“There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.”- St. Woody
Over the past few months, the news swirling and trickling out of Columbus has been a slow, tortuous experience for Buckeye fans. Described as either “death by papercut” or “dripping water torture”, it’s resulted in many members of a passionate fanbase to react in interesting ways. Some respond aggressively- questioning the media that’s reporting each new and “new” detail of the ongoing situation. Others choose to redirect their attention- choosing to focus instead on the stellar performances from the Men’s Volleyball, Tennis, Baseball, and Track teams as well as the work being done by the Women’s track and field squad. Still another group has adopted a “bunker mentality”; choosing to hunker down and lay low by not engaging media or talk at the watercooler until it’s all blown over… whenever that may be.
I tend to vacillate between all three of these; I question the media’s selective attentiveness to the Ohio State story at the expense of others, I was among the first to text my Volleyball (and Penn State fan) friends when the Bucks took the trophy, and I gave up watching ESPN for Lent and haven’t gone back (I’ve got twitter… what else do you need these days?).
But I’ve got a word of truth for all three groups of people and those who fall somewhere in between: This is not horrific, and may in fact be one of the best things to ever happen to Ohio State’s Athletic Department.
In their March 2011 edition, Consumer Reports talked about heath threats their readers faced. The one suggestion that continued to come to the forefront was the responsibility of each person to be proactive with their health- to take charge of being sure that they are well and their bodies are getting the attention that they need. The issue talks about how frequently people avoid going to the physician, and that this is often due to a fear of what might be discovered. However, this attitude is what makes an easily addressed situation turn into something life threatening.
The athletic department at Ohio State University agrees with the idea that an unexamined life is not worth living, and values the process of ensuring that they are compliant with NCAA rules and regulations. Following the 2004 investigation, the University has been incredibly proactive in addressing and reporting issues as they arise- it’s well documented that OSU self reports more than any other NCAA program. In fact, the current matter was discovered by the University in search into unrelated issues; yet they chose to report it and deal with it in a way that is corrective.
A quick word about self reporting- in many ways, it’s a “no-win” situation for people outside of the program. If you do it, you are seen as “dirty” (“Look at all the problems that they have!”) and you give people a reason to doubt your integrity. If you don’t self monitor and self report, when something comes up it’s usually of a larger magnitude and the national response is “You should have your stuff together!!!”
Self reporting opens a Pandora’s box in many ways… that is, unless you don’t care about what other people think, and are worried more about doing things the right way. If that’s the case, then the choice seems relatively clear.
I’m not saying that what happened is not a big deal; it is, as a violation of NCAA guidelines and University mission. I’m also not excusing the parties involved from any responsibilities, as accountability is a big part of this matter. It makes sense, though, why institutions would choose to not monitor closely or to be selective about what they pay attention to. Like the folks who fear the doctor, there’s always the chance that you might find out something you don’t want to know. Or, as Tolkien said-
There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.
And while I won’t go so far as to say “NCAA violations happen everywhere” (since I have no proof for every institution), let me express a personal experience. I was part of a Division 3 (non-scholarship) program, both as a student athlete and as a coach. While there, I knew what restaurants in town were owned by friends of the program (former players or alumni) where the “special” might come at a lower than usual price (although never free). I was also aware of teammates or others who were referred to certain housing arrangements where the owner would “work with you” because of their connection to the University.
Was this a violation due to improper benefits, or could any student have received these allowances? How do you balance helping a student out and breaking the rules? I don’t know and thus can’t say, but it seems to me that if there are little things happening at less than successful small programs, then it might not be such a large leap to assume that the questions and issues would increase with the size of the program and the amount of prestige and money involved.
And that’s why the University’s stance on this is the correct one. To manage such an enormous number of student athletes as they navigate through both adolescence and the labyrinthine regulations of the NCAA requires both insight and fortitude, as well as the willingness to shine light on problems when they occur. It’s why this story was “discovered” by Yahoo and not “broken” by them. It’s why the compliance office is reviewing the automotive transactions (not because of the Dispatch’s work). And, it’s why I’m confident that, even if another story happens to come out the University will maintain the course and deal with it in a way that’s consistent and educational.
Ohio State fans and alumni want to follow a program that is above reproach, and that wins the right way. It’s obvious that our perception that this has been the case may have been misguided, even if only for an isolated incident. However, it doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t be the goal, and this investigation process is one of the surest ways to correct the problems and return the program to where we’d all want it to be.
Empty the Bandwagon
I live in Los Angeles, and although we’ve had a relatively wet and mild spring, there’s one thing that hasn’t seemed to bloom this year: Laker Flags.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though- this is the same set of folks who made it easy to get USC tickets this year- transplants from other places and hangers on who like the idea of a winner but struggle to find a reason to connect with a team or franchise that is facing some challenges.
I realize that my take on this may be a little uneven, particularly since I’m not an actual alumni of The University like the majority of the staff here. However, it is fair to state that the Buckeyes have become somewhat of a “national brand” for some amazing reasons. But with that success comes a fair share of fans and followers who don’t remember Earle Bruce and John Cooper, who couldn’t talk about Chic Harley’s importance, and don’t know why the University’s legacy and traditions are what they are- and why these things are all infinitely important to a large number of people.
A lot of current Buckeye fans may be the types of folks who loved UNLV and Michigan basketball, Miami football, and cheer for the Yankees/Cowboys/and the aforementioned Lakers. All fan bases have these, but it’s unquestionable that the successes of a team or program will greatly increase their numbers. People want to be affiliated with a winner- what’s more challenging is to stay with something once the sea gets stormy.
A final thought- Amongst the things that I hated about TSUN is the fact that they were one of Nike’s early “national brands”. People were intrigued by the Fab 5 (in spite of their style over substance realities), and you could walk into a Finish Line anywhere in the country to find Michigan gear for sale. Even during my time in Lexington, the four schools that dominated sporting goods stores were UK, Louisville, UNC, and Michigan… even though these last two were huge rivals for the WildKats during this time. It was more of a fashion decision than a commitment to an institution.
If you’re a Buckeye fan this is not a bad thing, in that it helps spread the scarlet and gray love and provides opportunities for the University to be better known… and there are a lot of great things for people to be excited about at Ohio State. But for those folks who only want to be a Buckeye when it’s easy or convenient, well… There’s another fanbase that’s better suited for your allegiance.
The Bigger Picture
On Sunday, May 22, we all woke up. Well, at least all of the people reading this post- tBBC hasn’t historically done very well with the zombie demographic. We awoke in spite of the fact that, across the United States, there were those that believed that 6:00 pm on May 21st was the beginning of the end of the world. Which, of course, is ridiculous, since we all know that’s not until 12.21.12.
There are those who would tell you that the end of the Buckeye world (and thereby rapture for everyone else) also comes with dates: June 5 (University’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations), August 12 (Jim Tressel’s hearing before the NCAA), and November something (the NCAA’s response to both). But, like May 22, the sun will come up after each of these dates pass (unless it’s still raining in Columbus).
This is dangerous territory, here. Of all people, we at tBBC understand the influence and excitement that people can have around a particular sports team. Heck, we exist because of it- for us and for you. What other purpose would we have to follow 16-23 year olds as they participate in recreational activities- other purpose that wouldn’t involve Chris Hansen, that is. If there were no sports, life would be significantly less rich… until we found something else to spend our time on.
But the truth is that very few of us will (or should) have lost something of infinite significance even if the bannest of ban hammers drops following this process. We will still have our families, our jobs, our lives, our passions. My kids will still find me tolerably funny, and my wife will still patiently open windows after chili night. Life will move on.
Does that mean that we should fatalistically resign ourselves to nothingness, and turn into sad pandas and emo kids? Nope, but it does mean that we should work to keep perspective about all of this… Ohio State sports is important, but it’s not the only thing. We’ve heard that somewhere before, I think…
We began this series of articles by using the metaphor of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire as a point of reference for our discussion of the current state of Buckeye affairs. As such, it may be relevant to continue the story- While the Roman Empire, as a political and military entity has ceased to exist, many historians believe that the Constantinian transition to a political and religious empire actually expanded and strengthened their legacy and control.
While not a perfect metaphor (the Holy Catholic Church still faces numerous struggles with their purpose and integrity), the fact of the matter is that what was Rome is now an integral part of multiple nations and peoples, several thousand years after the “last” battle was fought.
No, Ohio State and their fans need not fear the present or the future- if they find and follow their mission, if they are surrounded by people who support and hold the school and it’s athletics to the highest standards, then every day will continue to be a good one to be a Buckeye.