So how about those Buckeyes, eh? A top 5 ranking, a top 10 victory and undefeated to boot. Without a whiff of controversy and a legitimate shot at a national title (not just the feverish hopes and dreams of a rabid fan base) this is the Other Ohio State Team. You know, the one that plays at the Schott? The one that doesn’t have an overwhelmed and under-qualified head coach? The one that doesn’t have an incompetent half-man, half-walrus running the offense? Oh good grief, I’m talking about the OSU men’s basketball team.
In a state where football, beer and gravy form a sacred and holy triad perhaps basketball doesn’t really have chance to be much more than an offseason distraction. However, for Buckeye fans seeking some refuge from the mediocrity and sheer suckitude that our football program has provided for us this year, you could do a lot worse than the Buckeye B-Ballers. If for no other reason, you can find yourself a good excuse to wear that $70 Nike Ohio State hoodie this winter. Unless, of course, you want to save it for the Meinke Car Care of Texas Bowl after-party.
Growing up in Ohio you learn several very important sports lesson almost by osmosis. First, it is wholly right and good to drink all day, scream at the television and hug strangers if your team is playing. Second, the words to the chorus of Hang on Sloopy. Third, your team will almost always, always disappoint you. This last axiom has a long and well recorded history in Ohio sports and I will leave the rehashing of it to the inevitable Ohio sports misery montages that ESPN loves to splash on the screen at any remotely related opportunity. You know what I’m talking about.
However, for most of the new millennium, Ohio State sports have provided us a respite from the fog of inevitable failure that always seems blanket our state from the shores of Lake Erie to the banks of the Ohio River. It seems only right that we take a closer look at the legacies of the men who took over at the helms of OSU’s two flagship programs.
There are no shortages of opinions on Jim Tressel. He came back to Columbus in 2001 as a relative unknown though he was an OSU coaching alum under Earl Bruce. He won hearts and minds by all but promising a victory over Michigan and then delivering on that vow for 9 of the next 10 years. He won a national title and got humiliated in two more. He played an infuriating brand of offensive football that was often as conservative as his fashion choices though usually resulted in victories. His Christian-y family values façade surely played well in the living rooms of potential recruits and was met with grudging, eye-rolling acceptance by anyone who had any idea what really went on behind the scenes at any big time college sports programs. Ironically enough, it was this purportedly wholesome image that probably played the biggest role in his eventual disgraced departure from The Ohio State University.
Let me go on the record as saying that I don’t think JT is a bad guy. The worst you could say about him is that he tried to protect his players as if they were his own kids, albeit in an incredibly naïve and stupid way. (How many more scandals do we need before people over the age of 50 realize that emails never really disappear?) I think he should probably still be the coach and that this whole manufactured scandal of players bartering their own possessions got blown way, way out of proportion. That being said, people love to watch the mighty come crashing down especially when there is even a hint of hypocrisy in the air. With every news outlet gleefully reporting on how the seemingly saintly head coach of Ohio State football not only knew but covered up NCAA rules infractions (without so much as a peep about how arbitrary and asinine those rules were) the media shit storm became too much for the ass-covering AD, Gene Smith and the mealy-mouthed President, Gordon Gee. So Jim Tressel was strongly “advised” to retire. So in the end that is his legacy. Not the complete ownership of that school up north or his gaudy .738 winning percentage. Not his team’s appearance in 8 BCS bowls and 3 national title games in 10 years or his 6 conference titles. Just the humiliation of being bitten in the ass by the morals and ethics he claimed to hold so dear.
There is certainly cause for hope in the rehabilitation of Tressel’s image. You don’t need to look much farther than two other iconic head coaches that had close ties to Columbus. If Woody Hayes can punch a player in the throat and Bob Knight can choke his own player (and get away with this) only to go on and become candidates for the Mt. Rushmores of their respective sports, then JT’s little white lie doesn’t seem like such a legacy shattering misstep. Time, after all has a way of whitewashing history. (Just ask Christopher Columbus)
While Tressel’s OSU tale has been written, Thad Matta’s legacy continues to be formed and burnished. Since we poached him from Xavier in 2004 all he has done is win 20+ games every year, play for an NCAA championship, win an NIT championship all while leading his team to the top of a competitive Big Ten conference 4 out of 7 years. He took a program that was wallowing in mediocrity as well as NCAA sanctions and now has them poised to join the discussion of powerhouse programs. He recruits marvelously and aside from questionable hygiene of his gum chewing habits doesn’t seem to have any controversy following him. His team wins more often than the football team (.771 winning percentage) and his players get named in less federal indictments.
The only thing he doesn’t do, sadly, is coach our currently clueless football team. He is building a program that will give Ohio State something that no school outside of Gainesville can boast. Both a perennial football and hoops contender! (Assuming our football team doesn’t slip into a decade long funk like they’ve been experiencing up in Ann Arbor.) That would be quite an accomplishment for a coach who leads a team that is definitely the little brother of High Street.
Ultimately the promise of things to come has to give Thad Matta a leg up on Tressel in the legacy race. While recent events have shown us that you can’t begin to imagine what skeletons might be in the closet, it seems that he does his job well and without the urge to preach his particular brand of basketball purity. (Is there anything more annoying than coaches claiming the “right way” of doing things?)
So when you pull on your Scarlet and Gray this Saturday to watch OSU play dull and uninspired football against a team that managed to find a whole new level of disgrace to sink to, remember that there are Other Buckeyes worth watching too. There is plenty of room on the Thad Matta basketball bandwagon so jump on and enjoy the ride. They promise to be the best show in town, at least until Urban Meyer crosses the Olentangy.
-This was written by Special Contributor Vinay Edwin. Vinay graduated from Ohio State in 2004 after only 4 years and still considers that the biggest mistake of his life. He also writes about traveling and food at vinaystravelblog.blogspot.com.