Columns » End Zone

Buckeyes should skip 2011

End Zone



Think about Ohio State football, and you automatically should dial in countless memories. So many great players, so many games against Michigan, so many bowls with national titles at stake. And so much tradition, from the fight song and the Ohio Stadium "horseshoe" to even the marching band dotting that "i" in Ohio.

Yet, these days, the mention of Ohio State instead sends my thoughts in two other directions. Disgraceful directions.

There's the legendary head coach, Woody Hayes, punching Clemson player Charlie Bauman late in the Gator Bowl of 1978 after a pass interception sealed OSU's defeat, then Hayes being fired afterward.

Now, Jim Tressel, after a decade of standing out nationally for his supposed high standards and ethics, resigning after weeks of accumulating revelations that he and his program instead had been a monument to greed, immorality and hypocrisy.

Ohio State, a paragon of college football success, now has joined a new kind of honor roll. Make that dishonor. Think of programs that, in one way or another, ignored the rules en route to seeking a permanent place among the nation's football elite.

Southern Cal. Alabama. LSU. Michigan. Miami. Tennessee. Florida State. North Carolina. There are more, but you get the point. Auburn and Oregon could join the group, if ongoing investigations prove fruitful.

And now, Ohio State and Tressel. But in its zeal to ward off the NCAA posse, OSU has made another serious mistake. The school dumped Tressel but kept the rest of his staff, elevating defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to interim head coach.

Wrong move. Forget the timing. Everyone on Tressel's staff had to know, or should have known, what was going on. Everyone should be singled out now, as we learn how deep and long-lasting the troubles have been. Not just one small group of misbehaving players, as OSU athletic director Gene Smith insisted months ago (which means he should lose his job now, too).

According to thorough investigative work by media, this business of selling and/or trading memorabilia and autographs for services and illegal benefits, not to mention the sweet car deals for athletes and their families, has been ongoing for years.

It might be a crazy time to fire an entire staff and start over, but that's what Ohio State must do. In fact, perhaps the housecleaning should start with Ohio State's bowtie-wearing president Gordon Gee (yes, the same Gordon Gee who was president of the University of Colorado two decades ago).

This was not about just the head coach. OSU's whole program has lost its way. Consider: Its athletic department includes a staff of six — six! — people whose jobs are solely in compliance, making sure the school follows NCAA regulations. That's damning all by itself, considering what's been happening there in broad daylight.

As a result, the Buckeyes should be forced to shut down for the 2011 season. Not a full-blown NCAA death penalty, but one year of no games, no bowls, no TV revenue, no nothing. It's the only outcome that makes sense now.

Ohio State could've avoided this by replacing Tressel months ago. Now, it would mean hiring somebody else's head coach, totally disrupting another school's program just weeks from the start of preseason workouts. That wouldn't be fair.

Ohio State made this bed, and now the Buckeyes must lie in it.

Beyond next season, OSU must try to find a new head coach whose ethics would be impeccable, and who never has been associated with NCAA rule-bending. Start with the service academies: Air Force's Troy Calhoun, Navy's Ken Niumatalolo, Army's Rich Ellerson. Unless the next Ohio State wish list includes at least one of those names, the motives will be questionable. That's not to say the academies are the only schools living totally within the NCAA's boundaries. But it's a start.

Ohio State has an opportunity now to set new standards.

But will it happen? Probably not.

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