Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How an "overly unfair" penalty hurts Ohio State

Loathe him or respect him, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith always provides quality sound bites when pressed on issues related to college athletics.

Smith's candid side emerged Wednesday during an interview on the "Bull & Fox" show on WKRK-FM 92.3.

The biggest profit generator in Smith's athletic department found itself in an odd spot last season. Ohio State's football team went 12-0 and didn't participate in the Big Ten title or a bowl game because of a one-year NCAA-mandated postseason ban. A cash-for-tattoo scandal involving former Coach Jim Tressel and some of his players peeved the NCAA. Penalties also included the reduction of scholarships from 85 to 82 for three straight years beginning in 2012.

The NCAA announced its decision on Dec. 20, 2011. The magnitude of the penalty still disappoints Smith, who kept his job despite the scandal.

"I still think that was unfair," Smith said. "There was no precedence for it. I think we got trapped in a transition of the enforcement staff and leadership at the NCAA trying to be more harsh, just like I feel about the Penn State case. I think it was overly harsh."

Ohio State's penalty looks like detention compared to what the NCAA levied against Penn State. The Buckeyes' Big Ten rival received a four-year bowl ban, massive scholarship reductions and a $60 million fine in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

The penalties severely damage Penn State's chances of competing at an elite level in the neat future. But they also damage Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are poised to become a national title contender under Urban Meyer. Playing for a BCS title this season and qualifying for future four-team playoffs will require victories over quality opponents. Penn State went 8-4 last season, a solid mark considering the chaos caused by the sanctions last summer. The sanctions, though, will likely prevent Penn State from creeping into the top 15.

Ohio State's 2013 non-conference schedule includes four clunkers, and the Buckeyes escape Nebraska and Michigan State in Big Ten crossover play this season. Virginia Tech is on the 2014 and  '15 schedules. Ohio State plays Oklahoma in 2016. But there's no guarantee the Big Ten will correct some of its self-inflicted football problems in the next four years.

Penn State doesn't leave Ohio State's future schedules, which is overly fair because the series is one of college football's best.

So what's "overly unfair" for Penn State isn't good for Ohio State, either. And Smith will subtly tell you this.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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