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Jim Tressel is an incredibly skilled football coach and program steward. However it is increasingly apparent that he is inversely skilled in the delicate dark arts of cheating and lying.
If Tressel is really this Teflon-coated serial swindler that has continually subverted NCAA rules for decades as many of his detractors claim, then all of a sudden he has completely lost control of his craft. If the sudden atrophy of his conniving abilities was first revealed by the flimsy excuses he gave for not immediately reporting the Tatgate scandal at the hasty press conference following the revelation that Ohio State was investigating the timeline, it was totally confirmed by the Dispatch report this morning of whom Tressel did report the news to.
Once Tressel was covertly alerted by attorney Christopher Cicero that several of his star players were probably selling their possessions to a tattoo parlor proprietor who was about to be implicated in a Federal drug trafficking probe, he had some choices to make. Unfortunately, his options only ranged from bad to terrible:
1) He could have done nothing and "found out" like everyone else eventually once the news went public. The "it got lost in my giant inbox" folder could have worked, since there would have been no hard evidence that he actually read it. The players would have eventually been ruled ineligible, but the storm Tressel would be facing now wouldn't be nearly this violent.
2) He could have immediately told Gene Smith and the Ohio State compliance office. The players would have eventually been ruled ineligible, but Tressel would be facing none of this mess.
3) He could have gone offline and off the communication grid - which is how he always handled these things at Youngstown State, with Clarett, etc, right? - and worked the appropriate channels to make the problem go away. The players might have eventually been ruled ineligible, but Tressel would be facing none of this mess if his tracks were appropriately covered (if Tressel really is who Tressel haters say he is, this should have happened).
4) He could have used his extremely traceable Ohio State email account which can be accessed by a simple public records request to email a known booster who has long been rumored to be an unsavory handler of Terrelle Pryor since his childhood to see what he thinks Tressel should do. And then lie about it.
This isn't Monday morning quarterbacking. You don't need hindsight to know not to do what Tressel did. No 58-year old requires a lesson in morals to understand that lying is wrong, and he doesn't need a lecture on semantics to suddenly discover that lying by omission is called lying. He also didn't need a refresher course on what constitutes cheating - whether selling one's own possessions or lying about it - is as far as the NCAA is concerned. This is a cover-up rivaled in sloppiness by a lazy fifth-grader plagiarizing by lifting directly from Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln.
Earlier this week I wrote that it was a huge stretch to compare Bruce Pearl to Tressel in that Pearl both repeatedly and directly cheated and lied to the NCAA about his actions, whereas Tressel lied about rules violations committed by his players. That stretch has shrunk a bit, now that we know Tressel's lie could be easily confirmed by his own Ohio State email account. It's not quite as ridiculous as Pearl lying to the NCAA that a photo of him and Aaron Craft at his house wasn't taken at his house (the proof's in the picture!) but it's definitely up there (the proof's on your desktop!) Even the least scrutinizing investigator could have discovered this. You can make a public records request to read Gene Smith's or Gordon Gee's email if you'd like. The Freedom of Information Act is almost 50 years old; the electronic amendment to it was enacted under Bill Clinton. One more item to file under things that a 58-year old shouldn't need to be taught.
As for the recipient of those emails, Ted Sarniak, Tressel literally could not have chosen a worse person to create an electronic paper trail to. Whether "Uncle Teddy" - what Pryor calls him - is guilty of doing the kind of boostery things the NCAA frowns upon or not is immaterial. This is another case in a long line of battles between perception and reality. The perception is that Sarniak is dirty. The perception is that the NCAA botched the Cam Newton case (also the reality as well, but this is relevant to the Tatgate aftermath because the NCAA is probably interested in fighting the perception). The perception is that there's far more to this ordeal in the dark underbelly of the Ohio State athletic department than has been revealed, and by confiding in Sarniak - of all people - the teeth of that perception just grew sharper and sprouted chainsaws.
In the broader view of Tressel as a cheater, there are two possibilities here: He has either been a relatively clean coach; an abider of NCAA rules his entire career that clearly - as dramatically illustrated by this ordeal - sucks at being duplicitous. Or he has suddenly lost his grasp on getting away with it and has allowed his defenses and better, diabolical judgments to slip - as dramatically illustrated by this ordeal.
Regardless, a head coach has to be good at this kind of stuff. From playcalling to recruiting to program management, a head coach is only as good as the decisions he makes. Big ticket jobs that compensate exponentially more than your crappy job pays you are that valuable largely because of the decisions those people are chartered with making. It's no different in Tressel's profession. If there is a case to be made for removing Tressel from his position at Ohio State - or for him removing himself - it may be related to the growing, stinky cloud of evidence that he acted underhandedly. However, as an Ohio State fan and college football realist, I'm far more concerned with his galling lack of sound decision-making that led to all of this.
Yes, lies are definitely bad. But as the noted philosopher Pryor famously once said, everyone lies. If everyone who lied was on the chopping block for doing so, we'd all be fired and/or dead. But stupidity is a different story. With every emerging detail of this story, Tressel becomes less and less virtuous (I was trying to protect the kids) and increasingly stupid (I emailed the shadiest character associated with Ohio State football since Robert Q. Baker without using an alias or a secure connection). Regardless of how the NCAA or Ohio State rules in Tressel's fate, this exasperating lapse in judgment is what should be bothering you the most.
I want to get away from this latest installment of Tattoogate but my mailbox is full of questions from fans about possible fallout from this. I will address the various issues related to what comes next.
This is a minor blip on the recruiting radar. Some parents may be concerned but the kids are not. When this thing first broke last December we saw where the battle lines were drawn. Those that were the most outraged were older. Younger people were more understanding of the players wanting tattoos rather than the trophies and that the memorabilia was theirs to do with as they pleased.
I will never change my thinking on selling gold pants and championship rings but I understand the argument that the items in question were theirs and they should be able to sell them. That is what I find with most young people I speak with. They do not get why anyone is in trouble over this and will not hold it against Tressel.
As far as other programs using it to negatively recruit against Ohio State, that was going to happen anyway. From more than 10 years of doing this I can tell you there are kids it is going to work on but just as many it is going to backfire with.
On the field and in the locker room, this thing could be a positive.
There was plenty on Twitter from players strongly in support of the coach. Make no mistake, Tressel is beloved. This is something that could pull a team closer in the long run. In times of great distress, this nation has come together like a family and forgotten about our differences. The reaction I saw from the players says this family is going to rally around the coach and make it an “us-against-the-world” thing that could make a run we will not forget.
I saw the ‘Fire Tressel’ mantra gain some steam heading into the weekend. I thought it would be a problem if it was still going Monday.
It wasn't. By Sunday morning, that talk had all but disappeared. By game time Sunday afternoon for the basketball team, it was non-existent. There are some fans who think what Tressel did is over the top and unacceptable for the Ohio State program. Some saw any talk of firing the coach as ridiculous. I don't think either side was the majority.
I think most of Buckeye Nation are Ohio people - grounded, common sense, salt-of-the-Earth folk. They accepted the reality of the situation. Coach is not a saint. He is a good man; an honorable man doing the best he can with the hand he was dealt. I think they also accepted there were no better options. A friend asks this question when confronted with fans who want a change: “Who would you want to come here that would come here?”
Some great candidates like Gary Peterson at TCU and Boise State coach Chris Peterson would not even be considered because they lack Buckeye credentials. Until that obstacle can be overcome, the talent pool is always going to be very limited.
Tressel's insular ways have not been conducive to planting seeds on the coaching tree. We can't look at a number of Tressel trained up-and-coming coaches out there who have proven themselves as potential head coaches at this level.
Don't say Urban Meyer. He has quit two years in a row. It is health related.
Whether or not that changes in the future, he is surely not ready to come back now.
Bo Pellini? A good number of Buckeye Nation are troubled by his sideline demeanor.
The basketball team is looking good, going into March Madness as the No. 1 overall seed. Spring practice is just around the corner and it is going to be the most exciting in years. Coach is not going away. I think the team is rallying around the coach.
Time for us to rally around the team, warts and all.
The day after. Today is the day that everything sinks in and forges opinions that become permanent.
Ninety-nine percent of the population will not be swayed on the opinion of Jim Tressel this afternoon. Whatever you think of him this very minute is likely to be the same opinion of how you will view him when he re-claims his sideline in Miami on September 17th.
Speaking as a lifelong Ohio State fan, I can guarantee you that the vast majority of my scarlet-clad brethren will shake their head in disappointment, take a deep breath, and proudly put on their favorite Ohio State piece of clothing today.
The opinion we will maintain of Tressel has nothing to do with a missing sense of outrage or a blind eye to winning. It has everything to do with the way we have been treated by the rest of college athletics.
Even when the Buckeyes win, you kick us. There is nothing that this team can do without you attacking us for it.
After a decade of that abuse, it has a tendency to bond us together and defend our own against anything you wish to throw at us. What you say about one of us, you say about all of us.
We are Spartacus.
We will stand together shoulder-to-shoulder in every instance, including this latest turmoil created by our field commander.
We've been through it before, and we're preparing to do it again today.
When we won the National Championship in 2003, you told us that the refs cheated. The Buckeyes controlled the game that you told us we would lose by four touchdowns, and you still haven't gotten over that. So we banded together against your attacks.
When Maurice Clarett was on the team, he was a pain in the butt. During his freshman season, he committed no violations. When he violated the rules at Ohio State, Tressel suspended him immediately and he never wore the uniform again. It wasn't for another three years before he committed the crimes that sent him to prison. Our coach handled the Clarett situation perfectly, but yet you still bring his name up when you want to belittle us. So we band together against your insults.
When Troy Smith accepted 500 dollars from a booster, he was suspended for two games by Tressel, including his first chance to start in a bowl game as a starter. Again, coach did the right thing. But you launched your comments towards us again, so we banded together.
Yes, we're well aware that we were once 0-9 in bowl games against the SEC. You wouldn't shut up about that one. So again, we stood strong with one another, and when we finally took down a top-10 team from the SEC in a bowl game this year, the celebration was fierce. We were shaking a huge monkey off our back, and we were going to enjoy doing it.
And even though we won that game, you tried to take it away from us because of the tattoo story. Even though the NCAA declared all five players as eligible, you demanded they sit out. We broke the rules, but we followed the punishment given us, and it wasn't good enough. So again we locked arms and defended our honor.
So when this news broke and we were all finished skipping heartbeats, we begin our defense of Jim Tressel.
When you wonder why we can defend a coach that violated major rules of the NCAA, the answer is simple.
We know that the coach did the wrong thing, and we are not forgiving him his trespasses. But you forced us to defend him even when he did the right thing.
Right or wrong, he's our coach. He's the reason your team doesn't win championships, and we understand your hatred of him. But you will not make us join in your call for his public flogging.
No, however, there's a big, fat, Kirstie Alley-sized but ... if you want to make a case that Jim Tressel deserved to be canned, I won't argue.
My biggest problem with the entire episode going back to December is that I can't and won't accept that Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the lads did anything wrong. Let's get through all the NCAA mumbo-jumbo and all the hair-splitting; a college kid should be able to sell his own stuff.
Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, and the rest, didn't commit and real crimes; all they did was break a few silly rules that most college athletes bend whether they know it or not. If Tressel obstructed justice or tampered with evidence in a real, live criminal investigation, then there wouldn't be a question whether or not he should've been fired. But it's doubtful whether or not the average sports fan really understands that Tressel really didn't do anything criminally wrong, and neither did his players.
I'm never a fan of the everyone-is-doing-it defense, but if you're going to start firing coaches for sweeping things under the rug, you'd have a wholesale change of staffs at 120 football programs tomorrow. Whether it's dealing with Tony flunking TV, underage drinking, pot smoking, or any one of a bazillion other problems, coaches have to deal with various issues on a daily basis. If you've ever wondered what it means when a player misses a game or three for the ever-nebulous "violation of team rules," it's usually because the coach is trying to put out a fire. I'm not saying what Tressel did in this case is fine, but it's not like he did anything that's out of the ordinary in the college coaching world. Yeah, I'm saying you should hate the game, not the player.
However, and this can never be overstated, major college football head coaches (and basketball coaches at some schools) are the faces of their respective universities. Unless you live in Columbus, would you know there was a Ohio State without the football program? Throw out all the facts and figures you want about how much of a money drain major college football teams occasionally are, but it's almost impossible to measure the value from a public relations standpoint when the football team is on national TV every Saturday, or when a player goes off to the NFL, or when the head coach is giving an interview. You don't know who the top history professor is at Ohio State University, but you know who Woody Hayes was.
Because a major college football coach is more than just a guy who draw up Xs and Os, he has to be above reproach and there's no margin for error. It might not be fair and it might not be right, but a coach can't do anything wrong because, above all else, he represents the university, and if he screws up it's reflected on the image of the school. So if you think that Tressel's role in all of this reflects negatively on The Ohio State University, then firing him shouldn't really be that big a deal. It's Ohio State. It can find another phenomenal head coach.
But I don't think Tressel should be canned, and don't try to dismiss just what a colossal deal it is to suspend him for two games, even if it is Akron and Toledo, and fine him $250,000. While this remains a very, very sketchy fiasco, and the NCAA should have its say on the matter with a bit more investigation, give the school credit for dealing with this immediately.
For now, let Tressel pay his penance, understand that 118 other college coaches probably would've done the same things - with the lone exception likely being Joe Paterno - and understand that in the grand scheme of scandals it could've been far, far worse.
By Barrett Sallee
Let me see if I have this right: Jim Tressel uses the trip to the Sugar Bowl to bribe the five suspended Buckeyes to stay in school, uses them to beat an SEC team in a bowl game for the first time ever, then gets pinched for not disclosing the information that got the players suspended when he first found out about it.
Yep, he’s definitely a senator.
When Ohio State announced the suspensions of the “Tattoo Five,” part of its explanation was that the compliance department failed to inform the players of the rule that they couldn’t sell memorabilia. Tuesday night, Tressel again threw the compliance department under the bus by saying that he didn’t know who to report this information to when he first became aware of possible transgressions by his players. If that isn’t lack of institutional control, I don’t know what is.
The $250,000 fine is steep, even for a highly compensated college football coach. But a two-game suspension against Akron and Toledo? Come on. I’m sure Ohio State is really concerned about losing the state championship without its star players and head coach on the sidelines, but that’s just weak.
Will this cost Tressel his job? As of now, it looks like it won’t. But the wholesome façade of the sweater vest has been completely wiped away by Tattoo-gate. Lying by omission may not cost him his job right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does down the road.
By Matt Zemek
This is in one sense a very easy question to answer, and yet in another sense, it’s impossible to answer. On an immediate level, of course Jim Tressel should have been fired. He knowingly and intentionally told bald-faced lies to the NCAA, doing in many ways what Bruce Pearl did. Is a Tressel-Pearl comparison an airtight one? No, but there are enough similarities to make a comparison legitimate on a broader and more overarching level. Not merely lying, but lying so brazenly and openly – in open contradiction of previous public statements and assertions that were voiced with more than a little firmness – should not be tolerated from any public figure, leader, or highly-paid state employee. In that narrow context, Tressel and Pearl (and Rick Pitino and a few select others) should not be coaching big-time sports. The common person would certainly be fired for committing the same sins at a 9-to-5 job. Coaches shouldn’t be held to a different standard.
Ah, but that last sentence is a pesky one: “Coaches shouldn’t be held to a different standard.” Actually, they are, and that’s the very foundation for the case in support of retaining Jim Tressel as Ohio State’s coach.
You see, coaches should not be made into messiahs or supremely moral figures. These are men paid to win games; that’s the law of the jungle, the governing principle of the college sports industry. While Tressel has been exposed as a fraud and a phony, and while the egregiousness of his lies is breathtaking and immensely disappointing to behold, it also has to be said – with as much emphasis as one can possibly muster – that Tressel and his brother coaches were not and are not the lead architects of this system. Coaches are participants (willing ones, but still limited figures) in a superstructure that is beyond their control.
Tressel should not be entrusted with the kinds of decisions he had to make over the past year, in two separate ways: First, the actual NCAA rules that were violated by “The Ohio State Five” are terrible rules that never should have been on the books. Players should be able to sell memorabilia and make a buck in return for their stardom, which generates a lot of cash for their respective schools. Tressel shouldn’t have to police so-called “wrongdoings” that aren’t really wrong. That’s one part of the larger dynamic.
The other sense in which coaches are merely pawns in the system is as follows: They shouldn’t have a police function to begin with. Being forced to police players and prevent them from breaking bad (silly, unnecessary, counterproductive) rules is a sorry circumstance in its own right, but being expected to act like a lawman is even more ludicrous. This is what an athletic director and a compliance staff are supposed to do. The big issue at Ohio State is what compliance officers and AD Gene Smith have been doing all this time. Why were the right questions not asked of Tressel, and if they WERE ASKED, why did Smith and his staff in the athletic department not act in accordance with generating (or preserving) the right responses to various situational difficulties?
Tressel didn’t create this NCAA system, this broken and bloated labyrinth of senseless rules and wayward governance that is creating such waste and corruption throughout intercollegiate athletics. Yes, he did add to the problem – and he insulted the intelligence of a lot of people he’s played like three-dollar fiddles over the years – but Tressel is ultimately working and acting within the framework of an ecosystem that rewards bad behavior and encourages a manufactured plausible deniability (i.e., looking the other way). Only when the NCAA… and the BCS (looking at you, John Junker in your Fiesta Bowl bunker)… and college presidents… and athletic directors all come under fire for their negligence and greed should coaches then be treated just as harshly. If you insist on Tressel’s firing without pointing out the grievous sins of every higher-ranking administrative figure in the entire scholastic-athletic-industrial complex, your sense of appropriate and proportional punishment has not been properly calibrated. Yes, on an immediate level, Tressel should be fired for all his naked lies, but within the lens of the big picture, he’s hardly the first person who sinned. Don’t throw stones at the Sweater Vest; be sure to clamor for reform of a broken and disgusting system that makes the Jim Tressels of the world act the way they do.
Lame defense affirms winning is the only thing that matters for Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Bill Livingston
While Jim Tressel never denied wrongdoing and never lied to investigators about what he knew in the scandal of the Sugar Bowl Five, he was never proactive about it, either.
He never consulted Ohio State's legal department. He never went to athletic director Gene Smith with the information. He kept silent because, as he said at one point in his mea culpa news conference Tuesday night, "They are guys who can play."
And if we have learned anything about Ohio State football, it is that the play, preferably a big one, is the thing.
Asked if he considered firing Tressel, OSU president E. Gordon Gee revealed more than he wanted to when he lamely joked, "No, are you kidding? Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."
Loyalty to five players who clearly violated rules against profiting from their position as athletes, because they could play, has cost Tressel much of his persistent reputation for spotless integrity. Actually, failure to monitor or mentor players like Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith had already stained him in some eyes, but the "can't be everywhere" theory saved him with the true believers.
But this time, Tressel knew what was going on.
OSU fans will try to say this is much ado about nothing. They should think about how they would react if the story was about Michigan's Brady Hoke, however.
Tressel also knew without his returning quarterback (Terrelle Pryor), top returning receiver (DeVier Posey), top running back (Boom Herron) and stud offensive lineman (Mike Adams) he didn't have much of a football team. We should never forget that what he is paid to do is win games.
The rest, such as using the confidentiality of a federal investigation of some of his players as justification to conceal known rules violations, was simply a way to facilitate his mission.
Tressel's two-game suspension conveniently falls in the first two patsy games against Akron and Toledo. Ohio State's remaining players can fall out of a tattoo parlor the morning of a game against a MAC team and still win those games.
His $250,000 fine is big, but he is scheduled to make $3.5 million next season.
Attending a compliance seminar sounds like a drag, but it is not exactly picking up trash by the side of the road in an orange jumpsuit.
A stronger stand from the start, given how offended many fans were by the players' sale of such prized possessions as game jersey and gold pants trinkets, might have earned him more fans than his inaction has lost.
Ohio State is the flagship athletic program of the Big Ten, and Tressel is, beyond any reasonable doubt, the face of the league in its most popular sport. It is some solace that Tressel didn't alibi and blame anyone else.
But while he said he didn't think any less of himself after this, a lot of people will.
Jesse Owens third on list of 50 greatest Big Ten icons? That's outrageous
A segment from Bud Greenspan's 1964 documentary: "Jesse Owens in Berlin"
Most of all, Jesse Owens proved that no racial group had cornered excellence.
He did this in the toughest competitive arena there is, the Olympic Games. The Olympics are a once-every-four-years chance for an athlete to chase his dreams. Nothing could outrun Jesse, though.
Owens handled Olympic pressure majestically, winning four gold medals, in the 100 meters, the 200, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. This magnificent performance occurred in Adolf Hitler's Berlin, the site of the 1936 Olympics and the breeding ground of the Master Race theory. The hate-filled doctrine made the Nazis consider the American Olympic team to be racial mongrels because it included African-American athletes. The Ku Klux Klan was nothing, compared to the lengths Nazi Germany would eventually go to achieve its mad racial agenda.
For this, and many other astonishing feats, James Cleveland (J.C., hence Jesse) Owens has been named third on the Big Ten's list of the conference's 50 greatest athletic icons.
This is utterly outrageous.
The only top Big Ten athletes still unnamed on the list are Illinois' pioneering football great Red Grange; and Michigan State's multi-dimensional point guard Magic Johnson. Neither had close to the impact on humanity that Jesse Owens did in Berlin in 1936.
Magic will probably be named No. 1. The Big Ten Network certainly has better footage of Johnson than it does of Grange, a guy who wore a leather helmet, or of Owens, the great Cleveland-raised, Ohio State-trained sprinter and long jumper.
The Big Ten has said that only what athletes do in their college years counts. Owens was a collegian in 1936.
Perhaps the fact that track and field is a minor sport in this country now played a part. But it was a big-time attraction in Owens' day.
Most of all, this is a marketing decision. Kids today have no idea of who Jesse Owens was, not to mention Red Grange. They all know Magic. It doesn't make it right. It does make it easier to sell as television programming.
But Jesse Owens third? Seriously?
It is such a bad decision that it reduces to a joke a conference that has the gall to call its football divisions "Legends" and "Leaders."
Jesse Owens was a bona fide legend. Cleveland's Harrison Dillard became a track athlete the day of Owens' victory parade through town, then set about creating his own legend, winning four Olympic gold medals in all in 1948 and 1952.
As far as being a leader goes, Owens led by example, proving that racial supremacy was a theory that had to, literally, eat his dust. Magic proved that a big man could handle a basketball as well as a little one and could enjoy himself while doing so. Grange put the fledgling NFL on the map.
They were transformative in their own sports, but Owens changed hearts and minds worldwide.
In Owens' day, steroids were unknown. Owens did not compete on space-age track surfaces that increase stride efficiency. He ran on cinders. His first step in the sprints was taken to dig himself out of a hole. Starting blocks were not used in the Olympics until 1948, so runners dug a hole with a trowel in the loose cinders for better traction at the start. Videotape study of technique did not exist. Nutritional information was skimpy.
Owens made it look so easy, it belied the staggering nature of the records he set. Dillard said Owens ran so smoothly, without straining, without his muscles tying up, that he looked like a man sitting in an easy chair.
In the long jump, Owens represented one giant leap for mankind at a time before Neil Armstrong was in the first grade in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Owens' world long jump record of 1935 lasted for over 25 years, longer than the nearly 23 years of Bob Beamon's record, which was set in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics. Beamon was aided by a maximum allowable tailwind and thin air that reduced air resistance and increased his distance by about 10 percent.
Owens' Ohio high school long jump record, set at East Tech, lasted for an incredible 44 years.
Owens won eight NCAA championships in 1935 and 1936 at OSU, a record tied only by LSU's Xavier Carter, who was much more dependent on relay success for his total than Owens.
Finally, Owens had the greatest day any athlete ever had. In the 1935 Big Ten Championships at Ann Arbor, Mich., Owens -- suffering from a bad back before the meet began -- set in 45 minutes three world records (his prodigious long jump mark, the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles) and tied another (the 100-yard dash.)
Grange had one of the great afternoons in college football history, scoring five touchdowns, four of them on long runs, and throwing for another. He beat Michigan.
Magic popularized college basketball in the Michigan State-Indiana State championship game of 1979, foreshadowing his role in the rebirth of the NBA. He beat Larry Bird.
Due to losing Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence to graduation, Ohio State’s starting cornerbacks in 2011 will likely be fourth-year junior Travis Howard and fifth-year senior Dionte Allen.
Howard saw a lot of action for the Buckeyes in 2010 as the No. 3 corner and appears ready to take the next step. He has very good size for the position at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and also brings a lot of athletic ability to the field.
Allen (5-11, 185) is a transfer from Florida State and he was never a starter for the Seminoles. Then again, he only played two seasons at FSU (2008-09) because he redshirted his first season of 2007. He then sat out last season at OSU and was reportedly very impressive during practices. He’s by no means a lock to start, but he will certainly see the field a lot for the Buckeyes this fall.
The other player that has a legitimate chance to start at corner is rising sophomore Dominic Clarke (5-11, 191), who received extended playing time in the Sugar Bowl after an injury to Chekwa and held his own. Much like Allen, even if Clarke doesn’t crack the starting lineup, he is sure to play quite a bit.
From my perspective, the best bet to be the No. 4 corner is redshirt freshman Bradley Roby (5-11, 176). And who knows, he could be a guy that asserts himself this spring (and during preseason camp) and proves he should be somewhere in the top three of the cornerback pecking order.
Fifth-year senior Donnie Evege (5-11, 185) will also be in the mix at corner, although his main role will likely be on special teams.
Could Grant, Gambrell step up?
In addition to the five returning players at cornerback, the Buckeyes signed a pair of talented players in their 2011 recruiting class – headlined by Doran Grant (5-11, 180) from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Many believe that Grant will step right in and play a considerable amount for Ohio State as a true freshman.
The man that will be his position coach at OSU – Taver Johnson – can’t say enough nice things about Grant who is also the reigning state champion in the 110-meter hurdles.
"The one thing about this young man that really stood out to me the most is I went to a track meet back in the spring and just watched him from afar," Johnson said. "And the focus and mental preparation that he had getting ready for the hurdles was unbelievable.
"And then I also had a chance to watch him in a playoff football game this past year live in person. He has tremendous ball skills, he’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and make some tackles and get dirty – which at Ohio State is something that our defensive backs are known for; we hang out hat on that.
"Doran is very athletic, very fast, and does a great job of being a leader and a team guy. He played in the (Under Armour) All-American game and did a great job down there. So, we’re really excited to have Doran coming to our family here. He fits in great with our guys and he’s going to be a tremendous asset without a doubt."
The other cornerback that the Buckeyes inked earlier this month is DerJuan "Pee Wee" Gambrell (6-2, 180) from Toledo Rogers.
"Pee Wee is a taller corner, as opposed to Doran who is about three inches shorter," Johnson said. "Pee Wee is a tall guy and reminds me a lot of Donald Washington. Again, another very athletic guy. Both of these guys are track guys. So, (Gambrell has) really good speed, does a great job of tracking the ball and does a great job when he gets his hands on the ball. He doesn’t mind getting dirty and making tackles. He’ll be athletic enough and tough enough to blitz off the edge and do some different things, but also when the ball is in the air, he’ll have an opportunity to go get it and make a play.
"He’s a long-strider and was injured for probably the first half of his senior year. But as soon as he came back, the first time he got the ball he took it 80 yards for a touchdown. He was definitely a big asset to his high school team and we’re excited about him coming here to Ohio State."
The one thing fans want to know right now is whether Grant or Gambrell (or both) have the chance to come right in and help the Buckeyes as true freshmen.
"I think these guys are coming in at a great time if they want to play right away," Johnson said. "We’re losing two senior starters at those spots and they will have a tremendous opportunity to come in and learn the system and perhaps play right away. They are athletic enough for sure to play. Will they play? It remains to be seen. But we always tell our guys, ‘Don’t plan on redshirting.’ We want our guys to come in with the idea that they are going to play and they need to be ready to play. Now we have to make sure we do a great job of getting them ready."
Grant will come to Columbus dripping with accolades, but what does the young corner need to do in order to play right away?
"It will come down to just learning the system," Johnson said. "Both of those guys are very, very smart – when they came on visits we had a chance to sit down and watch tape and actually go through it. As coaches, we always look to try and quiz them on something later to see if they remembered. I tell you what: Probably about three weeks later, Doran and I were talking football again and started talking coverage and stuff like that, and he knew right away what I meant when I talked about our coverage and what we did and some of the techniques, and I was impressed.
"So, I think it’s just a matter of learning the overall system and that’s always tough. People who say, ‘Corner is the easiest position for young guys to just go out there and play.’ Well, I’d like to see them go try and play it, because it’s not that easy."
Bottom line? One of the freshmen corners will need to play right away and that will likely be Grant. Gambrell is not a certainty to redshirt by any means, but if I was predicting right now (and it looks like I am) I would say Grant will see the field right away in a reserve role and Gambrell will redshirt.
I can't get the numbers six and seven out of my head these days. The British use the terms, "being at sixes and sevens" to describe confusion or disarray. Nothing could be more accurate when detailing the offensive line situation entering next season.
The Buckeyes have six veteran scholarship offensive linemen for the first five games. That jumps to seven when Mike Adams returns from his suspension. Jim Tressel has been the luckiest coach in college football with the lack of offensive line injuries over the years. They are two injuries from putting a freshman or walk-on in the starting lineup. A program like Ohio State should never be in that situation.
The Buckeyes continue to walk on the precipice when it comes to offensive line numbers, but that is not what this is about.
This is about what you do to fix it.
Yes, it has to be fixed now. You can't wait until injuries happen and then do something. Even those with most opaque Scarlet and Gray glasses can’t say Antonio Underwood, Chris Carter or Tommy Brown will be ready to play as freshmen. They are all projects.
Fixing it starts with Darryl Baldwin. I never saw him as a defensive player. He never showed the mindset to be a defensive player. Too much is being made of his performance on defense in the Big 33. I saw a tight end coming out of high school. Mark Porter threw out offensive tackle back then. I said ‘maybe’ but had no idea he was going to get this big – ever - let alone this soon. I see a kid who is going to have a hard time finding his way on the Buckeye defensive line. I see too many talented players in the program and more coming. He could step in right now at left tackle and I think he fits the position so well that he could be an NFL player at tackle. He has the length you want in a left tackle.
He was always a very athletic kid. The additional weight has impacted that athleticism but he is still plenty athletic for a left tackle. The position is wide open. Whether Baldwin has an impact on the program on defense remains to be seen. His possible impact on the program at left tackle is not in doubt. In addition, a player already lined up at left tackle would allow us the opportunity to bring along Kyle Kalis - or whichever other tackle they get in the Class of 2012 – gradually, rather than shove him into the lineup as soon as he arrives on campus.
Another player that has to be considered is Garrett Goebel. The debate when he came out of high school was whether he was a better defensive tackle or an offensive tackle candidate. He has played very well on defense - better than he has been given credit for.
I don't ever like moving a big who has the speed and athleticism to play defense over to offense. The need is great. The sacrifice may need to be made. There is talent coming in on defense with Joel Hale and Michael Bennett … and more help coming in 2012.
I know Adam Bellamy was a talented offensive lineman but he is playing way too well to move. The first name that comes out of fans mouths is Bennett. I think it was an easy decision to put him on defense. His upside is better on defense. On offense he will be limited by his size. His frame was one of the very few knocks on Bennett. He is going to max out at right about 300 lbs. That would make him a smallish offensive lineman but decent sized for a three-technique defensive tackle.
One thing I like that the staff is doing is getting aggressive with the walk-on program. Don't wait until a diamond in the rough walks into the office. Go invite some in.
Some college football coaches make Signing Day less than a signature moment
Call me a heretic, but I'm not one of those college football fans who treats National Signing Day like Christmas or the grand opening of a Starbucks.
Rather than hyperventilate about an 18-year-old high school prospect, I prefer a wait-and-see-what-they-do-on campus approach before I start proclaiming them the next Bronco Nagurski or Archie Griffin.
I've seen too many three-star recruits such as A.J Hawk and James Laurinaitis become All-Americans to get caught up in the recruiting hyperbole, and just as many five-star "can't misses" disappear because of five-cent bodies (constantly breaking down) or, worse, two-bit heads.
A favorite Signing Day memory for me from more than 20 years on the Ohio State beat was listening to John Cooper explain why he presented a scholarship to a lineman who was being courted by nobody bigger than Division II Ashland and a couple of mid-major level schools.
Because he had one to give; because he liked the kid's work ethic on the family farm.
Cooper never would get away with that today. This was before recruiting websites Scout.com and Rivals.com became the college version of NFL draft guru Mel Kiper -- minus the pompadour hair -- and before the advent of ESPNU and its wall-to-wall Signing Day coverage.
At least Cooper showed he had a heart. That's more than can be said for some of today's coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and Mississippi's Houston Nutt. Their hearts are as black as the ashes from the scholarships they callously burn on an annual basis.
One of college football's dirty little secrets in recent years has been the oversigning of recruits. The morally corrupt practice of running players off to make room for new recruits/better prospects and, thus, stay within the NCAA-mandated scholarship limit especially is prevalent in the Southeastern Conference.
Gee, which conference is it again that has won five consecutive BCS national championships?
ESPN's "Outside The Lines" recently tackled the scummy issue and The Wall Street Journal did a story in September, quoting three former Alabama players who said they were pressured into leaving the program, presumably to open spots on the roster.
The creation of a website, oversigning.com, keeps tally of the abuses with what it calls The Oversigning Cup. On top of the tote board at the moment is Mississippi at a whopping plus-14.
Heading into Wednesday's Signing Day, the SEC school has received 29 verbal commitments even though only 15 of the maximum 85 scholarship players on the roster have departed the program since the end of the season.
Six of the top seven offenders on the Cup leaderboard are SEC schools, including: Alabama (plus-10), LSU (plus-9), Arkansas (plus-8), South Carolina (plus-5) and Mississippi State (plus-5). USC has verbals from 25 players, which normally wouldn't send up a red flag, except they are docked 10 scholarships by the NCAA as part of their penalty in the Reggie Bush scandal. So the Trojans, like Alabama, are at plus-10.
"Oversigning" is exactly as it sounds. NCAA rules prohibit giving out more than 25 scholarships in one class and having more than 85 scholarship athletes on the roster at one time. A team might only have 20 open spots but give out 25 scholarships. So it chases off five players.
Best-case scenario: Players are stashed at prep schools or junior colleges.
Worst-case scenario: Players are pressured into transferring or asked to take a medical scholarhip.
The spirit of the medical scholarship is to allow a player too injured to finish his career to continue receiving financial aid. But former Alabama players claim in the WSJ story they were encouraged to quit the team for medical reasons even though they felt they were healthy enough to play.
At least 12 times since Saban took over the program in 2007, Alabama has offered players a medical scholarship, according to public statements.
Beautiful. As if I needed another reason to dislike Bill Belichick's dour former lieutenant.
Where does Saban get off standing on a soap box and railing about how slimey sports agents are?
In the OTL piece, attorney Donald Jackson said some of the coaches that oversign come close to committing common law fraud. That same piece showed a video clip of Nutt joking with reporters about signing 37 players in 2009, spouting about he could have signed 80 players if he wanted to as long as he whittled it down to 25 by August.
According to OTL, in the four-year span from 2007-10, SEC schools gave out an average of 103 scholarships. Next was the Big 12 (97), followed by the Big East (92), Pac-10 (90), ACC (89) and Big Ten (86).
Before Ohio State fans begin crying foul, SEC apologists would suggest teams whose players frequent glass tattoo parlors shouldn't throw stones, or something like that.
But the sins of a few players don't compare to the sins of a conference. Fact is, the Big Ten should be applauded for having rigid rules against oversigning, even if it puts member schools at a competitive disadvantage.
On its website, oversigning.com passes off Ohio State coach Jim Tressel as a paragon of virtue. It features a video clip of Tressel addressing reporters on Signing Day 2010, when the Buckeyes signed 19 players.
"If these (assistant coaches) got everyone they wanted, we would have had to sign 30 guys," Tressel said in the clip.
(SEC coaches: "So why didn't you?")
"I'm not sure we've always gone to the limit because we want to have a scholarship on hand for some (walk-ons) who spend four or five years with us," Tressel said. "In our nine seasons, we've had 30 (walk-ons) awarded with scholarships."
(SEC coaches: "How sweet.")
Does this mean there haven't been times when Ohio State took extra measures to make the numbers work? No. A high-profile example was in 2003 when the Buckeyes convinced Todd Boeckman to join the team as a "grayshirt." He held off enrolling until January 2004, meaning he wouldn't count against the rest of his 2003 recruiting class. It also meant the quarterback from St. Henry would have two years of eligibility remaining after quarterbacks Troy Smith and Justin Zwick left the program in 2006.
Perhaps, more importantly, it allowed OSU to offer that 2003 scholarship to someone else.
Face it, all schools, including OSU, have subtle ways of trying to pressure unproductive players out of scholarships. They just aren't as blatant about it as the SEC, where finding loopholes is standard procedure, even with a league-mandated 28-scholarship cap in place.
Some have called for the NCAA to step in and blunt this oversigning pandemic. Yeah, they'll get right on it, as soon as they're done chasing the money trail in SEC country left behind by Cecil and Cam Newton. And right after they look into the deal Texas struck for its own 24-hour Longhorn TV Network, essentially making the school an independent within the Big 12.
Mack Brown doesn't need to oversign. He got himself a doozy of a recruiting advantage the second Texas took $300 million from ESPN.
If I were a penniless Ohio State football player - and aren't they all? - before leaving early for the NFL draft, I would have left early for the Sugar Bowl, and profited by doing so.
With NCAA approval, no less.
In the out-of-whack world of NCAA rules enforcement, an athlete cannot sell his championship ring without suffering severe consequences but can pocket travel money to a bowl game. The Buckeyes' 85 scholarship players each were allotted an NCAA-approved $1,225.30 for travel expenses to New Orleans. Secure a cheap plane ticket - and some players found fares for less than $300 - or drive down, and the unused money is yours to keep.
That kind of head-scratching logic is why Ohio State would be brave to stand up to the NCAA after it announced Dec. 23 that five players will receive five-game suspensions and a sixth will miss one game at the beginning of next season.
It takes courage to counter the NCAA. It also takes a fair share of stupidity. The NCAA is not always right, but it refuses to be wronged. For those who want Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith or coach Jim Tressel or even president E. Gordon Gee to tell the NCAA, "We will be our own judge and jury, thank you very much," remember that the NCAA ultimately serves as rightful executioner. When a school signs on with the NCAA, it agrees to allow the association to tighten the noose as it deems necessary. Break the rules and be left with an appeals process that seldom gets challenged in court.
Could Ohio State refuse to accept the suspensions? Certainly, but then the NCAA could refuse to sanction the school's varsity sports, which would mean no help with scheduling games, no officials to work those games and no opponents for those games; NCAA-member schools would be forbidden from playing the Buckeyes. No postseason tournaments, either. Ohio State would be left to schedule non-NCAA schools. At that point, it would make more sense to leave for the NAIA, which of course makes no sense at all.
Basically, the NCAA has Ohio State by the Buckeyes. Or does it?
I spoke with college law professor J. Gordon Hylton to learn how a school could circumvent the NCAA system. Hylton, who teaches at Marquette and Virginia, addressed the issue by immediately stressing that no school wants to challenge the NCAA.
"There is a tradition much older and larger than the NCAA, that members of sports leagues are not willing to challenge the league," he said. "There is a fear of being ostracized and also the difficulty of making it alone."
College presidents loathe breaking NCAA agreements, Hylton said, adding that it would require a rebellious leader in the mold of a George Steinbrenner to take on the NCAA enforcers.
"In the sense that Ohio State periodically has agreed to abide by the sanctions of the NCAA, it would be hard for a former law professor like Gee to look askance to the rules," Hylton said. "On one hand you agreed (with the rules) but now you don't think they're fair, so you don't agree anymore. That's hard for a president to do and maintain his credibility with other presidents."
Especially when it is a committee of presidents who actually sign off on rules that were created not by NCAA employees but by committees of conference commissioners, athletic directors and other school administrators. The NCAA enforces the rules, but to do so must first interpret them. That's often where things get sticky.
Hylton said the only scenarios in which the NCAA might be thwarted involve political intervention and court action initiated by individual athletes.
"Historically it is almost impossible for significant change to happen from inside the organization," he said. "Usually when it happens, it's from the threat of external pressure."
Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
"The most likely thing is this system will muddle on in its current form, patching things up periodically," Hylton said.
On one hand, that would not be the end of the world. After all, there has to be some sort of college governing body or else chaos would ensue. But it might be time for the NCAA to clear the decks and start over, because too much bureaucracy is bad for business. Bad for common sense, too.
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The Buckeyes need to enact the "Do Right Rule"
Ohio State could look into the archives of the Arkansas Razorbacks — the very team it faces in the upcoming Sugar Bowl — for a blueprint on how to handle star players who have gotten in trouble just before a big bowl game.
The decision now facing Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel — who must decide what to do with star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, top running back Dan Herron, heralded receiver Devier Posey and two lineman, all who must serve an NCAA-mandated five-game suspension to start next season because they peddled awards and in one case their Buckeyes’ uniform for, among other things, tattoos — is similar to the one Arkansas coach Lou Holtz dealt with in late December of 1977 as his team prepared to face No. 2 ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl game.
Just before Christmas that year, three Razorback players — star running back Ben Cowins, stand-out receiver Donnie Bobo and back-up running back Michael Forrest — were nabbed in a police raid of a dorm room where a female student was found partially clothed.
Although the young woman was of age and no formal charges ended up being filed, Holtz told me the players had broken the “Do Right Rule.” That’s why he suspended them from the bowl game.
I was covering the Orange Bowl that year for my newspaper — The Miami News — and I had been waiting at the team’s hotel when Holtz and the Razorbacks arrived from Fayetteville.
Being a young reporter, I figured I’d get the heave-ho as soon as I brought the subject up to Holtz. After all, by the time he and his team had hit Miami the whole situation had gotten quite nasty.
The suspended players were all black. The female student was said to be white and the debate had taken on some nasty racial overtones.
Some of the black players on the team threatened to boycott the game and the suspended players got a lawyer to represent them. They planned to file suit and seek an injunction to let them play.
Instead of dodging me, Holtz talked with me for nearly 30 minutes. Although still the master of the one-liner — “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is … a freight train,” — it was clear he didn’t relish the situation he was facing.
Not only was there discord on the team, but some boosters and bowl big shots — worried about ratings and sponsorship dollars (same as some folks are now with Ohio State) — weren’t happy with him either.
And then of course there was mighty Oklahoma on the horizon.
The Sooners’ wishbone attack — which featured the masterful Billy Sims — led the nation in rushing.
Meantime, Holtz had just left Cowins — a Razorback legend with 3,570 career rushing yards, 16 career 100-yard games and 14 TDs that season alone — at home. He’d also jettisoned Bobo and Forrest who had combined for another 8 TDs that season.
And to add to the misery, the Razorbacks All American offensive lineman Leotis Harris would miss the game with an injury.
Arkansas was a 21-point underdog and finally Vegas took the game off the board all together. Everyone thought the Sooners would pulverize Arkansas.
Holtz didn’t bend. “I don’t like doing this,” he told me, “but they broke the Do Right Rule….You can’t just worry about losing a game, you’ve got to make sure you don’t lose what you stand for.”
The university ended up getting the state’s young attorney general — Bill Clinton — to represent them and he gave them enough legal muscle to help dissuade the pregame suit.
As the game loomed, Holtz was asked if his team might do better than folks thought they would against the run-you-into-the-ground Sooners:
“It’d be like Custer saying, ‘Well, they look like friendly Indians.”
But just as it looked like a massacre was about to happen — especially when Arkansas starting safety Howard Sampson broke his arm on one of the first plays of the game — Holtz watched his team rise up, not crumble.
Back-up running back Roland Sales rushed for a then Orange Bowl record 205 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. He also was the game’s leading receiver. Meanwhile the Razorback defense battered the Sooners, who lost three fumbles.
In one of the most stunning bowl upsets ever, Arkansas dismantled Oklahoma, 31-6.
Afterward Holtz was celebrated throughout the football world for standing up for what he believed in. In the process, instead of losing a team, he had gained one like he hadn’t had before
Ohio State football greatest era debate I: The stats are comparable, and the players of 1968-77 kept their noses clean
Is this a trick question or what?
The Golden Era of Ohio State football?
With all due respect to the current decade of Buckeye supremacy, an impressive stint to say the least, this is not the Golden Era of Ohio State football.
Granted, Ohio State is in the midst of an era for which most programs strive. The Buckeyes have seven conference titles and have won six bowls in the last 10 years. They'll go for bowl win No. 7 on Jan. 4.
And that's very good.
But not iconic, which is what the real Golden Era of Ohio State football is.
The run between 1968 and 1977.
If you compare the numbers, obviously a case can be made for both eras we're talking about here, the 1968-77 stretch and the 2001-2010 era.
The early days hold an advantage in Big Ten titles (9 to 7), All-Americans (38 to 25), All-Big Ten players (81 to 60), NFL first-round picks (17 to 15) and weeks ranked No. 1 (44 to 20).
The new group has a better bowl record (6-4 to 3-5) and record against ranked opponents (36-15 to 18-11-2).
But this debate, as is the case with many debates, is not decided on statistics. As is often said, statistics can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways.
Some might argue the current run is more impressive, and it might be just because it's the one most fresh in our minds.
The counter-argument is the former era is like fine wine — it just gets better with age. It makes the true Buckeye fan stare dreamingly into the skies while thinking, "Ah, now those were the days."
Woody Hayes at his best. Ohio State's talent pool at its best. Legends in the making all over the field.
Without the 10-year run from 1968 to 1977, ESPN Classic would be a lot more stuck for material than they are right now.
We're talking Archie Griffin, Jim Stillwagon, Randy Gradishar, Jim Hicks, Jack Tatum, Rex Kern ... just to name a handful.
A player (Griffin) who stands as the only person to win two Heisman Trophies. People whom trophies are named after. People who kids want to be like when they grow up.
Heck, there's probably still more people wanting to be like James Laurinatis' dad, a former famous professional wrestler, than James Laurinaitis. And he is one of the best Buckeyes the past decade has to offer (which is not a bad thing at all).
But the true Golden Era of Ohio State football was the stuff legends were made of, even if they didn't know it at the time.
Even the guy who played second fiddle to Griffin — fullback Pete Johnson — would have been a great on some Ohio State teams in the past decade.
The run started with a 10-0 team in 1968 that beat USC in the Rose Bowl and won the national championship. It was one of nine Big Ten titles the program won over that 10-year span and two of the program's four national championships.
Six of the 10 years, the Buckeyes played in the only bowl game in which they were eligible to play — the Rose Bowl. It wasn't until 1976 that OSU played in a bowl game other than the Rose, when it went to the Orange Bowl to defeat Colorado.
Meanwhile, the current group played in only one Rose Bowl, though it did play in three national championship games in seasons in which they would have been Rose Bowl-worthy had they not been in title games.
But the games played from '68-77 were downright legendary. Besides the 1968 national title game, every season has stood the test of time in some manner.
The 1969 team was called by Hayes "the best team we put together, probably the best team that ever played college football." Yet it lost to Michigan in the season-ending game to snap a 22-game winning streak and keep a juggernaut out of a bowl game.
Only a loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl kept the 1970 team from being perfect, and the National Football Foundation still crowned OSU national champion.
After a down year (6-4) in '71, the Buckeyes embarked on four straight years of having Griffin in the backfield. Two of those seasons ended with losses to USC that are among the best college games of all time.
There was the 11-1 of 1975 and then 9-2 and 9-3 campaigns in 1976 and 1977 — and those were two of the three worst records of the decade.
Does the current era have big games, too?
That's why we might have to nit-pick a little to separate them.
The average margin of loss in the old era is 9.5 points (16 losses by 152 total points).
The average margin of loss in the new era is 10.5 (22 losses by 232 total points).
We'll call that a wash.
But in games that matter most, the new era struggles. Try 41-14 against Florida in the 2006 title game, 38-24 to LSU in the 2007 title game, 35-3 to USC in 2008, or 31-13 this year at Wisconsin. Three of those losses came when OSU was ranked No. 1 and the other (USC) could have made Ohio State the top team in the nation.
Those are some serious meltdowns at key times.
And while it might be hitting below the belt a little, character comes into play, too.
The marquee names of the old era — Griffin, Stillwagon, Gradishar, Hicks, Tatum, Kern, etc. — are the poster boys of squeaky clean college football. Meanwhile, the person who drove OSU's offense to the 2002 national title (Maurice Clarett) spent only one year at OSU and just got out of jail. The Heisman Trophy winning quarterback (Troy Smith) missed a bowl game for breaking an unspecified team rule and another game for accepting $500 from a booster, and the face of the current teams (Terrelle Pryor) was just ruled ineligible for the first half of his senior year for hawking memorabilia and keepsakes awarded him for his endeavors.
It's not the deciding factor, but those things have to count.
Maybe someday the current era of Ohio State football will carry the same clout as that of the older era.
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Ohio State football greatest era debate II: Increased degree of difficulty gives current Buckeyes the nod
Comparing eras in sports is difficult. Extremely difficult.
Especially eras separated by almost three decades.
Comparing eras in the world of college football and personalities as different as Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel? As Keith Jackson used to say, "Whoa Nellie!"
There are so many different angles. The athletes are so different compared to 30 to 40 years ago. The rules, on and off the field, are drastically different. So are the agendas. So are the mind sets. Coaches are always adapting and changing. The media's coverage of the sport changes on a daily basis. The game itself is always changing. Even the way we watch and follow college football continuously changes.
It's no different when talking about Ohio State football.
From 3 yards and a cloud of dust to running the spread offense with Troy Smith, and to the dictator-like rein of Hayes to the governor-like term of Tressel, comparing the golden ages of OSU football is akin to asking any Buckeyes fan who was the better linebacker, Randy Gradishar or A.J. Hawk?
There is no right or wrong answer, rather a matter of choice or preference.
Still, I'm here to settle a debate, that being laying claim to the golden era of OSU football. The nominees are no-brainers, the 10-year periods of 1968 to 1977 and 2001 to 2010.
A comparison of the two eras is eerily similar in many categories (see chart on Page C3). It's close. Very close.
So close one must look beyond the numbers, and factor in change and as Tressel says, growth, for better or worse.
That being said, if I must choose — and that is the point of these dueling columns — the pick here is the vest is best.
No, this isn't a prisoner-of-the-moment decision. The decade of the 2000s had everything an OSU fan dreams about: a national championship in 2002, a 9-1 record vs. Michigan, six straight Big Ten titles, a 6-4 bowl record and six (perhaps seven with a Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas) top-five Associated Press poll finishes, a 36-15 record vs. ranked opponents and a Heisman winner in Troy Smith.
That No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between OSU and Michigan won by the Buckeyes in 2006? Yeah, that was kind of neat.
Woody's Buckeyes also won a national championship (1968), nine Big Ten titles, were 18-11-2 record vs. ranked opponents, spent a gaudy 44 weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, had 38 All-Americans. There was also some dude named Archie who won some award twice.
However, Hayes was 5-4-1 against Michigan, suffering the monumental upset against Bo Schembechler's Wolverines in 1969, and was just 3-5 in bowl games, two occurring against weaker teams.
The No. 1 head scratcher was an inexcusable 23-10 loss to 7-2-1 UCLA in the 1976 Rose Bowl, a setback that cost OSU, 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation prior to the game, a national championship. The Bruins were hardly a powerhouse, as they lost to OSU earlier in the season, 41-20, and against USC to close out the season, fumbled 11 times.
In the 1971 Rose Bowl, OSU was again undefeated and ranked No. 1, but lost, 27-17 to Stanford and Heisman winner Jim Plunkett.
Tressel's Buckeyes can't skate on big-game losses, either. No one will forget the collapse against Florida in the 2006 BCS title game, but the loss to LSU the next season, again for the BCS crown, can't be compared on the level of the loss to the Gators. The Tigers were favored and essentially playing a home game in New Orleans. Regardless, the sting remains for OSU loyalists of the current era, but that stirring win over the Hurricanes in the desert probably counts double for most Buckeyes' fans.
Certainly, no one outside of Ohio is feeling sorrow for the Buckeyes, either in their current state or glorious past, which had one advantage the current Buckeyes never had. It was monopoly at its finest, college football style.
You know that advantage the Yankees and Red Sox have over the rest of the American League when it comes to spending on free agents? It was kind of like that for Ohio State in the '70s. No, the Buckeyes weren't buying players (at least we don't think they were), but they were stockpiling them perhaps better than any school in the country.
From 1965 to '72, there were no limits on football scholarships. From '73 to '77, that number was capped at 105. From '78 to '91, the number was lowered to 95. That number is currently at 85.
The old saying goes Woody would recruit a player just so he wouldn't have to face him down the road. That's a huge advantage against your opponents, and a big reason why what the Buckeyes are accomplishing this decade, with most teams on an even playing field scholarship-wise, is impressive.
The counter-point (hey, we're all about discussing both sides) is the 13 Mid-American teams the Buckeyes played this decade, plus the two times Youngstown State took a beating at Ohio Stadium. It should be noted those same Tressel teams played nonconference foes that included UCLA (2001), Rose Bowl-bound Washington State (2002), Philip Rivers-led North Carolina State (2003), the eventual national champion Texas (2005), the Longhorns again (2006) and USC twice (2008, '09).
While we're talking opponents, a glance at Big Ten standings from the '70s indicate the moniker of the Big Ten — "The Big Two and little eight" — was absolutely true. In 1969, only three Big Ten teams (OSU, Michigan and Purdue) finished with winning records. In 1970, just one Big Ten school (Northwestern) won more than six games besides the Buckeyes and Wolverines. The same was true in '72 (Purdue) and '76 (Minnesota).
Finally, let's talk about the BCS, the entity fans love to hate. The name of the game now for the likes of OSU, USC, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Auburn isn't just winning your conference. It's much more than that. Winning national championships is the only thing that matters these days. Now, the expectations are greater, there's more pressure and zero room for error.
Tressel's Buckeyes have been navigating that slippery slope well this decade.
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Tokens of Ohio State football traditions apparently are for sale
The greatest things about the Big Ten and its flagship university, Ohio State, are their traditions. Thursday the Buckeyes' fans found out how many of them were for sale.
Among the items sold by quarterback Terrelle Pryor were his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, his 2008 gold pants for beating Michigan, and his 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award. Thus, even Pryor's award for good manners turned bad. Running back Boom Herron also sold a jersey, pants and shoes.
Other players in the scandal include wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams, and defensive end Solomon Thomas. The NCAA suspended all five for the first five games of next season, claiming they received illegal benefits ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. All are eligible for the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl game.
They are eligible for the bowl game because the NCAA knows no one wants to see Ohio State play Arkansas with its second-string players. It is venal and hypocritical, and you were born very recently if you didn't see that coming from the NCAA/BCS/bowls money machine.
The biggest name by far is Pryor, the most heavily recruited player in the country when he came to Ohio State in 2008 -- after first calling a news conference on national signing day to announce he was not signing.
With a 30-4 record as a starter, three Big Ten championships and a Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player award, he has been a very good player, just not as good as everybody thinks he should be. His bravado-filled Twitter messages certainly got in the face of his media and fan critics. His high level of faith in himself was not vindicated in some of the biggest games, though.
Athletic Director Gene Smith, setting the stage for an appeal, said the players were trying to help their struggling families in hard economic times. Smith, in fact, supports giving a stipend to the players.
But they are already getting a stipend, in the form of a free education at a major national research institution. And while working a full-time "job" in college football is tough, round-the-clock tutoring and soft-touch courses are available to scholarship athletes at almost every Division I school.
If there is going to be any demarcation at all between college football and just admitting it is an NFL D-League, the line would have to be drawn at play for pay.
While it might be easy for Ohio State to pay such an extra stipend with 105,000 seats filled for as many as eight home games each season and frequent television appearances, it is not clear how the schools outside the six power conferences could manage.
Any serious reduction in the OSU penalties is unlikely. The NCAA investigators severely punish liars. Failure to admit wrong-doing, which is the Buckeyes' sin, is close enough in their eyes.
Coach Jim Tressel could, of course, suspend all five players on his own for the Sugar Bowl. Former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz did just that with his top two running backs in 1977 against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, then won one of his greatest victories.
That is unlikely. Tressel has usually felt NCAA punishment (Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith) is enough. His personal sanctions (a one-game suspension for quarterback choker Robert Reynolds) have often been light.
The tattoo parlor discounts, which were the first part of the scandal to become public knowledge, seem insignificant, compared to the profits the players turned as athletes. The most lasting scar will not be tats on players' bodies but the graffiti Pryor and others scrawled over the things alumni most cherish.
Traditions are the ties that bind players today to Woody Hayes' era, which began in 1951, or even to that of Francis Schmidt, who invented the gold pants charms for beating Michigan in 1934. Now we know that it is not the disarray of the Michigan program under Rich Rodriguez that has devalued gold pants, but Ohio State's quarterback who held them in such a careless grip.
"Obviously, that's very disappointing," said Tressel. "I suppose the older you are, the more you understand the difficulty of what has gone into the chance to earn these things. Perhaps when you are a little bit younger, it's not so crystal clear."
Tressel restored much of the pride in the Ohio State program that had been lost before him through Michigan and bowl game beatings. He even made the players sing the alma mater to fans after victories. It seemed hokey at first, then as success mounted, it seemed heart-warming.
Back toward the end of 2006, one of the curiously underreported storylines during Ohio State’s 50-plus day layoff between vanquishing undefeated Michigan and playing Florida for the BCS title was the Buckeyes’ 0-7 record against SEC teams in bowl games. It was a notable item that was largely relegated to message board banter and the odd mention on radio shows, but 0-7 was strangely absent from the principal storyline driven by the college football media.
The prevailing narrative had been that the unstoppable Buckeyes were attempting a wire-to-wire rarity as the top-ranked team in the country as they entered their third Epic One versus Two contest of that season. However, by the beginning of the fourth quarter against Florida, Ohio State had successfully birthed the classic Big Ten stereotype of being too slow to compete with southern teams. Despite the win over Oregon in Pasadena in January, the Buckeyes’ national reputation still hasn’t recovered from that evening. It was as if though all eight of the Buckeyes’ SEC bowl losses came during the night in Glendale.
The SEC’s partnership with ESPN has understandably produced what could be viewed as excessive SEC media slurping; it’s extreme only if you’re insulated from Gary Danielson’s Saturday color commentaries on CBS, in which case ESPN’s SEC adulation is merely ‘heavy petting’. It’s understandable because of what has happened in each of the past four BCS title games: In an arbitrary and chaotic system rife with prejudice, SEC teams have not only reached the pinnacle of the BCS system but they’ve conquered it. Twice at Ohio State’s expense, just in case your therapy was more effective than mine and you’ve managed to conveniently forget.
The football conference that comes with its own chant has never been more popular across the landscape or lauded in the media. To that end, as with every dynasty or even dynasty-flirtation that we’ve seen over the past 30 years, with a big spotlight comes a bigger magnifying glass: As it began the season to defend its BCS title earlier in the fall, the Wall Street Journal brought to light the fact that an inordinate number of Crimson Tide players have been either dismissed from the team by Nick Saban or given a questionable “medical redshirt” to stay on scholarship.
Then at the end of the season, the Journal profiled several of the Tide’s unhappy castoffs who were kicked off the team for dubious reasons. These are vignettes from a larger problem and practice that is now emerging as a story that sports media is actually willing to run with: The systemic practice of oversigning players and subsequently cutting relatively weaker ones to make room for new recruits. Last weekend, ESPN ran an Outside the Lines segment on oversigning in the SEC. That’s how you know that talking about oversigning has arrived.
So this being Bucknuts and me being an Ohio State homer, you’re ready for the thorough explanation of why that 0-9 record in bowls against the SEC is simply the byproduct of the competitive imbalance. At risk of disappointing you quickly – it’s not. Florida didn’t beat the Buckeyes by having the benefit of an entire extra recruiting class to sift better players from, because Florida is not one of those SEC schools that pack in too many players only to force the weaker ones out during each summer. The Gators have about as many players as the Badgers do. Oversigning not why the Buckeyes lost that game. Gravy and hubris are.
If you can get past Ohio State’s five ill-timed personal fouls, a dropped touchdown pass, an inexplicably missed blocked punt and Jim Tressel inexplicably using Beanie Wells as a decoy for three quarters then sure, that 2007 LSU team had more depth than Ohio State did in a rebuilding year. Keep in mind that Les Miles had taken over for Saban at LSU and that roster was basically a shared compilation; an oversigning vortex, bridging two of the most egregious violators of the scholarship pact at one institution. Miles was particularly singled out in the ESPN piece as a serial oversigner.
In the predictably-enabling and homerish SEC media, some have come to Miles’ defense, with at least one credentialed sportswriter crying that the LSU coach’s only crime was “recruiting too well.” But Ohio State had ample opportunity to still win that game and ended up beating itself, ultimately derailing a chance at redemption. One of the worst distortions of the past decade was that LSU beat Ohio State the same way Florida did. That’s unfair to Florida.
Similarly, Ohio State did not lose to South Carolina – in either of those forgettable Outback Bowls during that unfortunate Three-Year Stretch of Mediocrity – because of oversigning. All those Citrus-flavored losses in the 1990s? Chalk them up to equal-parts big game John Cooper failures and Consolation Game syndrome courtesy of Michigan – back when the Wolverines wrecked dreams instead of nurturing them – not stacked rosters. That said, it doesn’t make oversigning fair, ethical or right. It does, as a simple, mathematical fact, promote unfair competitive imbalance. Surprisingly though, it hasn’t really dampened the Big Ten’s record against the SEC, not that it’s common for facts to disrupt the prevailing perception.
The Big Ten, minus Ohio State, is 20-17 over the past 20 years against the SEC in bowl games. Add Ohio State and that record falls to 20-25. Since the 2002 season the Big Ten is 11-10 against the SEC in bowl games, and that includes games that involve Ohio State. The last two bowl seasons the Big Ten has split its bowl games with the SEC, but you would never know with all of the lather in the media about SEC speed and depth at all positions. The Buckeyes are aiming for their sixth BCS bowl win against Arkansas. Ask an SEC fan how many BCS wins the Buckeyes own and you’ll be hard-pressed to within three of the right answer.
Oversigning.com has gone into painstaking detail to demonstrate how Arkansas’ serial oversigning has produced a significant depth advantage over Ohio State heading into the Sugar Bowl. The Razorbacks have signed 36 more players than the Buckeyes over the past four years. That’s 36 more players to choose from; if Tressel’s staff had 36 extra players – the way they recruit – it would invariably have a dramatic impact on the 2010 depth chart as you know it. Despite that imbalance, oddsmakers have the Buckeyes as a 3.5 point favorite to win. Perhaps Vegas isn’t familiar with Oversigning.com.
Whenever Kirk Herbstreit works himself into a lather on ESPN Gameday talking about the incredible speed and the depth of the SEC, he – and most other sports faces on TV – fail to disclose why this has been the case as of late. The top producing states of football talent are California, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Ohio. You can recruit all of the best players from those states and field a great team, as Ohio State does. But you can only keep 85 of them; that is, unless you find ways to cut the fat once you realize that it is, indeed, fat. Oversigning means coaches get a second chance to evaluate players. It mitigates the risk involved with offering a scholarship – and a precious roster spot – to a high school junior. Therein lies the depth discrepancy: It’s not cultural, it’s mathematical.
For all that oversigning, the SEC should have a far better record against the Big Ten, especially when you consider that most of most “neutral site” bowl games are de facto road games for the Big Ten (for some reason, the Midwest isn’t much of a December destination). In 2007 alone, when Ohio State lost to LSU in the Louisiana Superdome, Michigan played Florida in Florida, Illinois played USC in Southern California and Penn State played Texas A&M in Texas. The Big Ten split those games. Not too bad. Contrary to its narrative, the SEC does not beat up on the Big Ten. The SEC beats up specifically on Ohio State, and since Ohio State has been the Big Ten for the past decade, the transitive property has been applied incorrectly. Granted, it’s nearly impossible to stop a good S-E-C chant once it gains traction.
It didn’t have to be this way; all the Buckeyes had to do was win a few lousy bowl games. None of the teams that beat them in the 1990s were exceptional; it was the pre-BCS era and the matchups were aligned appropriately. There were no beat-downs; mostly just one-touchdown losses in evenly played games. For Ohio State to go 0-9 in bowls against one conference when historically it has absolutely dominates every other conference makes this futility an anomaly of the highest and most frustrating order.
What enhances the Buckeyes’ futility is the rarity of opportunities to reverse this trend; the Buckeyes played against an SEC opponent four times total this century. Big Ten and SEC teams do not face each other very often outside of bowl games, period. Indiana and Kentucky often participate in an autumn border war that nobody pays attention to, but outside of that pillow fight, the last time an SEC team left its footprint to play against the Big Ten was in 2006 when Vanderbilt traveled to Ann Arbor.
Prior to that, the last time any SEC team ventured north was when LSU came to the Horseshoe in 1988. This season, Northwestern traveled to Nashville in September for the Nerd Bowl and Penn State to Tuscaloosa. Indiana and Kentucky aside, you would have to go back to 1990 when a pre-Big Ten Penn State played at Alabama, then 1987 with Ohio State in Baton Rouge. The span of time since then encompasses eight of the nine bowl games. The Buckeyes have failed across multiple generations. The ridicule and shame are deserved, and they marinate too long in part because of the lack of opportunity, which makes the Sugar Bowl that much more important.
That 0-7 mark was underreported back in the days leading up to the 2006 BCS title game, but now it’s a very familiar refrain whenever the Buckeyes are discussed among the national elite football programs. Similarly, the current noise around oversigning suggests that this issue – and it’s more an issue of ethics than competitive imbalance – will soon be a similar refrain if it is not addressed.
However, oversigning recruits and hiding players under bogus medical redshirts isn’t a phenomenon isolated in the southeast. Michigan coach-for-now Rich Rodriguez is pursuing a medical redshirt for backup QB Devin Gardner, who not only played this season but doesn’t seem to be showing any symptoms of the “bad back” that kept him off the field. Ultimately the eventual death of oversigning and the back-door roster cuts they produce would bring the end of just one component of flimsy façade that big time university athletic departments put the student-athletes’ best interests ahead of their own.
Payoffs versus playoffs…Or a new riff on an old song. When it comes to college football coverage, I have always liked Sports Illustrated more than ESPN (a fact I discussed with a largely unappreciative ESPN executive group in Bristol). Why? Because ESPN starkly favors coverage of professional football AND because ESPN takes a blasé spineless position on prospective college football playoffs while SI had been a strong and unwavering advocate of a playoff system for years now. ESPN reminds me of an old description of editorial writers: snipers that wait until the battle is over and then come down out of the hills to shoot the survivors. They take the tack that whoever prevails in this playoff fracas, they will win either way. Yawn…
Now, let’s combine my amorphous end-of-year themes into Sports Illustrated’s latest push to have college football playoffs. In an article entitled: “Does It Matter?”, the central question and issue is asked right from the get-go:
“Refresh our memory BCS acolytes: Why must college football never have a playoff? Oh yes, that’s right. Because a post-season tournament would devalue the sport’s singularly meaningful regular season. And spare us Talking Point #2: “We believe the bowl system wouldn’t survive a playoff,” predicts BCS executive director Bill Hancock, in what has to be one of the most self-serving statements ever in print.
They surmise that the dinosaurs that have had their death grip on the country’s favorite game either has to die out or be hit with “a successful antitrust action by the US Department of Justice”. Either sounds good to me.
The thesis is summarized thusly: “We are stuck with an inexact, capricious, widely despised system that is propped up and defended, in the main, by the people that profit from it. College football could have an opera, a Shakespearian drama, a season that builds to a stunning (and wildly remunerative) climax. Instead, we have a soap opera.”
Ahem. Isn’t that what the old geezer at the Bucket has been saying – with glaring examples as evidence – for the past three years? Me and SI, baby…
Here are the salient points in SI’s unusually cogent and persuasive summary argument (with a few factoids conspicuously filled in…):
1.“Big-time college football is a world-class beauty with a wart on her forehead. That blemish is the sport’s method for determining a national champion. The NCAA crowns 88 champions in 23 sports. The only division it does not crown is in Division I-A football, which, in its wisdom, has delegated the task of determining which two teams will contend for its title to a series of mathematically unsound computer formulas and often confused and ill-informed poll voters.”
2.“There is a common sense solution…and as with most unimplemented common sense solutions, there is a group of people that has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are because they are profiting from the problem.”
3.The most egregiously disingenuous (as well as self-serving remark) comes from BCS director Bill Hancock: “We prefer to do what’s best for the student –athletes (it’s not about the money). And we hear them saying they prefer the bowl system”. I, Mr. Bucknuts, am listening very closely and I don’t hear any of that.
4.As a better form of refutation to that glib and simplistic remark, SI puts it, “He must not be listening to the thousands of student-athletes whose sports have been cut by cash-starved athletic departments even as the lack of a playoff deprives universities of hundreds of millions of dollars each year and enrages fans.
5.The bowl directors as a group? As SI frames it, they “are not planning a moon shot. They are putting on one game a year.” YET
a) Gary Cavilli of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl gets $377,000 for his mostly honorary position.
b) The Sugar Bowl CEO gets $607,000 for his one game’s worth of work.
c) John Junker of the Fiesta Bowl gets $600,000.
d) It’s OK, though, because the bowls are brimming with funds. Example: The Sugar Bowl has $37 million in assets and made $11.6 million last year in profits. That’s after all the lavish partying and astronomical salaries, mind you.
6.The bowls are actually under a federal investigation for “excessive compensation” and for the perks they dispense to the elitists involved. For example, the Fiesta Bowl has spent more than $4 million since 2000 to “curry favor from BCS bigwigs and elected officials – including almost $400,000 for it’s 2008 Fiesta Frolic, a golf intensive gathering of AD’s and head coaches”
7.Finally, what about those students and their beleaguered athletic departments, the ones that really lose because of Dr. Gee’s infamous “slippery slope to professionalism”? SI had this to say about that: “In the teeth of the worst economic downturn in several generations, it stands to reason that university presidents might look favorably on ideas that could dramatically raise revenue. Speaking to Congress in 2005, no less stanch a playoff opponent than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany estimated that “an NFL-style football payoff would generate three to four times” more than “the current system does”. That could mean an estimated$700 million to $800 million annually to be distributed among the 1-A conferences.
We can’t figure out how to do playoffs or where to squeeze them in, though. Incidentally, you can be watching BYU take on UTEP this weekend. Or substitute Troy versus Ohio University while the Top 30 teams wait to play in a few weeks…
We have heard it for so long we can just use the abbreviation: "TCC". There were rumblings even before the championship game in 2007 season. After that most forgettable game the bottom fell out of recruiting. It looked like one of those years Buckeye fans would always remember.
A national championship and the No. 1 recruiting class.
Fans were talking about it like was just a matter of time. A player like Joseph Barksdale, rumored to be a Buckeye even before the season started, verballed to LSU. It seemed to steamroll from there.
Tressel can't close.
It seems to rear its ugly head every year at the end of recruiting. The message boards on various sites are dominated by it. Fans no longer believe the Buckeyes are going to finish strong in recruiting. The recent verbal of Ohio-born-and-raised Tank Carradine set off a barrage of’ I told you so’ posts when he picked Florida State on Wednesday.
Here is the truth: It isn't that Tressel can't close. Tressel doesn't try to close – at least not in the way it is done out there by so many programs. I will never forget a few years ago talking with the mother of an out-of-state recruit I got friendly with during recruiting. This was post-signing day. Her son did not sign with the Buckeyes. She saw them all. About the only major coach who did not offer her son was Mack Brown at Texas. Every other coach made his way into her living room.
She told me the only coach who did not negatively recruit was Tressel. It is important to keep in mind her son did not choose to become a Buckeye. The Buckeyes coach is not going to play the game the way the "closers" do. Pete Carroll is a great guy. You can hate him all you want. People associated with Ohio State speak highly of him. Do you recall just a couple of years ago that two of the nation’s best receivers were comparing notes and discovered Carroll told each of them that he was their No. 1 guy? Nobody is going to forget that spectacle last year with Urban Meyer, after resigning, coming back and some of the things he was telling recruits.
It was appalling. Do you see Tressel doing that?
A cousin of mine found himself in a position to go along on an unofficial recruiting visit with his wife’s cousin because the young man’s Dad could not make it here. My cousin was always a Buckeye fan but became a diehard Tressel fan after this recruiting visit. He says they drove around campus that day in a truck. Tressel never brought up football.
Jim Tressel can't close? No he can't. He never will.
The BCS system worked this year. That is what the commissioners of the power conferences are trumpeting between sighs of relief. Two human polls and six computer-ranking formulas have matched undefeated Auburn against undefeated Oregon for the national championship. Where's the problem?
Where do we start?
Dan Wetzel, a college football fan who lives in Big Ten country, can supply 200 pages of answers. Wetzel is a Yahoo! sports columnist and co-author of Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series. Published in October and already in its third printing, it is exhaustively researched, well-presented and compelling.
The book does what its title suggests: In great detail, it debunks every myth set forth in defense of the bowl system, exposes a plethora of hypocrisies and offers a saner, more practicable and more profitable alternative - a playoff.
But forget all of that for a moment. Focus the argument in the present. The Big Ten in general, and Ohio State in particular, has no shot this year. Did the system work?
That was a question Wetzel was mulling as he made a long drive through snow-covered farmlands Saturday afternoon. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, he consented to an interview. His thinking is global, but it acts locally.
"This year, the Big Ten would have three teams alive with just an eight-team playoff," he said. "Imagine a first-round game with Ohio State playing at TCU, and the winner goes to Oregon. If I'm an Ohio State fan, not only am I incredibly excited, I'm starting to like my chances (at a title shot).
"Wouldn't that be better than playing Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl?"
Perhaps this is what Jim Tressel was thinking when, during an appearance on Dan Patrick's radio show last month, he said, "Within five years, we will be positioned for a playoff of sorts." Of course, Tressel framed his answer by saying that the BCS is a wonderful thing that works well and drives interest in the sport.
One must be careful with one's words in the Big Ten. The current stance, as iterated by conference commissioner Jim Delany during a roundtable discussion in New York last week, is as follows: Non-BCS conferences have been asking for more and more, and they ought to stop trying to squeeze the big boys - or else.
The BCS has the power to cut the Western Athletic, Mountain West and other lesser conferences out of the national picture - and even return to the old bowl system - when present contracts expire in 2013. Delany was clear on that.
Where is the vision?
Next year, Nebraska joins the Big Ten, further loading the conference. The chances of any team running the table - be it Nebraska or Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State or Iowa - will decrease. Meanwhile, the chances that a Big 12 team (read: Texas or Oklahoma) will go undefeated increase. So, under any system, the Big Ten has to wonder when it will have another chance to play for a national title, be it against an undefeated Big 12 or Pac-10 team, or a one-loss team from the SEC.
"Competitively or financially, I don't see how (the present system) helps the Big Ten," Wetzel said. "There are other teams with weaker schedules who are ahead (in the rankings) right now. This is no longer an aberration. And the SEC can get away with a one-loss team, but not the Big Ten."
Forget that the bowl system is inherently flawed in that it cedes the postseason to third-party fat cats. Forget that the BCS ignores hundreds of millions of dollars that a playoff could make available to universities desperate to balance the budgets of their athletic departments. Focus on the present, and ask:
Could Ohio State - which lost one game, to Wisconsin, at night, in Camp Randall Stadium - beat TCU? What would Wisconsin do against Stanford? Is Michigan a Gator Bowl team?
One hopes that Tressel is right, and some form of a playoff system will be delivered soon to deserving fans. We all have a vested interest.
Eight simple suggestions to better the current BCS system
Anyone seen the BCS suggestion box? We have a few cards to stick through the slot.
For the sake of argument, let's imagine something that would put many of you right off your tailgate babyback ribs. Let's imagine the BCS is here to stay, just like airport metal detectors.
Please, no complaining. This is a playoff whining-free section. Anyone who says the BCS has done nothing good is suffering from postseason amnesia, forgetting all the seasons when the top two teams didn't even land in the same time zone, let alone the same bowl.
But flaws need fixing, too. Here are eight ideas that might help a system do better at the one thing it has found so difficult to achieve — gain wider credibility with a skeptical public.
No. 1. Install a victory standard for any team that gets an automatic qualifying spot. In other words, the Connecticut Rule. This is to take nothing away from the Huskies, who have shown admirable perseverance in turning a 3-4 start into an 8-4 season to win the Big East. They deserve a very nice bowl game. Just not a BCS bowl game, when only 10 vacancies are available.
If the BCS wants to ease its perception problem, it can't have 11-1 teams left out and 8-4 teams invited in. It just can't.
No. 2. Use the more-the-merrier strategy. Add another bowl game to the BCS galaxy. The Cotton Bowl comes to mind, now that it has moved to Jerry Jones' pricey new playroom. If it's good enough for the Dallas Cowboys, it should be good enough for Boise State.
One more bowl would mean 12 teams get BCS spots. Nobody at 13th has an argument that anyone should listen to.
No. 3. Don't let television make a mockery of the schedule. The BCS loves to claim the bowl system has a better idea for athletes, coaches, families, students, fans and universities.
The national championship on Jan. 10 isn't it.
No. 4. Delay the release of BCS standings until late in the season. Before that, they are misleading, confusing and ignite controversies that don't need to happen. Although they do keep several television analysts gainfully employed.
Can you imagine the storm if the NCAA basketball tournament committee released a tentative bracket on Feb. 15? True, the standings create publicity every Sunday, but with the weekly nuances of the computer numbers, they sometimes give the whiff of tortured logic — which is the very impression the BCS should want to avoid.
No. 5. Put this in all capitals so it doesn't get forgotten. DON'T FOUL UP THE MATH IN THE FINAL STANDINGS.
That happened last week, when a couple of teams down the list — LSU and Boise State — were ranked in the wrong order. The BCS might as well put a sign on its back that said, "Kick me." Had that happened at the top of the standings, you're talking BCS Doomsday.
No. 6. Matter of fact, go even further. Use the mind-numbing ratings formula as a guideline, and nothing more. One of the biggest problems the BCS has with the outside world is the perception that only MIT graduates and computer geeks have a prayer of understanding it.
Instead, name a blue ribbon committee to study the strength of schedule, power ratings, poll numbers, et. al. deliver its own rankings on the first Sunday in December.
One of the primary dangers of the BCS is that well-meaning humans can be led into a trap by a computer quirk they are powerless to override. Sounds a lot like the movie, "Fail-Safe," and at the end of that film, New York City gets nuked.
No. 7. Tell officials from BCS automatic qualifying conferences to shut up. Or at least be diplomatic. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee's ridicule of Boise State and TCU was a Molotov cocktail the BCS doesn't need. Ohio State has been in BCS games so many times, the B might stand for Buckeyes. Show some humility. Or at least discretion.
While we're at it, however, the Boise State president should dial down, too. It's getting tiresome.
No. 8. Next time Congress suggests it can do better job with this, ask politely how the economic stimulus work is going.
The relationship between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes is well-documented. After Michigan upset Ohio State in 1969 in Bo's first year as the Wolverine coach, the media seemed to focus on their relationship. Part of the reason was because Coach Hayes was such a huge figure in collegiate football. When one of his former assistants beat one of Woody's greatest teams in a huge upset, their relationship took on a life of its own. As a matter of fact, Woody once told Bo about that '69 game, "You'll never win a bigger game."
It began the Woody Vs. Bo era. For ten years they met every November, leading their teams into a game that, in most cases, decided the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. While the following story doesn't happen in Michigan Stadium, it is still a very good tale about a coach who was the archenemy to the Wolverines for many years.
The competition between Bo and Woody wasn't just on the field. After the 1969 game, it moved to the homes of high school prospects in recruiting. Bo had great success in recruiting the state of Ohio, and Woody didn't like that too much.
Schembechler tells the story that Woody used to follow him wherever he went on the recruiting trail. "I would go in to talk to an Ohio prospect," Bo says, "and when I was about to leave, I would tell the young man, 'Now listen, tomorrow, Coach Hayes will be here, and he'll want to talk to you about Ohio State.' The prospect would tell me that Woody wasn't scheduled in to see him. He would say, 'Coach Hayes was in about a week ago, he's not coming tomorrow.' I would say, 'Trust me, Coach Hayes will be here tomorrow.'"
Sure enough, Bo remembers, "Woody would come marching in to this kids high school the next day. It was like he had spies around or something," Bo laughs.
Such is the case with Rob Lytle.
Lytle was a great young running back out of Fremont, Ohio. He was being recruited by all the major football powers from USC to Notre Dame. Bo had worked on Lytle very hard, though, and had gotten him to commit to Michigan. Lytle thought that was the end of the recruiting battle, but Coach Hayes wasn't done yet.
"Just before the signing date," Lytle recalls, "Coach Hayes drove up to Fremont because he said he wanted one more shot at me. He made me look him in the face and tell him I was going to Michigan. When I told him, he said, 'WHY?' With all my courage, I looked him in the eye and said I was going to Michigan because I thought it was a better fit for me."
Lytle says Woody was not happy.
"Coach Hayes growled at me and got up and left. He never shook my hand. He said, among other things, 'OK, we'll get along fine without you.'"
Lytle says Woody never spoke to him again. It doesn't sound like a very pleasant story, but it isn't over. The finish will surprise you. It gives an insight into Coach Hayes's character that isn't often revealed.
Lytle went on to a brilliang All-American career at Michigan. He was drafted in the early rounds of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. He had a solid career with Denver and the recruiting battle with Coach Hayes was long forgotten.
But Woody kept tabs on Lytle all through his NFL career.
A teammate of Lytle's in Denver was Randy Gradishar. He had been a great linebacker at Ohio State, and Coach Hayes kept in touch with Gradishar by sending him notes through the mail.
"Gradishar would come to me during the season, and pass along these notes from Woody," Lytle says. "Gradishar would tell me, 'It's from Woody, and it's for you!' I mean, I was amazed!" Lytle exclaims.
According to Rob, the notes were very pleasant. They were encouraging. Coach Hayes would write Lytle to keep up the good work, and things like that. It was quite a turnaround from the last time they had seen each other, but Lytle says they still never talked, that he just got the notes.
Near the end of Lytle's playing career in the NFL, Woody surprised him one more time.
"It was my fifth year, I think," Lytle remembers, "and I've had about six surgeries on my knees and shoulders and I'm about done. The year before, I had been way down on the depth chart. Red Miller was the coach, and he told me they would spot me on playing time. If another running back went down, I'd get some playing time, but it didn't look good," recalls Lytle.
"About six games into the season, three running backs go down, bang, bang, bang. Well, I got in and had a great year. I got to play my natural position, and after the season, the coaches apologized for using me improperly. They tell me I'm in their plans to be more of a featured back. I should get ready for that role in the off season."
Lytle says he felt as if his career had been renewed. Then the Broncos got sold. The entire coaching staff got fired while Lytle was on vacation. "Dan Reeves was hired as the coach," remembers Lytle. "I know he's going to clean house. They had traded for a young running back out of Kansas City, which wasn't a good sign for me. So I figure I'm done, again."
Still, Lytle is on the team, so he headed to training camp, and he was pitted against all the new young backs. "I had to prove my speed," Lytle recalls. "I had to prove that I was healthy, and I did, but I still wasn't sure I was going to make the team."
"Well, I made the last cut," Lytle says with relief, "and we are in a meeting before our first practice before the first regular-season game. Reeves is late for the meeting. We are all waiting for him, but he's really late. So another coach comes in and starts the meeting without Reeves. Finally, Reeves comes in about the time we are finishing up, and he calls my name out to see him."
"I figure I've either been traded, or they are releasing me because they've picked up somebody else," Lytle recalls. "So I go up there, hand my playbook to Reeves, and I go on the offensive. I say, 'At least you could have told me beforehand, before I got taped and dressed and all this crap.' Reeves looks at me and says, 'What the hell are you talking about?'"
"I'm sure I'm getting released or traded or something," Lytle recalls saying. "Oh, hell no, you made the team before training camp started," Lytle remembers his coach saying in surprise. Then Reeves asked Lytle a question that seemed odd. "Didn't you play for Michigan?"
Lytle says he told Reeves that he had. According to Lytle, Reeves then got a curious look on his face and said, "The reason I was late for the meeting is that Woody Hayes called me and wouldn't let me get off the phone."
Rob says he was shocked.
"Woody has been on my ••• for forty minutes," Lytle remembers Reeves saying. "I finally had to tell him I had players waiting for me and I was late for a meeting."
Lytle then asked Reeves what in the world Coach Hayes had called about, "You've got one of the biggest fans a guy could ever ask for," Reeves related to Lytle. "Coach Hayes called to tell me that the previous coach at Denver had made a huge mistake. Woody said they didn't play you properly."
Lytle says Reeves couldn't get Woody off the phone! "He told Reeves I could do this, I could do that. I mean he built me up like I was the second coming of Christ," Lytle recalls with a chuckle.
Reeves finally said, "Coach Hayes told me I'd be nuts if I didn't play you regularly," according to Lytle.
Lytle says the whole episode took him by complete surprise. Rob finally asked Reeves if Woody's call had helped, "I told Woody that you'd already made the team, and Woody said, 'Good, then you've made the right decision!'" Lytle remembers that Reeves was smiling as he finished the story.
Think about that. A full ten years after Lytle and Hayes had last spoken, Woody was trying to use his influence to keep Rob's football career alive. For Lytle, it was an unbelievable gesture. After all, Rob had turned Woody down at Ohio State and gone to Michigan, Woody's archenemy. Yet Coach Hayes had kept an eye on his career the entire time. He had been in Lytle's corner all the way.
Say what you will about Woody Hayes, but he was a complex guy with some wonderful qualities. Many young men benefited greatly from their relationships with him, including a Michigan Wolverine named Rob Lytle, "He was very complimentary to me. I thought the world of him. I liked Woody."
Source: 'Tales from Michigan Stadium'
A Book by Jim Brandstatter
About the author: Brandstatter played three varsity seasons as an offensive tackle for Michigan, which resulted in two Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl appearances. He graduated in 1972 and started a career in radio and television broadcasting. In 1980 he was named co-host of Michigan Replay, the Wolverines coach's show, where he was reunited with former coach Bo Schembechler. Later in the decade he began work as a color analyst on the statewide Michigan football radio network broadcasts, which he continues doing today. He is also in his 26th year as the host of Michigan Replay.
Tressel got mad, OSU got better
In a card game, the "tell" is a recurring mannerism or facial tic that gives away a player's tendencies.
The assumption, based on his even temperament, is that Jim Tressel has no tell, no way of knowing whether he's sitting pretty or mad as a hornet. But like his father, Lee, the son is not as poker-faced as it would appear.
Lee Tressel could bear down with the best of them at the poker table, his powers of concentration above and beyond what others in the game could muster. But everyone draws the occasional garbage hand, and when the Baldwin-Wallace coach got his stinker the glasses came off and he began talking his way out of it.
But when he drew a Broadway straight, Tressel would turn quiet and the glasses stayed on.
"Watch yourself, because when he put his glasses on he was going to get you," one of his old poker buddies said.
So there might be an inherited component to Jim Tressel's tell. Under the right circumstances - like during halftime of last Saturday's game against Penn State - the Ohio State coach inadvertently reveals his intentions. But where Lee Tressel removed his glasses when the chips were down, his son takes off the gloves.
Tressel unloaded on his players during intermission against the Nittany Lions. It was shocking only to those of us outside the inner circle, and said circle measures roughly 105 players and a dozen coaches in diameter. To outsiders, Tressel is the buttoned-down senator with the buttoned-up playbook. But what do we really know? Just as those outside a corporation only can claim to understand the minds of the company's board of directors, so it is with anyone outside the locker room walls of Ohio Stadium.
It was inside those walls that receiver DeVier Posey saw his head coach show signs of what was to come.
"It was no surprise," Posey said. "Most of the time he comes in the locker room, but he was just ... his heel didn't stop moving and he was shaking his leg. I knew he had something to say. I just didn't know what it was going to be."
What Tressel said is unprintable, only because no player will say what he said. And don't expect more of the same from Tressel when OSU plays at Iowa this week. But the language was salty to be sure.
Those shocked by such a revelation should know Tressel is not 100 percent Puritan; only 95 percent. But the first half against Penn State brought out the other 5 percent in a way that was effective - Ohio State rallied from a 14-3 halftime deficit to win 38-14 - and necessary.
The best coaches adjust everything, including their emotions, to meet the need. And this was a big need. So Tressel fooled us, if not his players, by breaking his own tendencies to achieve the necessary result.
As Posey described it, Tressel's halftime speech was off the charts, measuring "an 11" on a scale of 1 to 10.
"We're such a laid back group that we needed something like that," the junior said, explaining that Tressel got "animated ... and spilled his heart out to us and challenged us."
There comes a time in any job when dignity must leave the room so that ferocity can come in and shake the walls with "do this or else." It is good to know Tressel has a hot button that works when pressed. In this case, he was especially upset that the Buckeyes were playing below their capabilities. And his halftime rant was not scripted.
"I think you have to be who you are; that's the key," he said. "If you try to play-act, that's not good. I was (riled up) for the moment, but that doesn't mean that's my vocabulary all the time."
Tressel is no Woody Hayes, who in a different time, when such things were tolerated, lived off of invective-laced obscenities to make his point. Tressel picks his spots instead of strafing everything in sight.
"Even when he's angry he's not out of control," kicker Devin Barclay said, noting how the rarity of Tressel tearing into the team makes the message more effective when it does happen.
Hayes operated in tirade mode much of the time. One might deduce that his players learned to ignore him, that his ravings became only so much noise.
"But I never tuned him out," said former wingback Brian Baschnagel, who played for Hayes in the mid-1970s. "I just learned to keep my distance when Woody was getting too emotional. No question he was effective."
Baschnagel said Hayes knew which players would react positively to his George Patton approach, and which would go into a shell.
"He used emotion to motivate, and a lot of it was fabricated or planned," Baschnagel said. "A lot of the emotion did result from things that happened and was not premeditated, but he learned who could benefit from that type of tactic and who couldn't. Woody was really smart."
As is Tressel, who played his emotional cards right and walked away a winner.
Source: Columbus Dispatch, Novmber 19, 2010
by Rob Oller, a sports reporter for The Dispatch .
Article Link: Tressel got mad, OSU got better Contact: Rob Oller
The Myth That Tressel Only Beats Up On Bad Michigan Teams
Point out that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a staggering 8-1 against rival Michigan, and it won’t take long for one of his detractors to say, “Yeah, but he’s had the luxury of playing a bunch of bad UM teams.”
There is no debating the fact that in 2008 and ’09, Michigan was atrocious. The Wolverines had the worst team in school history in 2008 when they had a 3-9 record, and OSU treated them as such with a 42-7 win in Columbus. Then in 2009 when UM was 5-7 and once again missed a bowl game, OSU won 21-10 in Ann Arbor.
So, two of Tressel’s victories were of the easy variety. No one disputes that.
However, let’s examine it a bit further.
* In 2001, the Buckeyes were huge underdogs and pulled off a 26-20 upset in Ann Arbor. Michigan would have played in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champs if it would have won the game. In other words, it was a very solid UM squad.
* In 2002, Michigan was a top 10 team and OSU won a thriller, 14-9. It enabled the Buckeyes to qualify for the BCS national championship game where it would upset Miami for the school’s first national title since 1968. Oh yeah, and they had to get past a good Michigan team to do it.
* In 2003, the only year Michigan has beaten Tressel to date, the Buckeyes were underdogs. The Wolverines rode the hot legs of Chris Perry (who the Cincinnati Bengals then foolishly used a first-round pick on) to a 35-21 victory. Michigan was so bad they went on to play in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champs.
* In 2004, OSU was a heavy underdog at Ohio Stadium to the Braylon Edwards-led UM team in what turned out to be Troy Smith's coming out party (Bucks won 37-21). So, in Tressel’s first four games against Michigan, he entered as a underdog three times, yet had a 3-1 record. Good thing no one told the oddsmakers in Vegas just how bad those Michigan teams really were. Oh, and once again Michigan played in the Rose Bowl (where Vince Young ripped their hearts out with a great performance).
* In 2005, OSU was a slight favorite in Ann Arbor and pulled out a 25-21 comeback victory led by Smith, Santonio Holmes and Anthony Gonzalez. That was a tough game between two ranked teams that could have gone either way. As usual, Tressel’s team faced a formidable UM outfit but pulled it out.
* In 2006, OSU and UM met in an epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle (the first ever in the rivalry) won by the top-ranked Buckeyes at home 42-39. Yep, the Wolverines sucked so bad that they were only ranked second in the nation entering that game. There goes Tressel getting lucky again.
* In 2007, Ohio State beat Michigan 14-3. The Wolverines made national headlines for losing to I-AA Appalachian State that year (and OSU fans still get a kick out of it, admit it), but the fact is they finished with an 8-4 record, including a win over defending national champion Florida and ’07 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl. In short, not a bad Michigan team at all.
So, why is there this notion that Tressel’s record against UM is not legit because the Wolverines have been “down”? I have no idea, because it’s obviously not true. Let’s throw the last two years out since everyone can agree those Michigan teams were awful. However, in Tressel’s first seven games against UM (seven of the nine he’s played) he was the underdog three times and only a slight favorite in the other four games.
So, come again on Tressel beating up on a bunch of crappy Michigan teams? You can say it if you want, but it’s certainly a fallacy.
Also, there is the myth that Tressel struggles in big games. Well, again, sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story.
During his now 10 years at Ohio State, Tressel is 34-15 against top 25 teams, 17-10 against top 15 teams and 9-8 against top 10 teams.
He has also won a national championship and is 5-4 in bowl games – including 4-3 in BCS bowls. In addition, he has captured six Big Ten championships, including the last five (he has won three outright and three shared).
And if the topic is “Jim Tressel as a big-game coach” his four I-AA national championships in 15 years at Youngstown State can’t be ignored either. Sure, that has nothing to do with Ohio State, but we’re talking about the merits of Tressel as a coach. During his years at OSU – coupled with his years at YSU – the facts prove he’s been a good big-game coach. Not always great, but certainly good.
And speaking of Youngstown State, how was that program before he arrived? Moribund. How have the Penguins done since he’s left? Not good at all.
But back to the original point: If you examine the facts, look back on the point spreads of the OSU-UM games that Tressel has coached in – specifically the first seven years – it’s a complete myth that he beat up on a bunch of bad Michigan teams.
Source: Bucknuts.com, October 28, 2010
By, Dave Biddle
Article Link: The Myth That Tressel Only Beats Up On Bad Michigan Teams
Special teams need new attitude
Ohio State still might be undefeated, ranked No.1 and on track for the national championship game if only the Buckeyes had pounded Wisconsin into powder during the time it took to read this sentence.
The Badgers opened last Saturday's game with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 12-second flash-point of momentum that they used to open a 21-0 lead on the way to an eventual 31-18 win in Camp Randall Stadium.
Common sense says the kick return to the house should not have happened, just as the kick and punt returns for touchdowns should not have happened against the University of Miami in Week 2.
Then again, what does common sense know? It might be guilty of allowing the miscues in the first place.
You will hear Ohio State's coaches explain that what caused the devastating kick returns - and as a result why OSU is ranked 92nd in kickoff coverage and 114th in punt return yardage allowed - were a series of mistakes in which certain players were cleared from lanes or overshot their gap responsibilities. Those are true and logical assessments. But logic will not solve the recurring issue that began to crop up last season and continues to plague the Buckeyes in 2010.
There is deeper distress here, something that cannot be solved completely by taking a practical approach to special teams play. More important than where a player should be on the field is what he should be. A sledgehammer looking to turn granite into dust.
"You've got to be a little crazy," said Donnie Nickey, the former Ohio State safety who has played on specials teams since joining the Tennessee Titans in 2003. "You have to turn your common sense off and be willing to run into a wall. That's how I've made my living."
It's also how the Buckeyes need to make their living the rest of the season and beyond; otherwise their coverage teams will always be a weak link.
Nickey, who has served as the Titans' special teams captain the past two seasons, dismisses the notion that OSU's struggles are an anomaly, that a few tweaks will fix everthing. Despite watching from a distance and having no inside knowledge, Nickey knows problems exist when the Buckeyes allow three returns for touchdowns in a six-game span.
"Every return and kickoff (unit) can be exposed, but you've got to be able take a punch and then counter-punch," he said, adding that aggressive special teams play becomes a mind-set that manifests itself in the group imposing its will on the opponent.
For instance, during film study it's obvious which teams like to finesse block and which like to be "a bunch of maulers."
"And the ones who don't have physical players are soft," Nickey said.
It should be pointed out that "soft" is a relative term. No player can reach the NFL by being afraid to hit or be hit. But there is a fine line between hoping to tackle and ball carrier and hunting him.
"On kickoff it is an excuse, a license to kill," Nickey said. "A license to run 50 yards and smash into somebody else. It's unlike any other play in football, and really any other sport. You've got to love it and thrive off it."
You also have to understand the importance of it, that playing on special teams is not being banished to B-list football, but that it is a legitimate one-third of the game.
Whether the Buckeyes have embraced that notion is open to speculation, but the hunch here is the kick coverage team needs a wake-up call. Kickoff coverage coach Paul Haynes said Wednesday that personnel changes would be made. Presumably, that means adding some position starters to the current mix of mostly backups.
Nickey favors that approach, explaining that veteran players better understand the importance of special teams. He started on special teams for the Buckeyes as a senior in 2002 and said leadership is crucial to building a special teams identity.
"The more starters who want to play on special teams the better," he said, adding that the reward outweighs the risk of losing starters to injury. "You want buy in, and if the starters play then the younger guys will buy in."
The final piece is coaching. Nickey puts any blame for special teams gaffes squarely on the players, but he thinks it would be better for the Buckeyes to employ a specific special teams coach instead of the current method of using position coaches to work with each special teams unit.
"It's more efficient and helps create identity for that unit," he said.
More than anything, the Buckeyes' special teams units need to be become more incensed than common sensed. Or else those 12 seconds of Wisconsin misery will replay themselves more often than they should.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, October 23, 2010
By, Rob Oller, a sports reporter for The Dispatch.
Article Link: Rob Oller commentary: Special teams need new attitude Contact: Rob Oller
That’s not a lesson from health class—that’s the lesson the Ohio State Buckeyes should have learned Oct. 16, when the Wisconsin Badgers punched them in the mouth on the way to a 31-18 manhandling of the now-former No. 1 Bucks.
Although a person with a sweet tooth might enjoy a good cupcake every now and then, any nutritionist with a pulse will tell you that overdoing it in the cupcake department is hazardous to your health.
The same principle applies to a college football team like Ohio State.
While cupcakes are fun to play, and provide a sweet, savory ego boost, playing too many of them in a given season is unhealthy to an alleged elite team in the long run. In other words, drubbing the powerhouses of Marshall, Ohio University, and Eastern Michigan likely did more damage than good to Ohio State’s 2010 season.
While these wins were dominant and likely fun for Ohio State, they really did nothing to prepare the Buckeyes for a team like Wisconsin. If Ohio State takes anything away from this loss, it should be this: Consider scheduling more quality opponents so that it can be more prepared when a team of equal or more talent—like the Badgers—comes into a game ready to bring a good fight.
Let’s apply this to a “real world” setting for a minute. If you’re going to the gym regularly, and your goal is to bench press 225 pounds, you wouldn’t keep pressing 185 on a regular basis without adding heavier weight, right?
No. You’d keep challenging yourself by adding increments that would help you get strong enough to break that coveted 225-pound barrier. Doing a weight well below your capability does you no good when you tackle the heavier stuff.
Thus, you an easily see why Ohio State was ill-prepared for a team like Wisconsin. You simply can’t put up your best fight against stout competition if you’re not accustomed to playing said competition on a regular basis.
Sure, it’s fun to thump your middle-school aged cousin 20-9 in a game of one-on-one basketball; but, while it makes you feel better about yourself, it leaves you vulnerable to the type of rude awakening the Badgers gave the Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium if someone of equal or more skill comes and challenges you to a game.
That’s why powerhouse teams like Ohio State should be scheduling the other big boys more often than they do these cupcake teams. Sure, Ohio State risks losing a game or two out of conference, and even sacrifices a national title if it loses those games.
Still, it’s worth it in the long run for the Buckeyes because they’d be less likely to be taken by surprise when they encounter a team that’ll not only punch back at them, but also might deliver the first punch, like Wisconsin did.
I’m aware that most games are scheduled years in advance, so a cupcake here and there is fine—both in real life and in football (although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I’m the anomaly here). Still, cupcakes can be the ultimate deceivers, since a team who pigs out on too many is lulled into a false sense of security and self-worth in that it might think it‘s prepared for all levels of competition when, in reality, it isn‘t.
Fans can nitpick and find some of the glaring issues with this Buckeyes group, such as a weak special teams or a defense that seems more frustrated than focused. Yet the main problem is that these guys can’t be reasonably expected to improve or rise to a challenge like a night game against Wisconsin when they aren’t tested by good competition on a weekly basis.
I’m a firm believer that wins over teams like Youngstown State, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, and so forth cost Ohio State a couple of potential national championships because those teams didn’t provide the type of competition a Florida or a LSU did.
The cupcake-heavy diet was destructive in 2006 and 2007, and it looks like it has already created some indigestion in 2010.
Maybe it’s time Ohio State went through future schedules and cut the sweets from its yearly diet, or else the effects will linger longer than the team and its fans wish.
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I remember Woody
When Woody Hayes wheeled his Chevy into Glenn Webb's Shell Station in West Jefferson, Ohio, he paid scant attention to the loitering locals, the scrawny kid resting his back against the Coke machine. But the kid noticed him, and so did the locals. With the possible exception of an occasional horrific wreck on Rt. 40, not much stirred in the Madison County hamlet. So when Woody Hayes, the Woody Hayes, pulled in for a fill-up on that lazy summer day in 1963, the news traveled up Main St. to Smitty's bar before the coach's gas tank was half-filled and was already old gossip at Doc Mellott's Rexall by the time Glenn had scrubbed the last dead bug from the coach's windshield.
Sideling up to the car, the kid peeked into the window at a back seat buried beneath a pile of helmets and pads. It was proof sufficient. Timidly, he made his way around to the driver's side.
"Are you Woody Hayes?" he asked the thickset driver in the white short-sleeved shirt.
The coach turned slowly to size up a youth whose name would never appear on his recruiting schedule. He formed a fat, fearsome-looking fist, then slowly flexed his arm until a great hummock of bicep was the only thing that stood between his grin and his gape-mouthed admirer.
"What do you think?" Woody asked, nodding toward the muscle.
Woody Hayes began his college coaching career in 1946, the year I was born. By the time I was ready for kindergarten, he had finished his apprenticeship at Denison University in Granville and Miami University in Oxford and was preparing his first Ohio State team.
I grew up with the legend, learned of Hayes the way a catechumen learns certain immutable tenets of the faith. Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Ohio State, football, Woody Hayes.
In the vacant lot next to the Church of God, where autumn afternoons were given over to pick-up games of football, there was not a child in the neighborhood who didn't nurture the dream of one day playing in Ohio Stadium for Woody. I was no exception.
In the twilight, when the field was empty of all the players but me, I would toss the football high into the air and pretend that I was receiving the kickoff for Ohio State. The Buckeyes were down by 3 points with 10 seconds remaining in the game. Mimicking the game announcer's hysteric crescendo as I broke tackle after tackle, I would run the length of the field, untouched by the parked church bus as the clock ran out. Humbly, I accepted the game ball from Woody, my post-game press conference cut short by a familiar summons to get my tail home and scrub up for supper.
By the time I turned 11, I was hawking game-day newspapers outside Ohio Stadium, enviously eyeing boys fortunate enough to have tickets, trying to decipher my own play-by-play of the action going on inside by interpreting the roar of the crowd. I would not make it inside the stadium gates until I enrolled at OSU many years later.
In my youth, my opinion of Woody Hayes was a mixture of personal awe coupled with the echo of comments voiced by my father and his cronies as they sat around the radio nursing longneck Strohs and listening to the game. To them, Woody was half prophet, half good ol' boy - Moses with Charlie Weaver's voice. It was not that they thought him above reproach, for their hindsight refinements of the plays Woody called were always good for another six-pack after the game was finished. Years later I would recall my father's post-game dressing down of Woody, aimed, as it was, at the radio speaker of the Philco. I was seated in the stadium watching the coach as he paced the sideline studying what appeared to be an index card. He called three consecutive power slants into the line, gaining four or five yards at the most. The punting team ran onto the field, and Woody was still contemplating the card when the fan seated next to me shouted, "Dammit, Woody, turn it over. There's plays on the other side."
Woody Hayes and Ohio State football were congenitally joined at the hip; yet, the first time I personally heard him speak in public, it had nothing to do with the game. It was the spring of 1970. My first quarter as a freshman at Ohio State was about to be cut short by the campus riots. The Oval was filled with strikers, gawkers and campus cops. Some firebrand revolutionary who wouldn't have known Lenin from Irving Berlin was admonishing the crowd to seize the moment as they chanted, "On strike! Shut it down!" There in the throng, sandwiched amid the tie-dye revolutionaries, stood Woody Hayes. Arms folded across his chest, he listened quietly to several speakers until one of the organizers spotted him and summoned him to the platform.
To the strikers, it was intended to be a moment of high camp. They had spotted Quasimodo in the bell tower and hauled him down to make sport of him.
As Woody stepped to the microphone to catcalls and hisses, the strikers taunted, "First and ten, do it again. First and ten, do it again."
I can't remember precisely what he said, but it had something to do with sportsmanship and fairness as those ideals applied to the crisis at hand. It was an appeal to reason squandered on a group to whom Woody represented the father who never liked their politics, their hair or their music.
Of the myriad of feelings I had experienced growing up with Woody, pity was a new one. How, I wondered, could he ever have imagined that a fatherly pep talk would have calmed that hellbent rabble?
The years passed. The campus revolutionaries traded their hash pipes for rep ties and became accountants. Their ideals had changed. Woody's hadn't. I disagreed with the man's politics, was embarrassed by his tantrums and thought simplistic his diatribes on why society was going to hell in a handbasket. But I felt none of those things strongly enough to give up my football tickets. I had ceased thinking of him as a father figure, regarding him more critically as a distant, eccentric uncle who, though hugely entertaining on Saturday afternoons, nonetheless had to be explained to out-of-towners unaccustomed to his ways.
I was watching the Gator Bowl at a friend's house in 1978 the night Woody took the swing that ended his career. He went down, a writer friend of mine observed, like Melville's Ahab, a man pinioned to his obsession. It was sad. All of my life, he had been bigger than life. I was not merely witnessing a man losing his job. Popes are supposed to remain popes till they die.
I fully expected Woody to become an embittered recluse, whiling away his last days watching old game films in a darkened room like some latter-day Philip Nolan in E.E. Hale's The Man Without a Country.
He did not, and, peculiarly, what transformed him from exile to elder statesman was his tenacious hold on the values and ideals I had thought so shallow on that spring day when he took on several hundred campus protesters.
Compensation. The pay-forward theory. It had seemed like some flimsy platitude penned by a greeting card company for a high school graduation card. Not for Woody. He lived it, breathed it.
I saw him for the last time less than a month before he died. We had pulled duty on the same charity phonathon. My shift ended just as his was beginning. As he inched his way in from the parking lot on his walker, the topcoat he once filled flapped loosely against a body that seemed to be hanging on by sheer determination of will.
As he approached the phonathon area, a clown who had been passing out balloons whipped a kazoo from his pocket and piped the coach aboard with Across the Field. It was a moment both tender and sad, but Woody smiled a "thank-you" at the guy, paused to grab a snatch of breath and then, fixing his eyes on something down the hallway that seemed to have eluded everyone but him, marched determinedly on.
Source: Columbus Dispatch Wednesday, October 13, 2010 (Originally Published April 12, 1987)
by Mike Harden
Article Link: I remember Woody