Skull Session: Nadine Muzerall is One of Ohio State's Best Coaches, Aaron Craft Talks Medical School and the Big Ten is Down to Three Scheduling Models

By Chase Brown on March 20, 2023 at 5:00 am
Nadine Muzerall

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Ohio State women's basketball continues its quest for a national championship on Monday at 4 p.m. with a second-round matchup with North Carolina at Value City Arena.

Let's ride, Buckeye Nation.

And let's have a good Monday, shall we?

 THE BEST OF THE BEST. Ohio State women's hockey fell short of its second consecutive national championship in a narrow 1-0 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday. The Badgers claimed their seventh title with the win – the most of any program in women's college hockey – so there's no shame in the defeat.

In fact, when I think of Ohio State women's hockey, "shame" is the furthest word from my mind. The reason for that is head coach Nadine Muzerall.

When Muzerall arrived at Ohio State seven years ago, the Buckeyes were far from the national championship contender they are today. Jackie Barto coached the team from its inception in 1999 until 2011, then Nate Handrahan took the reins from 2011-15, then Jenny Potter for the 2015-16 season. None of those coaches ever reached the NCAA Tournament.

Enter Coach Muz.

After Muzerall's first season in which Ohio State went 14-18-5, the Buckeyes underwent a meteoric rise to the top of a sport dominated by Clarkson, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota and Wisconsin. With two Frozen Four appearances in the next four years (and likely a third if the 2020 tournament weren't canceled), the Buckeyes were knocking at the door, looking to become only the fifth program in women's hockey to win a national championship.

In 2021-22, Muzerall and Ohio State accomplished that feat, defeating Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, as the No. 1 overall seed in the program's first-ever trip to the Frozen Four finals. And the Buckeyes did that after Muzerall called her shot, telling every Ohio State coach at an athletics department meeting that her team would win the title months before it happened.

This year, Ohio State was once again the top-seeded program in the NCAA Tournament and beat Quinnipiac and Northeastern on its way to face Wisconsin in its second consecutive championship appearance. The Buckeyes held an advantage in shots (31-22), faceoffs (29-25) and time of possession in the final. But the puck luck wasn't in favor of Ohio State, leaving the team's skaters with nothing to do but watch as Wisconsin celebrated its seventh national championship in AMSOIL Arena.

I know that hurt. But again, a loss to the Badgers should not lead the Buckeyes to shame, especially in a single-elimination championship. As we know with March Madness, the better team doesn't always win in that format – just the team that plays better on that day. But I'm not sure if that's entirely true, either.

Even without back-to-back titles, Ohio State has established itself as one of the best programs in women's hockey. The Buckeyes have done more than enough to prove they are here to stay and belong in the same conversation with the sport’s established powerhouses.

That is, as long as Muzerall stands above the players wearing scarlet and gray in the box.

While I am biased toward Holly Vargo-Brown being the best coach at Ohio State (because she is my Mom, of course, but also because she's been a part of 27 synchronized swimming national championships), one could easily make a strong argument that Muzerall is the best coach in Columbus.

That argument will only improve if Muzerall continues to keep Ohio State women's hockey in the national championship hunt every year. If the first seven years have been any indication, that outcome feels more likely than not.

  DR. AARON CRAFT, EVERYONE. When it comes to Ohio State men's basketball, Aaron Craft has always been and will always be a fan-favorite. And when you look at his résumé, it's easy to see why.

Craft mastered the court and the classroom at Ohio State from 2010-2014, receiving four Big Ten All-Defensive Team honors, two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards and two Academic All-American of the Year accolades in four years. He also became the school's all-time leader in steals (337) and ranks in the top 10 in assists (694). He was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022.

After a seven-year career as a professional player in the NBA G League and in Hungary, Italy and France (and an impressive run with Carmen's Crew in the TBT), Craft retired from basketball. He returned to the United States in 2020 and enrolled at Ohio State's College of Medicine, where the Findlay, Ohio, native has studied to become a doctor for the past three years.

In a recent interview with Kelli Trinoskey of the Ohio State Alumni Magazine, Craft explained how lessons he learned from basketball have helped him in the classroom during that time. From managing the rigors of medical school to learning how to balance education and family, here is what Trinoskey wrote about Craft's experience:

As a third-year medical student at Ohio State, Craft’s game-day uniform consists of scrubs or his short white coat. (The length conveys his student status and journey toward the long white coat of a physician.)

Craft is in the thick of clinical rotations, putting his learnings from labs and lecture halls into practice caring for patients. “Clinical rotations drop you in situations where you’re going to mess up, ask the wrong questions or not know the answers,” he says. “My ability to manage uncertainty came from the game.”

This year, Craft also is tasked with determining the area of medicine he wants to pursue and preparing his residency applications. He’s decided to become an ear, nose and throat specialist. “I really enjoy the anatomy and pathology of the head and neck, doing surgery and patient follow-ups in the clinic,” he says.

Of course, Craft aims to be a great physician while acknowledging and embracing other life priorities. “I’m willing to work very hard but don’t want work to define who I am,” he says. “I’m also a husband and a dad.”

Trinoskey ended her article with three words that describe Craft as he strives to achieve balance in his life: "Craft's got game."

That he does, which offers me tremendous confidence that Craft will succeed in all his endeavors for the rest of his life. First, it will be medical school, then it will be finding work as a physician (something that should be easy with his intelligence) and maybe somewhere down the road, it will be opening up his own practice. Who knows?

For someone like him, the sky is the limit.

 GET YOUR SCHEDULES HERE! There's a 99.9% chance that the Big Ten will abandon divisions in football when USC and UCLA become member schools in 2024. The question is: How will the conference handle schedules from that year forward?

The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach and Scott Dochterman reported last week that the Big Ten "continues to mull its future football scheduling options" in the early months of 2023. However, the powers that be in the conference have narrowed down a list of options to three and expect to decide by the summer.

Here are the three options, as discussed by Big Ten presidents, chancellors and athletic directors from universities in the conference:

Protect 3: Three permanent protected matchups, with games against six of the remaining 12 Big Ten opponents one year and the other six the next. Similar to the ACC’s 3-5-5 model, this is the format with the most repeatable structure: Every four years, each team would play three teams four times and the remaining 12 teams twice.

Protect 2: Two permanent protected games played four times over four years. Over the course of four years, each Big Ten team would play the remaining league opponents at least twice and two teams three times.

Flex Protect: A hybrid model in which each Big Ten team has one, two or three protected opponents. This format allows schedule-makers the most flexibility in terms of competitive balance, home-and-away rotations and the specific challenges around West Coast travel for teams playing USC or UCLA.

None of the models involve the continuation of divisions; the league is expected to switch to a single-conference layout for scheduling and championship game qualification when USC and UCLA arrive.

The goals of the remodeled schedule are three-fold: to take into account historical and current competitive balance, to play leaguemates more frequently and to create pathways to the College Football Playoff for more teams in the 12-team CFP era. Better schedule balance should enhance resumes for teams that have historically had weaker league schedules while not unduly burdening the best teams in the league.

I'm still a fan of the 3-6-6 model for the Big Ten (listed as "Protect 3" here) because of what it offers the Buckeyes in terms of guaranteed opponents year in and year out. With that format, Ohio State would play Michigan (duh) – and teams I believe to be locks but are not confirmed – Penn State and USC each season as other schools in the conference rotate into the schedule every few years.

In my opinion, that would be the perfect outcome for Ohio State fans (three great games every year) and the Big Ten and its media partners (money, television viewership).

While I appreciate that the Big Ten has multiple options for the presidents, chancellors and athletic directors to think about, "Protect 2" is essentially "Protect 3" except with one less school, which sounds like no fun, and the "Hybrid Flex" looks highly chaotic. Let's save everyone the hassle, choose Protect 3 and call it a day.

 HEY, THAT'S PRETTY COOL. Besides basketball, baseball is my second-favorite sport. To say that makes me feel like a dinosaur, especially as sports like football, hockey and soccer, among others, continue to grow in popularity in the United States. But hey, I've played the game since I was 5 years old, so I'm basically grandfathered in at this point.

A part of baseball that I always appreciate is that it remembers or pays homage to the past (sometimes a little too much, but that's another story), and that's exactly what Ohio State baseball will do this season with alternate uniforms that celebrate the 140th anniversary of baseball at the university.

Pretty cool, yeah?

By the way, I know Ohio State is primarily a football and basketball school, but don't sleep on the baseball team this year. The Buckeyes have won seven consecutive games and nine of their last 10 as part of an 11-6 start to the 2023 season. It obviously is a long way to Omaha, but first-year head coach Bill Mosiello and the Bucks are hot, and as former pitcher Andrew Magno famously said:

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Hot" by Young Thug feat. Gunna, Travis Scott.

 CUT TO THE CHASE. Fairleigh Dickinson doesn’t have a band, so Dayton's band played in its place... Apparently, Columbus is the most polluted city in the United States... Louisiana works out a deal for family to keep pet nutria... African land snails found in luggage at Michigan airport... 400 books NPR "loves" and thinks you should read.

View 115 Comments