Time to Shed Football School Label

By Kyle Lamb on June 8, 2012 at 11:10a
Thad Matta has re-established Ohio State as a basketball power

Ohio State is not a football school. I don't even know what a football school really is. There... I said it.

What the heck is a football school anyhow? Somewhere along the line, I was told someone put their pants on one leg at a time. I'm sure whatever that means, it probably applies to basketball players at a so-called football school. Then again, it may have been the same people that told me peas put hair on my chest, and I never really ate peas but still wound up with hair, so I'm not sure of the empirical results.

Nonetheless, I frankly don't care for labels. That goes for the rush to divide people by their party politics, whether they believe the moon-landing was fake and whether they watched Beverly Hills 90210 and listened to the New Kids on the Block post-adolescence (not that there's anything wrong with that). So when I hear someone call so-and-so a football school or basketball school, I get mystified. 

There are a lot of things I don't understand. I didn't understand the old twist-off caps on Coca-Cola bottles. I still don't understand why cheesy Freestyle music was so popular in the 80's. But I definitely don't comprehend what constitutes a football school.

Did Thad Matta and Ohio State spot Kansas have to spot five points on the scoreboard in the Final Four because they were from a football school? Didn't think so. In fact, KU spotted OSU a 13-point first-half lead. We won't acknowledge what happened thereafter. 

Whatever a football school is, Ohio State is not it. 

Oh, sure, Ohio feeds its young with NERF footballs rather than baby bottles. I think kindergartners probably learn the 22 positions on a football field before they learn the 26 letters of the alphabet. If Ohio boundaries were drawn in 1953 rather than 1803, I'm pretty sure it would come out looking like a spiral. We could fill many time capsules listing the achievements of the football program as only a select few teams can match what Ohio State has done on the gridiron over the years. But the basketball program need not take a backseat, especially for its own fans. 

Yesterday, ESPN put out a list of the top college basketball jobs in the country. Among them, Ohio State ranked No. 8 nationally. 

"Ohio State may not have the king-of-campus moniker of so many of its brethren on this list," the summation began, "but what it does have -- as Thad Matta has so successfully shown since taking over in 2004 -- is awfully desirable."

But everything needs a label. Even ESPN slapped one on with Elaine's Label Baby Junior. It concluded by saying, "(f)ootball school? Sure. But the natural advantages that extend to the OSU hoops program are simply too great to ignore."

OSU's history on the hardwood has admittedly been trendy. It's notably been flimsy with yo-yo-like qualities. But spottiness aside, one can't argue with the results, which is why ESPN put the coaching position in such high esteem.

In 1939, when the NCAA first instituted the tournament, do you think it was a pair of bluebloods in college basketball that participated in the championship? On the contrary. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana were nowhere to be found. It was Ohio State and Oregon. Score one for the football school(s). 

Eleven times, in fact, Ohio State has arrived at the Final Four having to hang its head in shame over the 'football' moniker. That's more than all but five schools, including Arizona, Connecticut, Louisville and every single Big Ten cohort. That's not to say OSU's basketball program hasn't had warts. Despite long reaching adulthood, it still gets the occasional pimple. 

The inconsistency has been curious for Ohio State. It's been among the top-10 all-time in the AP Poll for total ranking points, yet has finished near the bottom of the Big Ten standings far more than most fans would like. The lean years, sordid as they have been, have not been too few and far between. As such, the Buckeyes fall just outside the top-30 all-time in winning percentage despite the several seasons spent near the top of the mountain. 

Though the 'Shoe is a mecca, it's not the only show in town

This stretch under Matta, though, has been the strongest in school history. It's also repositioned Ohio State as a basketball power.

Since Matta arrived, Ohio State leads the Big Ten with a 98-40 conference record; five B1G titles and three conference tournament titles. The 8-year rolling stretch under Matta has yielded an overall win percentage of .773. That 8-year cycle is the best in the history of the school, surpassing a .755 rate from 1956-63. Last year's cycle, concluding 2004-11, ranks fourth (.736).

Generally among labelmakers, Indiana and Michigan State are thought to be the kings of the Big Ten castle -- the "basketball schools," if you will. These are the programs that are supposed to make Ohio State look inferior, and remind us that it's just a "football" school.

The Hoosiers do own a modern-era best .607 Big Ten winning percentage since 1938 with 20 Big Ten Championships (second behind Purdue's conferece-leading 22 titles). The Spartans, though, are fifth in the all-time Big Ten winning percentage (.545) since joining the league in 1951 behind Indiana, Illinois (.574), Purdue (.568) and... Ohio State (.553). 

Since becoming a Big Ten member, the Spartans also trail the Buckeyes in titles 15-12. Ohio State has a total of 22 championships, prior to being vacated that is, which would be tied with Purdue. Officially, they have 20 titles. 

Ohio State's success extends outside of the Big Ten boundaries.

In 2009, Jeff Sagarin released a master ranking of college basketball schools all-time. His criteria ignored things like Final Fours, NCAA Tournament appearances, conference championships, etc. It was exclusively based on his Sagarin formula applied to all-time results dating back to 1938. Ohio State was ninth on that list

If anything, compiling a list of crowning achievements for the basketball program only validates the silly notion that being a football school or basketball school actually matters. When the sneakers are laced up, the  name on the jerseys don't matter. What does matter is the talent on the court. These designations don't really win games or recruits. 

Inasmuch as Ohio State is a 'football school,' the revenue generated by such designation works in their favor. Basketball programs at Texas, Florida and Ohio State are in much better shape than football programs at Duke, Kansas or Indiana. But it's not that those schools are "basketball" oriented as much as their bread-and-butter doesn't bring in the benjamins as much as the former. 

Ohio State is pulling in well over $100 million per year. That money has led to one of the nicer college basketball arenas in the nation, as well as a state-of-the-art practice facility that is now under construction. It's given them the resources to compensate Matta -- and any future successors -- as well as any blueblood could pay. 

But sometimes even its own fans sell it short.

Since the NCAA began tracking attendance in 1978, the Buckeyes have finished in the top-20 in attendance average in all but eight seasons. Ten times, in fact, Ohio State has finished in the top-10 nationally with a high ranking of No. 4 on several occasions in the past decade (behind perennial leaders Kentucky, Louisville and Syracuse).

No matter where you look, football is a more popular sport in America. Even at the University of Kentucky, where basketball lives a charmed existence, UK averages close to 60,000 for football -- nearly three times that of its regular attendance for basketball. Of course, there are fewer games and they're typically played on weekends, but nonetheless football is king wherever you go. It's just less so at some places. 

Football fans who only pay attention to basketball sometimes come across insecure while being quick to maintain their sport's superiority to basketball. Frankly, that's like winning 'Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" We all know football is more popular. Especially at Ohio State.

But it's also a disservice to a program that, by many measures, has asserted itself as top-10. Under Matta, it's become a destination school. 

It's time to drop the football moniker. Fans should celebrate that Ohio State is good at both sports rather than trying to divide and conquer among its own base. It doesn't have to be one or the other, it can be both.

I'm hereby denouncing the football school label. Permanently. 


Comments Show All Comments

phxbuck's picture

I guess it's official, Kyle has denounced it permanently!!!!:)

tennbuckeye19's picture

Kyle - I am a big Thad Matta fan, and for all the criticism he receives regarding not playing his bench and so on, I want him in Columbus for as long as possible. I am curious to see how you think Matta will rank as far as OSU basketball coaches when all is said and done.
I assume most would say Fred Talylor ranks at the top (although I tip my hat to Harold Olsen for what he accomplished as well), and with good reason. Under him the school won its first (and only) NCAA championship, was national runner-up twice, went to four final fours, won six conference titles. His 297-158 record puts him at a .65 winning %. However, for all the good things accomplished under him, there were also several lesser seasons in his 17 year tenure. 
Matta in 8 seasons at OSU has 221 wins to 65 losses for a .775 winning %, and is 98-40 in the conference for a .710 %. He's won 20 or more games each year he's coached, and has been to the postseason each season at OSU besides his first when ineleigible. He's been to 2 final fours with one national runner-up. To me its clear that Matta will leave OSU as the leader in all time wins and will be known as the best coach the Buckeyes have had. The only thing he needs is a championship, which I believe he could win before his coaching days are over, but even if a championship eludes him, to me he will still go down as the best in school history.

Squirrel Master's picture

I could have sworn OSU was a rowing school! When did this whole "football" thing happen?

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

thatlillefty's picture

i'm just as excited for basketball season as football. This team has been all sorts of fun to watch and I can't wait to see Craft, Lenzelle, Sam Thompson & DeShaun tear it up next year!
No other school in the country has the elite pairing of football and basketball as Ohio State. Absolutely love it.

pcon258's picture

if we're honest, we're really a synchronized swimming school....
like thatlillefty mentioned, i think osu might have the best basketball/football combination in the country. In recent years, florida has had alot of success with both, texas perhaps, wisconsin has been good recently, but objectively, i think osu is the best in the country. Lucky us

kmp10's picture

Enjoyed the article, disagree in totality with the headline. Ohio State is one of the five most storied, tradition laden football programs in the history of the sport, and as such has earned and deserves the label of "football school". It's just the way it is. Like UCLA and Michigan State are considered basketball schools even though UCLA and MSU both have some very good football tradition. As a matter of fact I would draw a strong parallel between UCLA football and Ohio State basketball. Both are good, solid programs. However, both have had lean periods that, for the most part, their football and basketball counterparts have managed to avoid. At the end of the day OSU's basketball tradition pales in comparrison to its football program. Football is the big dawg on the Ohio State campus in every way. Basketball has always taken a backseat. You're right when you say it doesn't have to be that way... but that's the way it is.  Good piece tho.  Fun debate.

southbymidwest's picture

Or fencing school. Or men's volleyball school. Crazy the number of championships OSU athletic teams have won recently.

Bucksfan's picture

Ohio State is not a basketball school.  It's a football school, and it has been that way since the days of Chic Harley.  Accept it.  You can't undo it.  When people hear "Ohio State" they think of the Horseshoe and buckeye stickers on the helmets.  That fact shouldn't undermine how Ohio State has a quality basketball history.  It does have that.  But Ohio State is a top-5 football program in win %, has the most Heismans, is 3rd on the list of Rose Bowl appearances, and has the most BCS bowl wins.  There's also the 5-7 national titles, too.  Football is the first love and the first priority.
Losing in the Final Four was tough.  Losing to Florida in the basketball championship in 2007 also sucked.  They pale in comparison to how we feel about losing to Florida and LSU in the football championship - I guarantee it.  Hell, they pale in comparison to how we feel about losing that game to USC in 2009 at home!
When you're at freshman orientation and they teach you to say "Go Bucks, Beat Michigan!" they are not referring to basketball.

BuckeyeSki's picture

Couldn't agree more

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

Kyle Lamb's picture

Why is it a football school? The designation is pointless. It's a silly label that has absolutely no meaning.

What does being a "football school" really mean? There's really nothing to embrace. Ohio State is a top-5 program in football and a top-10 program in basketball. It doesn't really matter which one is better.


Bucksfan's picture

Whether it has any meaning or not is irrelevant.  I'm not saying it should mean anything.  I'm just pointing out what we're most-known for.  What is the signature of the school?  I'd argue it's the jewel on the Olenangy that Harley built.  It's Woody Hayes ripping up sideline markers and Archie Griffin never losing to Michigan.  It's ED-DIE George and Keith Byars' shoe.  Plus it's all the other accolades I mentioned.
How many bars around Ohio State's campus are decorated in MOSTLY basketball stuff?  Do any of them even have 10% of their wall space decorated in basketball stuff?  When you walk into Damon's, what's the first thing you see?  Is it a wall-sized photo of John Havlicek?  Or is it a wall-sized photo of Eddie George running away from 8 Notre Dame defensemen (signed, too).
When kids in Toledo are playing sports on the playground at recess, are they re-enacting the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game or is it the Big Ten basketball tournament?
What's the bigger party at an alumni bar in Los Angeles, an Ohio State-Wisconsin February basketball game, or the Thursday night football opener against Marshall?  I can tell you that I threw a party at my house for the latter, and watched the former still in my pajamas.
It's not a knock on Ohio State basketball fans to be a "football school."  It's simply that football outweighs basketball both in rabidity of what fans care about, what non-fans know us as, as well as accomplishment between the two sports.

hodge's picture

I'm with you, man.  There ain't no shame in being a primarily football school, and that's what we are.  In fact, the nice thing is that it allows us to leverage a larger population of fans.  I mean what's bigger, Kentucky basketball fans or Ohio State football fans?  If you can drive those football fans to get into the team (as Matta's been pretty successful at doing), you can satiate a rabid fanbase dying for something to cheer for post-football.  I'm pretty sure that even Matta has mentioned something similar to this point, himself.  

tennbuckeye19's picture

FYI: Ohio State and Notre Dame both have 7 Heisman winners.

Pam's picture

So does USC.  3 way tie
Edit:  Bush gave his back

hodge's picture

Did he ever get around to actually doing it?  I remember that after he said that he would, the Heisman trust was complaining that he never actually gave his trophy back.

Pam's picture

I know that USC gave back their copy.  I am pretty sure he did too after some confusion about where the trophy actually was

Bucksfan's picture

Oh, I know we're tied for some of those records, but it still lets you say you have the most, right?

Bucksfan's picture

Just read over that Sagarin list, too, where they list Ohio State as the 9th all-time basketball program.  How the hell does Michigan come in at 13th, when they aren't even in the top-50 in either total wins or in win %?  Michigan State is on those lists, and are ranked below Michigan.  I don't understand how that list works, but it looks unreliable.

Kyle Lamb's picture

It's basically just Sagarin's formula for his regular ratings but applied to all games since 1938. He's never made his ratings formula public so it's impossible to know exactly what it is, but basically if you ever go to USA Today and see his regular annual ratings in the paper or online, it's that same formula but all-time. So strength of schedule and margin of victory are included in some form.


Bucksfan's picture

Makes it even more suspicious as to why he's part of the BCS standings.

ShadyBuckeye's picture

I said something yesterday about coming on here and reading every article, every thread and nearly every comment.... let me correct that: I meant every FOOTBALL related article, thread and comment. If we were a "basketball school" this great site probably wouldnt exist. Basketball is like a hobby, football is like a religion.

timdogdad's picture

let the country think we're a football  school and then when we play in our 12th final four, no 2nd or 3rd  like an alabama, or texas who are also fball schools, but 12TH final four, the folks will say damn, ohio state has that good of history in basketball too?  like i said before, who can touch our history in the two major sports combined?   NO ONE CAN  did you hear that sec schools who only care about winning football games, and crookedly if needed?  or notre dame, usc,texas...    NO ONE.    and to add on, just a few years ago,  we made the freekin finals in both sports in the same school year!   and a note on that-you never hear how extrodinary that is that osu vs fla in both major sports in same year   why?  that may never happen again.   we also came very close to playing on our 5th championship game in the last 10 years.  and we may make another champ game soon, but fla-i don't see that happening. sorry jorts and mullett gater fans... 

BuckeyeSki's picture

"It's good to be king!"

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

Poison nuts's picture

I've always like to think of tOSU as a school with a rich tradition in sports in general...Yes football may be the sport that most people identify the school with & that's great. We are also one of only a few (3 I think) with a NC in football, basketball, & baseball. Ad to that the various accomplishments in a wide array of sports (rowing, tennis, swimming, track etc) & I see Ohio State as a great school for athletics period.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Nik's picture

I thought we were one of only two schools (the other being Michigan)

Kyle Lamb's picture

I guess my point is there's no advantage to stating the obvious. The only time the "football school" point comes up is whenever basketball program is having success. That seems counter-inuitive to bring up. Why degrade the basketball success just to thump one's chest about the football program? It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to know football is immensely popular. But the only context the "football school" argument comes up is in relation to basketball. It seems completely pointless to even mention. 

The two should be working in harmony, not against each other. Ohio State isn't a football school... its The Ohio State University which has a football program, men's basketball program and 30+ varsity athletics. 

Ohio State isn't a football school because there's no such thing. It's a university that has a very popular, successful football program and a popular, successful basketball program. I just don't see why it can't just be that. What good does the label do?


WiliestBuckeye's picture

How many "football" schools have 12 Final Four Four appearances? We don't deserve to be known as a "football" school anymore, and given our rich football tradition, that's sayin' something! It's not a knock on our football program if we are not known as a "football" school anymore, its simply the result of our basketball program running out of trophy space in the back closet. We have the unique pleasure of being national powerhouses in both sports, and due to how rare that is, nobody has coined a label for that type of success quite yet. Any ideas?

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."