If somebody were to ever doubt Ohio State is more than a football factory... all they would have to do is hit 315 north off of the 670 innerbelt. Before even leaving the on-ramp, they'd get a glimpse of a six (seven?) story building which appears to be built entirely out of glass. "The Eye and Ear Institute" it declares itself, in big, white letters on the front of the building. (Ohio State Medical's logo is fixed neatly next to the lettering, lest they forget whom the building belonged to).
But, Ohio State isn't done flexing there. If they keep traveling up 315, they'll come across the sprawling empire that E. Gordon Gee has carefully cobbled together over two tenures at the Ohio State University: the OSU medical campus.
The Ohio State Medical Center is already world renowned, and it's nowhere near complete. Driving by it today, there is construction going on everywhere, cranes, detours, et cetera. When its awesomeness is taken in through this scope and coupled with Ohio State's rising academic admission standards... it's easy to see where the elders of Ohio State view the future of the university.
This, of course, isn't news to anybody whose familiar with Ohio State or Columbus. It's also not meant to imply that the Medical Center will overrun the football program within the next decade.
What it does mean, though, is Ohio State's name won't merely depend on the success of the football team anymore. (And some within the university want it this way). As hard as it is for the average Ohio State fan to wrap their mind around (or even believe), Ohio State football doesn't hold the clout it once did within the university. (Sure, Gordon Gee joked he hoped Tressel didn't fire him--but then the gloves came off--it was Tressel who ended getting unceremoniously shoved out the door).
So what does this mean for the future of the football program? Quite simply: how much does winning mean to the University?
I truly believe, if you dig at any program which consistently competes for a national title, there's bound to be some backroom hustles afoot. It's as the 17th century philosopher and revolutionary, Allen Iverson, once so eloquently quilled, "Everybody has a little dirt under the fingernails." It's just the nature of the beast. And let's not forget--it's not just the coaches/programs hustling. Some elite athletes (and their parents) want their piece of the pie they feel they're entitled to. If anybody thinks Terrelle Pryor or Cam Newton were the first athletes to try this ruse, well, I have some ocean front property in Idaho I'd love to sell you.
So what's this to do with the Buckeyes?
Unless Luke Fickell wins a national title (and if the rumors of Joe Bauserman's impending appointment are true--that ain't happening), I just don't see how he'll be retained next year; unless Jim Tressel is mind-controlling him from Upper Arlington. (And listening to some of Luke Fickell's interviews, this scenario can't be ruled out yet).
Urban Meyer will be sitting there for the taking in 2012. His Ohio State roots are well known. If there is any college in the country which has enough gold bricks in its reservoirs to meet Meyer's demands, it's The Ohio State University. Meyer's pedigree is undeniable--he's won two national titles and has proven he has what it takes to topple the fat kingpins of the SEC currently residing over the sport. With that, though, comes Meyer's willingness to push on envelopes... in a manner which is/was less discreet than Tressel's methods. Sure, Meyer and Florida escaped any punitive damage during his tenure; but what could've happened if, say, Channing Crowder had sold a jersey to a drug dealer targeted by the Feds, and not Jacksonville businessmen?
Would these risks be something that Ohio State would be willing to endure if it meant returning Ohio State to perennial national title contendership? Would bringing boss hogg outlaws like Will Hill to campus be worth the windfall of exposure/money of winning national titles?
Before answering that, ponder: say Luke Fickell doesn't flame out, but he guides us to some meaningless win in the Outback Bowl. Sure, Ohio State fans would accept it this year, given all that's went down. But what if Ohio State, instead of bringing in a blue chip like Meyer, just rides the Luke Fickell train out, since they know they'll be insulated against more NCAA infractions? Sure, Ohio State has sold out the Horseshoe during down years before--but could OSU get away with charging $70 a ticket to watch the Buckeyes go 8-4, 7-5, or 9-3 every year? Remember, this is a group which had some of its members calling for Tressel's head LONG before the current scandals.
Would Ohio State sacrifice their spot in the upper echelons of collegiate football in order to avoid the future embarrassment more NCAA sanctions? Or would they be willing to roll the dice on a blue chip coaching candidate and let the NCAA dice fall where they do?
Does one have to bend the rulebook to compete in today's NCAA? Well, I'll let the participants of the last five national title games speak to that.
Personally, I enjoy watching colleges sell their academic souls to chase athletic glory. It's one of my favorite parts of the absurdity surrounding the collegiate athletic system we have here in America.
Remember how Notre Dame fans always played the "WELL WE'RE AN ACTUAL COLLEGE SO WE CAN'T RECRUIT ATHLETES, BECAUSE YOU KNOW, THEY'RE ALL DUMB." Well, they currently have a "pass rusher" who scored a 17 on an ACT. A 17! Now how would a kid who scored a 17 on an ACT be able to academically compete at such a prestigious university like Notre Dame without bending a few rules along the way? They were also willing to pay some blood money to get the death of a student off their coach's jacket.
I doubt they'd be doing all of this if they didn't believe he were the man to bring them back to their glory days. (Somewhere, Tyrone Willingham shakes his fist at the Gods in anger).
The quest for winning, to programs who are used to it, always seem to make previously held morals quite flexible. It has a weird way of getting people to rationalize things.
Again--I'm certainly not above this phenomenon. I'm not saying I'm going to tolerate recruits running around and burglarizing the denizens of Columbus, but I'm not really trying to watch Joe Bauserman play thirteen games a season. (Every time I did watch him last year, it ended with me consulting a shaman for spells of protection to place on Terrelle Pryor's ACLs). But, I'm not going to act like 20 year old kids selling $40 gold plated trinkets to some idiot willing to pay $1,000 for them is some heinous crime. There's nothing morally or legally wrong with it, except in regards to the NCAA's decrepit, invalid rulebook. If elite collegiate athletes are hustling these days, and it appears to be that way, then I say, "hustle on, young ones, hustle on." Just be sure to bring me back my shiny, crystalized football.
Does Ohio State agree with me? (Obviously they would never explicity agree with my bluntness, but still). Do they even need the money anymore? (No). Are all the things (good and bad) that come with being a perennial powerhouse worth the headaches to Ohio State, as they forge forth into the 21st century?
Ohio State doesn't need football like it once did, that much is clear. But, would they be willing to accept mediocrity (or, let's say, Michigan State-like success), to save the brand's name from future embarrassment? Just how much are all of the W's worth to Ohio State?
I guess we will soon have our answer.