FEAR ITSELF: "Scandal"

By Ramzy Nasrallah on July 21, 2021 at 1:15 pm
jim tressel, how could you

Media companies crave national stories that gain traction and stay relevant.

Deep and wide penetration - that's the prime engagement content. People all over the country getting interested and turning one click into a habit of checking your channel, your station or your page.

Habits create repeat users, which build large and reliable audiences, which command premium ad rates. A site's coverage for just one blockbuster story can transform its reputation.

You already knew this. You're smart. Consider this lede:

Felony Charges for Ohio State Football Players.

Yeah, that story is going to do numbers. Thousands of news bits are spewed each day and almost all of them receive their final clicks within two hours. Most bits quickly become dead pages in the massive internet landfill. Perhaps a google search will exhume one many years later.

That's because spew is mostly regional, boring and unremarkable - stories lose their fizz quickly. But Felony Charges for Ohio State Football Players exceeds the normal spew expiration date, every time. It's spicy for all the right reasons if you're in the building-large-and-reliable-audiences business.

gene and urban
Gene Smith and Urban Meyer address the media following a month-long investigation into Ohio State's handling of Zach Smith in 2018.

Spicy stories - an upcoming weather event, a disgraced bureaucrat with a penchant for sending unsolicited dick pics, a mysterious drifter who claims she can read cats' minds - those command more lucrative advertising rates. If we can't look away from a news story, it becomes a series.

Ohio State football news is no different, which is part of why this particular web site performs well, year-round. Tens of thousands of you will click on a story about a talented teenager narrowing down his list of potential schools to the final 17 if Ohio State is one of them.

Conversely, only thousands of you will still click if he eliminates the Buckeyes. We usually run both of those stories; Ohio State recruiting news is a beast. But Ohio State football scandal news is its own species. Let's re-examine that lede from above in full context; emphasis added.

"The police chief says officers considered pursuing felony charges against the three men, including two Ohio State football players, who were arrested during the weekend."

You would click on that story, and 11W would be negligent to not run a verified and sourced story like that (you would be surprised by the number of complaints we field for publishing bad news). Hopefully you'd already be sitting on the toilet when that kind of Ohio State football information breaks, because a lot more than your heart drops whenever that happens.

Welcome back to Fear Itself. Our premise:

Buckeye football nightmares are justified anxiety for the simple fact that they're syndicated. These terrible events have actually happened - numerous times - so we know they can and will exist.

Previously we visited Purdue Harbor and the replay booth before paying a visit to That Team.

Today we’re talking about how *Woody Hayes voice* three things happen whenever Ohio State fields a football team, and two of them are bad. The first thing: losing a game.

This episode focuses on the other thing, which is scandals "scandals."


What's especially attractive for media outlets is non-Ohio State fans click on that lede too.

Every shop that owns a virtual copy of Page Views for Dummies would then pick the story up to get in on that sweet clicky action, and this is the poorly-kept secret as to why: Merely trolling Ohio State fans delivers a huge audience. Our particular weakness as a fan base is always taking the bait and spreading it to every corner of our world.

If we're happy we click. If we're mad we click. No one cares about our feelings as long as we click.

A national news story.

Those ominous mugshots are from the Felony Charges for Ohio State Football Players lede.

I was the lucky one here manning the 11W weekend newsdesk when the story broke and the world stood still, which meant I got an unfortunate byline for publishing the news that two Buckeye starters could be facing felony charges after robbing a bank stealing a car helping Chapo escape from Federal prison well...we didn't know what they did yet.

This is all we knew.

Earlier today Buckeye [names redacted] were arrested and charged with "obstructing official business" by Shawnee Hills police in Delaware County.

It was going to be a slow drip of information. Is that a pun? Am I making light of crimes?

Yes and yes. It turned out the "obstructing official business" charge stemmed from them peeing outside during the Memorial Tournament and then running away from a cop that saw them

That officer - just like in every movie ever made when two shadowy perps are caught in the act of peeing near a ritzy golf course - immediately called for backup. The aforementioned Shawnee Hills police chief was one of the reinforcements in hot pursuit, and he broke his thumb after he tripped and fell while attempting to catch and apprehend the urinators. Which meant:

Since an officer was hurt, police considered felony charges against the three but decided against it.

Felonious. The slow drip added more spice than necessary, and delivered an untold number of additional clicks. If you happened to click on that embedded link above from WBNS and scrolled to the bottom, you might have noticed an interesting footer to the page; emphasis added:

Stay with 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for continuing coverage.

Buckeye fans, make sure you keep hammering that refresh button - the Great Pee N' Flee of 2012 just might become the next O.J. trial and you wouldn't want to miss a single update.

I'm not including and have redacted the typed names of both players pictured above in this article in order to keep their negative 2012 SEO contained. I will mention the name of the police chief who fell down, broke his thumb and considered felony charges out of spite. That's Sean LeFever, and while neither player ended up catching a felony charge, LeFever wasn't quite as fortunate.

Five days later intrepid journalists were scanning police reports to run fresh stories with new details - including exactly what they peed on, the time of their arrest, if the players waived their rights upon giving themselves up and any other juicy details recorded from the incident.

And that one example of "scandal" leads us to that fear we all share, that at any point in time - without notice, warning or reason - Ohio State football is going to be splashed all over every media outlet for the wrong reasons. We are conditioned to hate the media because of past transgressions like this.

It's not because of SEC newsroom editors, the deep state or any other shadowy/imaginary figure intent on harming Ohio State football. It's mostly because of us. We're easy marks for driving traffic.

The Buckeyes do great viewership numbers, so it's because of them too. Cult of Personality helps; Jim Tressel was a pageviews machine, as was Urban Meyer. Gordon Gee might be the pageviewiest college president of the past 40 years. Football players, too. Justin Fields. Braxton Miler. Cardale Jones. Others we'll mention in just a little bit.

Ryan Day? Not really. Not yet; maybe not ever. That's mostly good!


Alabama, however dominant its been over the past 15 years, doesn't really command scandal coverage - and it also operates in a state that has basically killed sunshine laws for two main reasons, the other being Auburn. It's practically impossible to investigate the Crimson Tide. Conversely, it's incredibly easy to investigate Ohio State.

The most traumatic example of this access was Tatgate, which began in December 2010 and was a daily fixture in sports news through December 2011 when the NCAA levied sanctions against the program. Media delivered a solid year of daily "scandal" coverage that took place in parallel to Jerry Sandusky/Penn State and Nevin Shapiro/Miami revealing themselves. Ohio State's "scandal" and Penn State's scandal were routinely reported together.

Seven years later, the entire month of August and most college football preseason coverage was commandeered by Brett McMurphy's Facebook page, but that wasn't the first time the preseason was dominated by Ohio State football not doing football things.

Andy Katzenmoyer's eligibility ahead of the 1998 season was a national story that stuck for weeks. Six Buckeye recruits getting stuck in the academic clearinghouse in 1999 turned into countless thinkpieces on what was going on in Columbus. Maurice Clarett. Terrelle Pryor. When "scandals" are absent, we get treated to things like Braxton's arm falling off in practice. It all hits us the same way.

Seven summers ago ESPN's Outside the Lines program sent a camera crew to Columbus and followed Dennis Talbott around town while he ran errands and drove his daughter around. They set the whole thing to ominous music and packaged it like a murder mystery. When we can't look away from a new story, it becomes a series. It's a business, man.

We have no lesson here and there isn't any practical guidance for how to extinguish this kind of noise (watch where you pee, comrades). What we do have is a sliver lining, and that is as long as the Buckeyes are good, relevant and interesting - and residing in a state where you can FOIA anything - this will remain possible.

Consider the dull and mostly boring noise that has spewed from Ann Arbor since the century turned. No one could care about our beloved football program except for us.

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