Come inside, the show's about the start;
Guaranteed to blow your head apart.
-- Emerson, Lake & Palmer
At the risk of sounding flip, I'd say these are tough times to be a fan of Ohio State sports. I do not need to remind everyone of what has unfolded over the last few months, and the reason is that it has been covered ad nauseam by every media outlet short of Pravda. Since many of my friends know that I write for this site, I have frequently been approached and asked my feelings about the matter.
As a younger man, I probably responded to questions like these with a combination of annoyance and scorn, but I'd like to think I've matured somewhat over the years. These days I tend to take a more pragmatic approach. I usually ask myself two questions: does it change what college team I root for and does it change my feelings about the person(s) involved in the incident(s) in question. The answer to the first one is always an unqualified "NO" and the answer to the second is either that or a qualified "we'll see how this turns out".
However, I have some friends who are not quite as philosophical about it. One of them told me tonight "I blame ESPN". Of course, this is not a new thought; many fans (including more than a few commentors here) have echoed that sentiment. While I would certainly not want to shift the blame for this unfortunate series of events from the perpetrators over to a group of individuals who merely report the events, there is a sense of frustration brewing among OSU fans toward the boys in Bristol.
For some time, the quality of the college football analysis on "the worldwide leader" has been in decline. As much as I respect Lou Holtz for his football knowledge, at this point in his life he is mostly there for comic relief. We have talked at length on this site about our issues with Kirk Herbstreit, and I probably do not need to go in depth about Mark May's shortcomings. Still, I have a feeling that there is something bigger going on there than just the inability to find intelligent commentators.
I've always thought that Herbie tries too hard to not sound like an OSU homer. It is obvious that he wants to be liked, and wearing your love for the Buckeyes on your sleeve would apparently not serve that purpose. In trying to sound objective, in bending over backward to avoid any appearance of favoritism, he ends up coming off as hostile to his alma mater. It may have started out innocently, but I am convinced that now it is deliberate and it is encouraged by his bosses.
In general, the ESPN college football commentators try too hard to act like they know everything, and as a result it comes off as trying to cover their weakness in terms of football knowledge. Take a guy like Desmond Howard. Please. Just the other day, Howard was quoted as saying that if Woody Hayes was alive today, he would punch Jim Tressel in the throat. He went on to say that he didn't think Rich Rodriguez was a bad guy. The homerism is almost excusable, but the part about Woody is over the line. It's doubtful that Howard even remembers Woody. Talk about Bo Schembechler all you want, but leave our guy out of the conversation.
Actually, if Woody was alive today, I'm sure he would punch someone, just not Jim Tressel. Should it be Howard, or his bosses who most likely encouraged him? OSU's success under Jim Tressel put the program on a pedestal and it is a fact that many people around the country want to see them fall, and fall hard. ESPN, not wanting to let a good opportunity go to waste, is pouring it on trying to milk this investigation for all it's worth.
There is nothing new in all of this. During Ohio State's improbable championship run back in 2002, former analyst Trev Alberts relentlessly bashed the team until he finally had to admit at the end that they had earned their title. During that time, Mark May seemed reasonable by comparison. When Alberts left the network, May took up the villain's mask and became the resident OSU hacker. It's sort of like the world of professional wrestling, where a guy who is a hero one day can be a villain the next, and vice versa. That is what college football analysis has come to: a world of heros and villains, good guys and bad guys. It's all just a scripted show, full of artificial drama and fireworks thrown in for excitement.
As with the WWE, if you just suspend the idea that what you are seeing is honest and real, you can actually enjoy the show. Root for the good guys and against the bad guys. And make sure you let out a hearty "Booo!!!" when the bad guy's manager secretly knocks out the good guy when the referee is not looking. While watching College Gameday this fall, make sure you cheer when Herbie comes on and curse when you see Mark May. It's what you're expected to do; it's all part of the show, just like the applause sign at the set of the Tonight Show.
And the next time Desmond Howard says something idiotic (just wait a few minutes), try to respond on cue. Make sure to laugh when Lou spins a yarn about his coaching days; make sure to get all misty-eyed when Golic waxes nostalgic about his days as a "golden domer". As you watch OSU play on ESPN, make sure you grind your teeth when they mention the suspended players about 50 times. After all, it's more interesting than listening to Bob Griese.
I suppose I shouldn't be expecting serious analysis; I should acknowledge the fact that the network long ago shed the sleepy image of objectivity in favor of sexy reporters and artificial controversy. And since they are apparently not ashamed about their own dirty laundry being aired, we should expect double the exposure when it comes to ours. So I guess I'll keep my pragmatic attitude for now, if for no other reason than I don't have time to keep up on who the current heros and villains are.