Lost in No Man's Land, Cincinnati Tries Keeping Pace With Buckeyes

By Kyle Rowland on June 10, 2014 at 8:30a

October 8, 1921. It’s a date that probably doesn’t resonate with many people. There’s little significance to it. The United Kingdom and Ireland held a peace conference and the silent film “The Sheik” premiered.

In Cleveland, the eighth of October marked the first Sweetest Day, a holiday concocted by a group of candy makers. Some two hours southwest of Cleveland, the day was anything but sweet for Ohio State. The Buckeyes went to Ohio Field that afternoon and were upstaged by in-state foe Oberlin, 7-6.

Since that day, Ohio State’s played 38 games against schools from the state of Ohio and won every single one of them. It will have a chance to extend that streak to 40 this season, as both Cincinnati and Kent State invade Ohio Stadium. But is that number in danger of falling?

Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats have the most realistic shot of beating the Buckeyes since Toledo in 2011, when it nearly defeated a downtrodden Ohio State group in a season mired by controversy. After a 47-year gap between bowl appearances, Cincinnati’s been to 12 bowl games since 1997.

Still, UC lags behind Ohio State on a consistent basis. The Bearcats nearly played for the 2008 national championship, but aside from that, the Buckeyes’ name brand, tradition and financial power has kept it on a pedestal above all in-state comers. Cincinnati has tried desperately to become a member of a Power Five conference, with the ACC being its main target, to no avail.

For nine seasons, from 2005-2013, Cincinnati enjoyed its BCS-conference status. It came to an abrupt halt after last season. Now, the Bearcats find themselves in the ramshackle American Athletic Conference. Membership includes college basketball national champion Connecticut, but football rules all negotiations in college sports, and the AAC has little muscle to flex.

Cincinnati and UConn are arguably the most attractive schools that didn’t get plucked during the realignment craze. When the ACC raided the Big East, Louisville, Syracuse and Pitt were chosen, leaving Cincinnati and UConn licking their wounds. Many believe UConn and even Syracuse were more viable for the Big Ten than Rutgers. As it stands, the Bearcats and Huskies speak in glowing terms about the AAC, while trying to wiggle their way out of the league behind closed doors.

Cincinnati president Santa Ono memorably sent holiday cards to ACC presidents to highlight the Bearcats’ desire to play in the conference.

Instead of splitting $90-$100 million dollars in a Power Five conference, Cincinnati is dividing somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. In the financially driven world of college sports, that’s the margin between the Haves and Have-nots.

After athletic director Whit Babcock left for Virginia Tech, Cincinnati brought in former Colorado AD Mike Bohn, who helped lead the Buffaloes from the Big 12 to the Pac-12. His top priority immediately became charting a similar course for the Bearcats.

Ironically, the Big 12 is Cincinnati’s best landing spot at this point, the conference Bohn worked so hard to get Colorado out of. The league has only 10 members and West Virginia is isolated from all other schools.

“Do we aspire like other members of the league? Yes, of course. But I think we have a lot of work to do,” Bohn said. “We don’t know where our current league could expand and grow. We need to be mindful of that and be a national leader in helping pull those things together. Our first priority is to win conference championships in the league we’re in, respect the league and build the league, and all those other things will take care of themselves.”

The aim becomes winning and doing what it can with money. Cincinnati’s athletic department will receive a hefty payment from exit fee funds from schools that left the league. There’s also hope of being the highest-ranked team outside the Power Five, which comes with a $6 million payday. The top conference gets an additional $7 million.

“We want to be strong supporters of our league and work on winning conference championships and work on developing that brand and conference,” Bohn said. “We can’t control the national landscape, but we understand we want to compete at the highest level. We can compete at the highest level in this conference. There were five ranked teams in men’s basketball. Cincinnati’s proven it can be in marquee bowl games. We need to take advantage of that and compete and make major strides in the league we’re in.”

Cincinnati wasn’t left out because of location. The city is enjoying a revitalization and its size is attractive. Where the university falls short is a lack of football tradition and its venue is old and small – Nippert Stadium, capacity 35,000, was built in 1915.

Ohio State’s never faced a big school roadblock in its own state. Cincinnati as an ACC or Big 12 member could impact the Buckeyes’ stranglehold on top talent in the state. Ohio State’s never been an overwhelming destination for Cincinnati-area kids, which is one reason why Urban Meyer moved the 2013 spring game to Paul Brown Stadium. But the Bearcats also haven’t been a pipeline for the best players from St. Xavier, Moeller, Elder, Colerain, etc.

If their opponents included the likes of Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, college destinations may change. When Cincinnati was previously in a BCS conference, Ohio State enjoyed tremendous success. A falloff would not occur if the Bearcats played in a more attractive league.

Ohio’s talent is too plush and the Buckeyes will always be the top choice of most kids growing up in the state. Fifty years down the road, a shift could happen. But Cincinnati’s program as a legit threat to the Buckeyes is still in its infancy. Michigan and Michigan State, USC and UCLA, and Florida, Florida State and Miami have been well-established programs for decades.

But Cincinnati’s recent success is nothing to ignore. During the BCS era, it played in more BCS games than seven SEC schools and was one of 30 schools to play in multiple BCS games (2009 Orange Bowl, 2010 Sugar Bowl). The Bearcats have won or shared four conference titles in the past six years, more than Ohio State and tied for the most in the country during that span.

If you glance at Cincinnati’s head-coaching names and notice the last four read Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, Tommy Tuberville, it all begins making sense. Tuberville left Texas Tech, a Big 12 school with a clear path to the playoff, for Cincinnati, where uncertainty is the only thing that’s certain.

It acts as a coming home of sorts for him with his wife being from just across the Indiana border. And good deeds have already taken place – Tuberville donated $300,000 of his salary to help out Olympic sports at UC.

His own resume is even more impressive than Cincinnati’s recent run. Tuberville was an assistant on three Miami national championship teams, he was the defensive coordinator in 1994 for Texas A&M’s undefeated team and led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004.

For now, Cincinnati will just concentrate on winning football games. Especially the one played on Sept. 27.


Comments Show All Comments

Buckeye in a Bobcat world's picture

Remember the "bUCkeye state" shirts?  Yeah...

+16 HS
acBuckeye's picture

I thought Cincinnati was in Kentucky......

+8 HS
THEOSUfan's picture

I have a buddy who always calls it "Cincitucky".  It is a different culture there - a mix of the urban and hillbilly, north and south.

Gotta recruit that area better than it has been historically by Ohio State, and UFM has.  The HS talent there, especially in the DI schools, is rich.  Despite pulling out a few really good ones lately, I doubt Ohio State will ever dominate recruiting there.  It will be interesting to see how many players Stoops (the UK version) will swipe out of there.

Bucksfan's picture

Maybe you've lived in Texas too long?

acBuckeye's picture

Should I have used italics? Or should you have?

+3 HS
Knarcisi's picture

I lived in Cincinnai for 5 years, love the town, and am a big Reds fan, but that comment is earned. 

Hovenaut's picture

Honestly don't know what to expect from UC - didn't Illinois smack them around last year (too lazy to look up)?

Either way, I expect OSU to be focused and prepared for state brethren.

+1 HS
Furious George 27's picture

Yes, but Cincy also lost their QB early.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+3 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Ok - couldn't remember details.

acBuckeye's picture

The greatest name in college football: Munchie Legaux.

+3 HS
Kyle Rowland's picture

I'm partial to Silverberry Mouhon -- also a UC player. 

buckeyedude's picture

I like Speedy Noil.



Buckeye in Illini country's picture

Actually Munchie wasn't hurt until late in the game.  Illinois dominated UC even with Munchie in the game.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

+2 HS
Rocket Man's picture

Yup, but when Munchie left the game it turned a butt-whipping into an extreme butt whipping.  The Bearcats lost all desire to play that game after Munchie's gruesome injury.

I didn't go to engineering school to be a 'people person'

Gametime's picture

Nice write up as usual Kyle, but no love for UC over here especially with all that bUCkeye crap - we should troll them with bUCKeye... which works on many levels.

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

BuckeyeSki's picture

Cincy is like your 10 year old cousin who beats his friends in sports so thinks he can beat you at everything too

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

+6 HS
nikolajz1's picture

Dont be a douche bag like Michigan fans are to Michigan State. We should stop with the dumb little brother stuff. 

Furious George 27's picture

UC fans tend to talk shit when they have no real reason to OSU fans. Apparently you are not familiar with this. The MSU little brother thing is that *ichigan fans say it still, even though they are no longer the better team which is the huge difference. Until UC beats OSU in football they have no leg to stand on for all the trash talk they do which I believe was his point.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
d1145fresh's picture

I have made this comment before but if I was the Big 12 I would make a strong push for Cincinnati to join the league. It's a good university a good market but most importantly it gets the league into Ohio. The recruiting and exposure it would bring could be pretty damaging to Ohio State in the future. Also it would tie WVU into the rest of the league. 

+5 HS
bigtenspeed's picture

I never have had an issue with UC. Nippert's a small but it can be a fun environment. Plus it's usually cheap to get in. The best part it not being a UC fan, I don't care if they lose so I can just enjoy being at a college football game. Yes, some of their fans are dumb with their bUCkeye state shirts and their anti-OSU rants to Lance Mcallister but I try not to let them ruin it for me.

bigtenspeed's picture

I don't go if the game conflicts with the Buckeyes but since they play a lot of Friday night games, it's not an issue.

Earle's picture

Cincinnati and Kent State invade Ohio Stadium

Invade?  More like this:


Snarkies gonna snark. 

+10 HS
osugreg04's picture

Living here in SW Ohio, I gotta say, UC fans are very Mike Hart-esque.  They're exhausting with their unsubstantiated boasting.  If there's a target to hang #100 on other than TSUN, I sure hope it's UC.  

+10 HS
northcampus's picture

Excellent write-up Kyle.  The biggest issue with UC athletics is not the presence of Ohio State in the state, but the presence of all other alumni/fan bases in the city/Greater Cincinnati area.  Cincinnati is similar to Georgia Tech in that each school is located right in the middle of a fertile metro area stocked with an abundance of recruits, but just like Atlanta and Ga. Tech, Cincinnati is in a competition for every legit recruit with not only the flagship in-state school (OSU or Georgia for these two states), but the entire Big Ten, SEC, and ACC/Notre Dame (I don't consider the Big 12 or Pac 12 competitive in Cincinnati as only a handful of kids have left Cincinnati for one of these two power conferences in the last 15-20 years).  With the larger corporations located in Cincinnati bringing in more and more transports from outside the region, the amount of alumni/fan bases will only continue to grow.  Compared to Cleveland, Toledo, and Dayton, Cincinnati has many more rooting interests than these three cities have (which heavily favors OSU in all three cities).  Outside of football, UC has even more of a battle for recruits with the other program in the city (Xavier) that has just as much of a fan base (some may argue a more loyal/passionate fan base) or draw to recruits than UC.  Chris Mack at Xavier has a private jet available to him for recruiting and Cronin does not (if that says anything about UC's uphill battle to recruit players to the school).

As for OSU in Cincinnati, the lack of a media presence has and will continue to hurt the Buckeyes in the city.  The only presence OSU has in the city are billboards and radio advertisements for the James Cancer Center.  And to OSU's fault, their SID team hasn't exactly bent over backwards in the past to make Cincinnati a priority.  It's not that Cincinnati is loyal to UC or Notre Dame or Kentucky over OSU, its more of an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality with the lack of OSU coverage within the Greater Cincinnati area.  If recruits only see/hear OSU on national media outlets, how is OSU any different to Alabama or Southern Cal or Florida State to a top recruit who has grown up in the city without the OSU presence?

Tuberville and Cronin may be UC's last shot at getting into a Big 5 conference.  UC nearly eliminated football in the early 90's and without a move in the next few years, the athletic program could be in trouble and fade into the path that MAC schools have traveled down.  Kyle mentions Nippert Stadium as a issue, but Nippert is current under renovation.  The bigger facility issue at UC is the basketball arena, which may be the worst D-I basketball arena in the Midwest.

+4 HS
thatlillefty's picture

You make some very good points, NorthCampus. In regards to the lack of Ohio State coverage in Cincinnati, I blame the Cincinnati Enquirer and 700WLW. Not that many people read the paper these days anyway, but growing up, there was almost no mention of Ohio State games in the Sunday paper. WLW is even worse because guys like Lance and Tracey (or whoever is working the waves these days), love to rip Ohio State and provide a format for others to do so through their call-in shows.

This is a sore subject for me because I hate to see my city ripped like we don't have a substantial population of true buckeye fans. We absolutely do. But as NorthCampus states, there are multiple schools competing for the city's loyalty:

UC: Who doesn't want to root for their hometown team? I grew up a huge UC basketball fan when Huggs was in town. Yea, the bUCkeye state shirts were annoying, but so what? They were going to their first BCS game EVER! Let them be proud.
Kentucky: Cincinnati is in Ohio, not Kentucky. But Big Blue has a national following. Being across the river, it makes sense that cincy has some UK fans.
Notre Dame: Yea, it's tough to defend this one. But the west side is predominantly Catholic, as is the GCL (Greater Catholic League), which is by far, the dominant HS conference in Cincy. A lot of those kids grow up ND fans.
Indiana: I never encountered many Indiana fans in the 513.

But even with these competing schools, I'd say Ohio State, far and away, has the largest contingent of any fan base in Cincinnati.

+1 HS
bigtenspeed's picture

Agree, I only see OSU flags in my neighborhood so definitely a lot more Buckeye fans than 700 or 1530 want to admit. I still don't understand how Lousiville and UK have weekly radio shows and their games on the radio here and we don't.

Crumb's picture

For some reason Cincinnati is the only major city in Ohio that doesn't have writer for their local paper that follows the Buckeyes. I'm born and raised in Cincinnati but I'm in the minority of Cincinnatians that remember we're in OHIO.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
Youngbuck85's picture

Love president Ono.... HATE UC. Worst fans in college sports 

-2 HS
thatlillefty's picture

Please explain how UC has the worst fans in college sports, I really want to know.

BuckeyeNationforLife's picture

Living in Cincy, UC fans are absolutely atrocious. They are brain washed into thinking after their Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl bids that they are on Ohio State's level of competition and they honestly believe they have a good chance this fall. They have no clue that most of the country finds their team irrevelant in most years, and they continue to talk about how great they're going to be year after year. Gunner Kiel is the messiah to them. It's flat-out ridiculous.

Paralyze resistance with persistence. - Woody Hayes

+4 HS
HotSauceCommittee's picture

I am probably more worried about this game than I should be. CInci will be up, play with fire and be focused. OSU could come in at home and play down to their competition leading to a tighter than needed game.

+2 HS
AeroBuckeye2001's picture

The Bearcats nearly played for the 2008 national championship

I think that's a bit of stretch. The had 2 losses going into the Orange Bowl, which they lost to VT. 

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

+1 HS
trigg03's picture

Actually I think that was the year that Florida destroyed them in the sugar bowl - right?

+3 HS
Jdadams01's picture

You are correct, sir. But UC never had a shot at the National Championship Game. It wouldn't have mattered if they were the only undefeated.

trigg03's picture

Prior to the Brian Kelly years - I actually had high hopes that UC would become a major cfb program. But then once they began enjoying some resemblance of success in their conference and I began hearing all the smack talk not only amongst their fan base but even in the local media I took offense to the blatant disrespect being directed towards tOSU. As if they had mysteriously knocked the Buckeyes off in a game deserving all the junk they were saying. I found myself actually disliking anything to do with UC. They have yet to win a meaningful game. The B.E. had become a much weaker conference by the time UC started winning in that conference so there wasn't alot to boast about buy yet they did anyway. And truth be known T.T. left Texas Tech because he was about to be let go there. He didn't exactly turn that program into a powerhouse - actually he allowed it to sink into mediocrity. So I'm not the least bit concerned that he will bring UC back to where B.K. had it to. Now if their fan base would learn how to act & give OSU the respect they have earned over the course of the past 70+ years then I would be willing to accept UC as a decent program but until that happens I will continue to harbor disdain with them.

+2 HS
Bucksfan's picture

Now if their fan base would learn how to act & give OSU the respect they have earned over the course of the past 70+ years.

They would say the same thing about Ohio State fans, who give UC no respect for their basketball.

+2 HS
bigtenspeed's picture

Funniest thing about their fanbase and local media in 2008 and 2009 was that they thought they could just schedule us on a whim. Somehow OSU was "afraid" to play them. You could easily see how new the fans were to college football; not understandjng that schedules are filled years in advance. Then they were the ones who cancelled the 2012 game with us. I don't think we talked trash or really even cared.

hetuck's picture

You can bet UC is furiously lobbying the NCAA to not change the rule requiring conferences to have twelve teams for a conference title game. That is their only hope to get into the B12 and entry into the Power Five. If the NCAA changes the rule, it's game over. Why add teams and dilute the pot? They will be on the outside looking in with BYU, UCF, Boise, etc. If the B12 expands, I'd say UC in the east to pair with WVU and BYU in the west.  

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+2 HS
Crumb's picture

Pretty sure BYU is gonna stay independent no matter what.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

Crumb's picture

Something that's always bothered me here in Cincy is that too many people just refer to us as Cincinnati, USA. Excuse me but you know that huge river that keeps us from running into Kentucky? You know it's name? That's the State you live in!!! OHIO.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Release the hounds! It is time to hunt Bearcat this fall.
Go Bucks!

+2 HS
Stinson's picture

Went to Nippert Stadium for the Louisville game last year. I wore a plain red sweatshirt and tOSU hat and you should have heard the things that were said to me about Ohio State. So ridiculous that I wasn't even offended. We better beat them by 50.

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

jjas311's picture

I've been to several UC games in Ohio State gear and never had a problem with their fans.  Personally, I love their stadium and enjoy the atmosphere. As a new member to the site, I am sort of apalled at how many people talk trash about UC, I have never had trouble with them.  Maybe someone can fill me in on where all this animosity comes from?  I rarely hear UC fans bashing Ohio State fans down here, to them it's like Columbus doesnt exist.

jjas311's picture

If I remember correctly Cincinnati was actually just a second away from playing for the National Championship in 2010 not 2008.  Texas has 1 second put on the clock to kick goal in the Big 12 Championship against Nebraska after Colt McCoy threw an incomplete pass that touched the ground with barely a second left.  Had Nebraska won, Cincinnati would have been the only other undefeated team that season.  


I'm not sure if I like this site.  Sort of seems like a lot of biased fans bashing on other programs in the comments section of some poorly written articles by amateur journalists.

+1 HS
Republic of CVG's picture

 I grew up Buckeye but graduated a Bearcat.  We are so happy to get to play you again as we did in 2002.  We don't aspire to be Ohio State, and wish you the best.  Cincinnati is to Ohio like New Orleans is to Louisiana.  Cincinnati is a unique asset to Ohio.  One only needs to attend opening day for the Reds to get a taste.  When you see a UC fan in September, go out of your way to welcome them (you'll be like the class fans at 'Ol Miss, Georgia, and Florida if you do).  Ohio needs to recognize the seismic trends in sports, immigration south, and business that are working against it.    It's a pity that the value of over-achievement and spirit of "next man in" and "next coach in" brought to life in Clifton the last 10 years aren't known and celebrated more in Buckeye land.  Enjoy beating Rutgers...we did.