable to deliver the National Championship that some Ohio State fans thought might be won with Pryor under center.  His on-field successes, of course, will be forever tarred by his role in the ongoing scandal.

How the wheel of fate has turned since Ohio State fans celebrated Pryor’s decision to commit to Ohio State!