Ohio State and the Trouble With Little Brothers

By Johnny Ginter on March 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm
Hoooo boy

Once upon a time, there was a little school called Ohio A&M. It was a land grant college created so that the backwards farmers of the Midwest could learn useful tips and tricks in life, like "how to retain your cultural identity while adapting to a new economic reality" and "maybe wash your hands before you eat."

And for five quietly happy years, Ohio A&M peacefully existed alongside older Ohio universities such as Miami, Dayton, Cincinnati, Oberlin, Kenyon, and any number of other schools that primarily served as fronts for the Underground Railroad. Which is really cool, honestly.

But the Civil War was over and racism forever dead, so five years after its founding, Ohio A&M became Ohio State University. Just in time too, for a nation that had solved all socioeconomic issues forever now turned its sleepy eye to recreational sports. And as it turned out, Ohio State University, filled with beefy tough farmers as it was, ended up being super awesome at said sports. Especially football, the awesomest of them all.

The other Ohio universities, though fine institutions of higher learning, began to seethe with jealousy. Suddenly, their academic and social reputations weren't enough! They now had to compete for funding dollars with a sports juggernaut that was now in the process of constructing a veritable Death Star of a stadium, and was consolidating a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of people in Ohio.

Some schools gave up the ghost. Kenyon, Oberlin, Case Western, and more took the high path, gracefully acknowledging defeat in the sporting world while going on to aspire to greater things in academia, while holding on to their noble socially progressive past.

"...And then I woke up."

Other schools took the low road. They hid themselves in the brambly hilly recesses of the Buckeye state, vowing that one day, ONE DAY, they would have their revenge on Ohio State. Shooty hoops or foot ball, it mattered not. One day, they told themselves, one day they would take their rightful place at the head of the collegiate sporting world in the great state of Ohio.

In football, Ohio State remains unbent and unbowed. The Buckeyes haven't lost to an in-state rival on the gridiron in nigh on 90 plus years, and while that streak seems somewhat more likely to end in an era of scholarship restrictions and Big Ten teams getting embarrassed by supposedly lesser conferences, Ohio State football's meaty paws remain firmly gripped around the neck of the likes of Bowling Green.

Maybe you looked at the way Dayton fans celebrated their win over Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in puzzlement, wondering why they cared so much about a victory over one of Thad Matta's most aggressively mediocre teams ever. But that's the thing: it's all that they have.

Every single time that Ohio State schedules an in-state opponent in any sport, it takes a risk, because that school frames their success through how their program matches up against Ohio State. That's the blessing and the curse of a lot of universities in various states around the country, and it generally comes with the territory. But oftentimes I think that Ohio State fans are generally unaware as to just how much fans of other Ohio State schools would love to knock them down a peg.

Cincinnati is a great example. In 2009, UC briefly had a football team worth watching, as they were at one point ranked higher than Ohio State. The university jumped at this one incredibly fleeting victory over the Buckeyes, made these mocking shirts, and promptly got absolutely curbstomped by Florida in the Sugar Bowl. An Ohio State fan looks at this and laughs at the hubris (especially since the following year they ended up going 4-8), but a Bearcat fan thinks wistfully of that one time where they could one up the biggest thing in Ohio collegiate football.

I mean hell, at least it's better than having to resort to bragging about a narrow loss to the 2002 National Championship team.

So this is pretty much euphoria for Dayton fans. They've got a team in the Elite 8 (which is a great accomplishment in of itself), and on top of that they were able to beat the team that essentially defines their success on the way there. If you live in Dayton, you've got the Flyers, the Dayton Dragons, and nothing. This is a big deal.

It's more than the same ol' "they really want to beat us" shtick that people trot out when it comes to rivalries. Fans of the Redhawks, Bearcats, Zips, Rockets, Flyers, Bobcats, Falcons, etc. all truly believe that their football/basketball/whatever programs should be considered the best in the state, reality be dammed. Growing up near Miami University, watching the kind of delusion that says that Redhawks football demands equal column inches with Ohio State in the Middletown Journal is kind of fascinatingly admirable. It's insane, but at least it's earnest.

So that's why I'm inclined to let Dayton have their fun. The Ohio State program under Thad Matta typically destroys any Dayton team during that same timeframe, but since we don't have any real data to prove that, Flyers fans get to enjoy the one bit of evidence that shows the contrary.

Ohio State then has a choice: avoid other Ohio teams, and give them the quixotic hope that they might knock down the big mean windmill once and for all, or schedule them and risk losing and iron grip on the narrative.

One choice allows the Buckeyes to fully assert dominance in a sports crazy state in era when that often seems fleeting. The other opens the door for stupid ads in regional newspapers and lame t-shirts.

It's not an easy decision.

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