Look to the past and remember no empire rises that sooner or later won’t fall.– Al Stewart
This is the summer of our discontent- the dreaded “off season” that brings with it a lack of coverage for stories about life on the field, and instead finds the 24 hour news cycle filled with rumor, speculation, innuendo rather than stats or previews of upcoming contests. When it’s good, it’s good (see last year’s expansion excitement) and when it’s bad, it’s awful… mostly because it seems to be ever present.
Before we get any further, I need to clarify that yes, there is a question mark in this post’s title. I am not suggesting that Buckeye Nation has ended; as loudly as those in the media and other fan bases and even some of those on campus are calling for scorched earth along the Olentangy, THE Ohio State University has and will survive whatever will come from the current trials and investigations.
However, it would also be naive to believe that the state of things is not going to change. The Buckeyes have enjoyed a lengthy period of success, have weathered more than a few storms (Clarett saga, 2006, ’07 Bowl games; basketball issues in the 90’s), and currently find themselves at the top of the heap, both in the Conference and nationally. Ohio State fans have enjoyed almost unprecedented success over our arch rival; enough that we are able to overlook some of the struggles against big game opposition. Even without the things that I hope to address, it’s unlikely that this would continue forever- there’s a season for everything, and all that.
Just look at the landscape of college sports- Army used to be a national football power. Indiana and UCLA were at one time the pinnacles of college basketball. The programs that I grew up seeing on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Miami, Florida State, UNLV, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma) have all gone through (or are going through) falls from the grace and glory that they once held. Heck, even the mighty Longhorns just went from a National Title berth to their worst record in memory. Nothing gold can stay.
Some of this is a sign of the times– once you’re at the top of the heap, there are those who revel in bringing you down. And, it’s quite possible that their zenith was due to false foundations; that it was only a moment in time before the house of cards crumbled (think UNLV basketball). However, it’s also possible that we live in a time where it’s more “newsworthy” to see something destroyed than it is to see something established and tended- look no further than every teen pop “idol” that is force fed to us by the very media that then devotes time to covering (creating?) their collapse.
In college football, the current teams under investigation, probation, or allegations reads like a “who’s who” of the BCS: Ohio State, USC, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, LSU, Boise State, Michigan, Texas A&M. If you include other programs making “news” for the wrong reasons, then the list grows to include Florida, Penn State, and Notre Dame.
For some fans, this is indicative of the entire system being broken. Honestly, there are times that I fall firmly in this camp, particularly from the standpoint of “how does this all fit into a culture that’s supposed to be about academic excellence and education?” For others, this is nothing more than “outsiders” and people who just don’t “get it”. And another group of people has learned to deal with the fact that this comes with the territory- It is what it is, so just roll with it. Celebrate your favorite squadron’s successes, mock others’ failures, and pray that it doesn’t happen too close to you.
I believe, though, that there are a multiplicity of factors that may be signaling that the change we dread is on the way sooner rather than later, and I believe that it’s as important to think about those as it is to follow the “future” of the program while they’re still playing high school sports. So over the next few posts, I want to look at three of the things that I believe will change the place and status of “The Empire”, beginning with the most obvious one.
While the metaphor of the Fall of the Roman Empire may be a tired one, there is currently a bit of a comparison that I believe matches well with what’s going on within the WHAC. Many historians believe that the fall of Rome was hastened not by the Visigoths or other hordes, but was instead due to the corruption and infighting that occurred as various persons vied for the emperor title, or worked to create a new system of governance. At any rate, Rome fell from within.
It’s a pretty easy connection to make if you read the current state of affairs. What started as an unfortunate “quid pro quo” regarding improper benefits has now blossomed to the point where a coverup/failure to disclose scandal threatens the head coach with the highest winning percentage in University history. The revelations from Saturday– that Ohio State athletes and their families (from more sports than football) purchase automobiles from a dealer with a preponderance of memorabilia on his walls; that athletes were directed to this dealer by the compliance office who has cleared every purchase; that this dealer was a frequent “guest” at bowl games; that one particular salesman was responsible for Terrelle Pryor’s numerous loaner cars- expand the issue beyond just the football program and coach. There’s “lack of institutional control” being tossed about, and given the pittance that Boise State did to warrant that title, concern about that is completely understandable. Could this be, in the thoughts of the Golden Bear, a much larger situation that was shouldered by the players first and the coach second in order to avoid the direst of consequences?
The questions for Buckeye fans are myriad- Is this indicative of a larger problem in the athletic department? Remember allegations from Clarett and others, or stories from Buckeyes from past coaching administrations that these types of things are not unusual. Is that true? Or is this merely an outlier of behavior, full of sound and fury? If true, does it mean that Ohio State is sending checks to people’s houses on University bankroll or dropping large bags of cash off for them? Or does it merely mean that the University has done a poor job of monitoring the program… or a really good job at looking the other way?
Unfortunately, we may never truly know. Sure, the University will respond to the Notice of Allegations in July (and hopefully release that document), and the NCAA will respond to this situation some time after the August hearing. But even that may not be enough for some folks- the NCAA responded to the MoC debate with a “Nope, we got nothing” and it’s still item number one for some fans and media. Given the current allegations, perhaps the NCAA missed something and these fans were right. Or, perhaps the fact of the matter is that there are some people who find any opportunity to see the dark side of anything not related to their current preference.
Nevertheless, the decisions that have been made and will be made are one of the “threats” to the state of existence for Ohio State sports. However you might feel about the persons reporting these matters or their “bias” and “hypocrisy”, the fact of the matter is that any cracks within the Buckeye athletic department’s foundation are due to internal problems- either intentionally or via disregard.
Again, this is not to say that any of these allegations or situations will result in the NCAA’s hammer or the termination/resignation of any current staff member. It’s quite possible that the situations under review are not tips of icebergs, but are individual issues that will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
But even with that, Ohio State fans are coming to grips with the possibility of significant changes in their alma mater/favorite program, and should be ready for a transition of some sort within the coming months.
Next- Two other factors that might impact the Buckeyes’ status in the world of college football.
Coming- Why this is neither the end of the world nor a bad thing.