The Dubgate Looks at Gene Smith, Case Study

By Jason Priestas on November 3, 2012 at 6:00a

Second-guessing Gene Smith's decision to take a bowl ban has become fashionable

When the NCAA handed down its verdict to Ohio State last December, which included a one year bowl ban and the loss of nine scholarships over three years, athletic director Gene Smith told the New York Times that he was "surprised and disappointed" at the decision and that he was thankful for parking his car shortly after receiving the news because he was "livid."

Despite an investigation that turned up improper benefits for eight players and a head coach failing to bring forward information about his players, Smith, Gee and the Ohio State brain trust, which included star consultant Chuck Smrt, had already accepted an invitation to the Gator Bowl instead of self-imposing a postseason ban for the 2011 squad that stumbled to a 6-7 season.

They were counting on precedent—even mentioning more egregious cases that avoided a bowl ban—but what they received from the NCAA was, in Urban Meyer's words, "a sucker punch that hit me right in the stomach."

This was Mark Emmert's NCAA and it's an organization hell-bent on doing whatever it can to clean things up after 18 months of scandals had rocked the sport.

You could argue that Ohio State didn't account for this change in posture and that left a lot of fans frustrated. The Buckeyes are 9-0, after all, and their season will end in three weeks, regardless of finish. If Smith had only taken the ban last season, maybe the worst Buckeye team in a generation would have been grounded for the holidays instead of the undefeated and getting better by the week edition Urban Meyer has mowing down the Big Ten.

This will be a decision that haunts us for a while, but we'll never really know what the correct play should have been. It's entirely possible that had Ohio State imposed a bowl ban in 2011, the NCAA would have responded by tacking an extra year on, not impressed with a .500 team voluntarily ducking out of a mid-tier bowl. Looking at what Penn State received—and I'm not comparing the violations, just the notion that the NCAA pimp hand is heavy these days—is that an unreasonable assumption?

Maybe not.

It's kind of like a Monty Hall problem and it's not an easy one to solve. Miami is playing the game again after self-imposing a postseason ban last season:

Being atop the Coastal Division this late in the season is both thrilling and thorny for Miami, which is expected to soon decide whether to self-impose a postseason ban for the second straight year, a move that would be related to the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Hurricanes' compliance practices.

Such a decision would be an attempt to lessen the impact of whatever sanctions ultimately get imposed against Miami. Those sanctions are likely to be handed down early next year, based on the expectation that the Hurricanes will receive their notice of allegations - in essence, the end of the investigation phase and start of the penalty phase - from the NCAA in the next few weeks.

Does self-imposing a ban on a BCS bowl season look better in the NCAA's eyes than opting out of Jacksonville? Miami athletic director Blake James doesn't think so. Publicly, at least:

''It's a situation where you just have to look at what's best for your program and institution and that's the decision you make going forward,'' James said. ''I don't think you necessarily weigh all sorts of different variables. You have to look at the whole picture and decide what's best.''

The school of thought has traditionally been to come in a little under on the penalty front because if you do, you have two outcomes: the NCAA agrees with you or adds to your penalty. If you over-penalize yourself, you weren't able to count on the NCAA saying, "You might have been a little too hard on yourself. Here, let's roll some of these sanctions back."

The NCAA is attempting to standardize both violations and punishments, but until schools get a feel for how these new initiatives will actually play out, perhaps it is smarter to cut off your bowl to spite your season.

Here's your full slate of relevant or otherwise interesting games for today:

12:00pm Michigan at Minnesota BTN BTN2GO MICH (-12½)
12:00pm Missouri at #7 Florida ESPN2 WatchESPN UF (-16)
12:00pm #14 Oklahoma at Iowa State ABC ESPN3 OK (-10½)
12:00pm Temple at #12 Louisville ABC ESPN3 LOU (-13)
12:00pm #16 Texas A&M at #17 Mississippi State ESPN WatchESPN A&M (-7)
3:00pm TCU at #23 West Virginia FOX   WVU (-6½)
3:30pm Illinois at #8 Ohio State ESPN WatchESPN OSU (-27½)
3:30pm Iowa at Indiana BTN BTN2GO IOWA (-2½)
3:30pm #21 Nebraska at Michigan State ABC/ESPN2 (Map) WatchESPN MSU (-1)
3:30pm Penn State at Purdue ESPNU WatchESPN PSU (-2½)
3:30pm Pittsburgh at #4 Notre Dame NBC ND (-18½)
3:30pm Texas at #19 Texas Tech ABC/ESPN2 (Map) WatchESPN TTU (-2½)
7:00pm #3 Oregon at #18 USC FOX   UO (-6)
8:00pm #1 Alabama at #5 LSU CBS BAMA (-8)
8:00pm Oklahoma State at #2 Kansas State ABC   KSU (-7½)
10:30pm Arizona State at #13 Oregon State ESPN2 WatchESPN ORST (-3½)



Comments Show All Comments

pukindawg's picture

 Good write-up Jason.
 IMO who cares what could have happened. It's pointless to worry or get worked up about things beyond anyone's control. Of course I think these seniors deserve a bowl but in the real world that's never going to happen. I'm not sure they would be 9-0 if they spent all year wondering "what if" and feeling sorry for themselves. I like this team and where they are headed. Finishing as one of just six untied and unbeaten tOSU teams should make up for not getting into a BCS bowl this year.

Abe Froman's picture

The NCAA does carry a heavy Pimp hand.  It is strong.

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

bukyze's picture

North Carolina would probably have a different opinion.

AltaBuck's picture

As well as South Carolina

I am Groot - Groot

brglr14's picture

the whole sec

I dont know karate but i do know crazy and i'm not afraid to use it.


Poison nuts's picture

It's coming...

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

Trig Lazer's picture

Smith is a walking and talking sock puppet for the NCAA.
He has completely mismanaged our off field problems and is as much to blame or more so than Tressel.
Instead of inviting investigators in for coffee and donuts, and calling the NCAA evertime we use too many sheets of toilet paper when a player takes a crap....act like the SEC for a freaking change. Deny, stall, cast the blame somewhere else, and actually make the NCAA build their own case against you.
Smith should have been replaced with the hire of Meyer as coach.

RBuck's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the bowl ban come as a result of the Bobby G thing? I look at that as the tipping point. That came down late in a season which was the Buckeye's worst in decades.
I honestly think that the NCAA would had laughed at a gesture of a self-imposed ban and tacked on another year for shits and giggles. Still though, I think Smith should have tried anyway. 

Long live the southend.

OSUNeedles's picture

My buddy and I were in the stadium for the craziness which was the Wisconsin game last year... After all the jumping around and celebrating, both of us started chanting to self-impose a bowl ban that night. That was our oppotunity to make our punishment to ourselves look meaningful and we missed it. I think we were 5-3 or so after that win and looked to be on an upswing with the possibilitt of finishing with 8 wins or so. That was the time to say, since the NCAA told us to play our suspended players in last years game and we did, we will take this chance to suspend them from this years game.... Thanks NCAA for making us look like the bad guys for doinf what you told us to.
Also, for when it gets referenced in the future, an SEC team HAS lost to us in a bowl game... We just haven't had a win against an SEC team (Arkansas still gets the loss, but we don't get the win)! I love technicalities!

Sean N's picture

The more this season plays out, I kind of see the bowl ban as a blessing in disguise. It looks likely that there could end up being at least two other undefeated teams. In no way - strength of schedule, the "look test" - will OSU deserve to be one of the top two teams. It has kind of been a relief not having to worry about rooting against 3 or 4 teams every week. This way they can go 12-0 and we can sit back and be kind of aloof about the whole thing.

baddogmaine's picture

Many argue that a 2011 bowl ban would not have been enough, but the idea that a 2012 bowl ban is actually a good thing is a hard sell. To start, teams that go bowling get a dozen extra practices which might not produce a win in the bowl but will make all the non-seniors that much better in 2013, when we might have a shot at the NC. Second, win or lose seeing the team in a high-profile bowl game, with all the TV exposure and press coverage that goes with it, is important to many recruits. OSU being in a big bowl may be the deciding factor for a kid deciding where to go to college. Especially since the bowl an undefeated OSU team would be in is the Rose Bowl which is the dream of tons of kids growing up in B1G country - and potential OSU donors. This is kind of a love-the-one-you're-with situation - we can't do anything about it so we may as well accept it. But no way is being banned from a bowl a plus.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

Unless the NCAA comes right out and says it for the world to know (NFW) we will never know what could have happened had Gene self-imposed last year. 
I for one don't care.  You hear right.  I do not care.  The shit hit the fan and there was a decision to be made with no real knowledge of the consequences. So Gene chose door 1.  And got the Jelly of the Month Club. (Not the shiny new Ford Taurus to drive into an unsanctioned year in) But the Cousin Eddie approved gift that keeps on giving (quite literally) "all year long"..... But who's to say those (no)consolation preserves weren't also behind doors 2 and 3 waiting to be smeared on the big shit sandwich the NCAA had prepared for us anyways.  Surprise!
That's just it.  You can't say.   No one can.  Unless the NCitizenAkAne pulls a Rosebud on it's death bed, we are forever going to second guess and hypothesize what could have been.
And I just don't care to do that.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Brutus's picture

Up voted for the Christmas Vacation reference.  Easily the most underrated of the Vacation trilogy (I'll be damned if I recognize Vegas Vacation as part of the series).

buckeyeEddie27's picture

What about the abomination that is European Vacation?

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Brutus's picture

European Vacation wasn't great but at least Chevy Chase was still funny at the time.  And it gave us some great lines like, "Dad, I think he's going to pork her." and "Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament." 

OSUBias's picture

I've been a Gene Smith hater throughout The Troubles, but after listening to some of the defenders I have re-evaluated my position. I think for the most part he's a great AD, or at worst the beneficiary of a convergence of great programs. This is really the golden age of OSU athletics. We have been having great success across the board, and the two flagship sports (Men's bball and football) are consistently great. Did he do the wrong thing by not imposing a bowl ban? As Jason writes, we'll never know.
This is what I decided bothers me about the way this went down: the way Smith handled himself and came across in public appearances. He was always sort of smug about the violations and how OSU was dealing with them. Came across as not being too worried about it, never for one minute acknowledged that something like our actual punishment was a possibility. And then when it came down, was "real angry" and "thankful for parking his car." Um what? What were you going to do, road rage it into a pole? You sound like a 16 year old kid. His attitude progression make him SEEM like he had no idea how to the handle the situation and was in over his head. Whether that is actually true or not isn't relevant; perception is reality. People perceive him as being a clown because he was supposed to be the one "in the know" and he misjudged the NCAA reaction pretty badly. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but it would have LOOKED like he was in tune, rather than looking completely clueless.
So, in closing, I think he's a good AD. I think he made a bad call on this one, and made it worse by seeming completely baffled/blindsided. I think he needs either some serious PR coaching or a press secretary (I'm 100% serious). Every time he gets interviewed it just makes me cringe.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

This is exactly my feeling - see below - Smith messed up the handling of the situation in public, but its not like he had any control over what the punishment would be - he was guessing at best.

bgohio22's picture

I totally agree.  My expectation at the beginning was that Gene's NCAA contacts would net an advantageous deal for the Buckeyes.  When he seemed to be so confused by the sanctions it forced me to rejudge my view of him as either A: totally clueless or B: playing dumb for some reason I couldn't figure.  Bruce Hooley kept predicting Gene would be out by August.  Therefore I assumed it was A.  Now I think he's the perfect wall for Urban (and by extension Thad) to have plausible deniability the next time something unsavory happens (and it will happen), leading me now to think it's B.  

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

I don't think the NCAA would have accepted last year's bowl ban as enough, they would have added this year - of course, that's just a hunch.  This was a really, really high profile case, even if not as eggregious as other violations by other schools.  For some reason, our program's failures got more media attention than any of the other violators, including Miami and NC, and that was going to impact the NCAA when it came to punishment (Penn St is so unique that there is no comparison and sits in its own category).
Smith could only make the decision he thought was best, based upon what the consultants indicated.  Also, let's not forget that the NCAA allowed us to play in the Sugar Bowl that year, with players that were technically ineligible ... we caught a break there initially.  That probably impacted the NCAA as well.  Even though no one knew the role that JT played when the NCAA allowed us to play Arkansas, they still allowed us to play in that game, only later to find out the leader of our program had not been forthcoming with them in the investigation.  That made things a hell of a lot worse for us.  
In the end, my gut sense (and that's all it is, obviously) is that we should still be sitting home this year.
Smith and Gee screwed up the public relations portion of the entire ordeal, but not the way they dealt with the NCAA, IMO. 

dsbgobux's picture

I have said this before, but I for one am glad that we are unable to go to a BCS game or play for a MNC this year. I love being undefeated, and never want the Bucks to lose, but I think that getting to the promised land with this team would provide a similar result to 2007. A good buckeye team that lucked its way to the MNC. I would hate for that to happen with this young team. I personally think that not being able to play in a bowl this year is making us stronger as a team.

Buckeye in PA purgatory

BuckeyeinAnnArbor's picture

^ Um, what?!?  You are glad that we can't play for a BCS or the NC?  That makes absolutely no sense.  Let's just not play any games with that attitude.  That way, we will never lose!

Maceyko's picture

Why does that pic remind me of Steve Harvey?  Just saying....

TheSweaterVest's picture

The other thing that you have to remember is that bowl participation last year meant weeks of practice reps for Braxton, Guiton, and other young guys that helped them get to this point for this season.  If we had not been in the Lackluster Bowl last year, no guarantee we beat Purdue or Michigan State.

4ball's picture

Would the bowl ban have prevented us from oganizing a mid December game with the Tarheels?

baddogmaine's picture

Actually yes. As long as we are in the NCAA we are subject to the NCAA regulations on the number of games a team can play, what kind of games and when they can take place.

The Vest-er's picture

I don't have much venom to spew at Gene Smith. He should have exercised more diplomacy in public. "We're preparing for all scenarios, but we're hopeful" should have been on repeat throughout the process.
My beef has been with the selective enforcement and non standard punishment by the NCAA. Mark Emmert has been willfully ignorant to all things sec. No investigation for Alabama concerning the t-town sportswear fiasco. A 4-5 day investigation of cam "God healed my dad's church's financial woes" newton. Comparing violations, South Carolina should have received similar punishment as the bucks, but received a slap on the wrist. Not to mention his comments excoriating Gerry Dinardo for the "mess" he left at LSU.

Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.


I think the failure to self-impose a bowl ban in 2011 will only matter if the 2012 season is Meyer's only undefeated season and the only season the Buckeyes would have had a legitimate shot at a national title. In essence, it will only matter if Meyer's OSU coaching legacy is a total failure. We won't know the answer until after Meyer is done coaching here, but I will PRAY HARD this season is not the pinnacle of Meyer's OSU tenure. As much as I've enjoyed watching this group of kids play their hearts out and seeing Braxton run crazy over everyone, the program can be sooooooooooooooo much better. I have no idea what the future holds but I hope very much it involves at least a few appearances in the coming playoff. Then anything can happen. So let's hope this season is not Urban's top of the mountain. Otherwise, this argument will be highly prudent and I freaking don't want that to be true :(

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

CowCat's picture

If we look at things another way, Tatgate / Bowl Ban are the price we are paying to get Urban Meyer as a coach.
If there were no scandal, JT would still be the coach for a few more years, but UFM would likely have taken another job in that time period, maybe in the B1G.
I still trust in Tressel, but sometimes only a scandal will end a beloved coach's career.  See:  Hayes, Woody.
One year without a bowl game is not even a bump in the road, if it means getting arguably the best coach in college football and getting the program to another level.
Heck, in the early 1970's you couldn't go to a bowl at all unless you were the Big Ten champion.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

buckskin's picture

Don't have an opinion on the bowl ban because the NCAA is going to do whatever they want to do; but a study was done on 20 previous football scandals very similar to Ohio State's and in each case, the AD lost his job.  This is probably the precedent Bruce Hooley was using in his prediction of Gene's termination.  I personally believe if Meyer doesn't get hired then he loses his job.  I also can't believe an Ohio State AD would propose a change to the OSU-TSUN football game date. 
That said, I like where both the football and men's basketball programs are at with him at the helm.  Someone help me out; was Gene the AD when Thad was hired?

Hovenaut's picture


Gene, Gene...the dancing machine.

Gee would make an excellent Chuck Barris....bowtie and all.

And the NCAA.....full of unknown comics.