December 28, 2012

Paying for the sins of Buckeyes past

12-0 notwithstanding, the scandal-plagued school won't be competing in a postseason bowl.

By RUSTY MILLER The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jack Mewhort loves college football. Yet he likely won't go out of his way to watch a single bowl game in the coming days.

Urban Meyer
click image to enlarge

Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer isn’t one to dwell on what-ifs, but he can’t help but think his Buckeyes would be a prime contender for the NCAA national championship.

The Associated Press

What's the point, the thoughtful, red-haired Ohio State offensive lineman says, not really seeking an answer.

"Now that the season is over, you can sit around and think to yourself a little bit," he said in a voice a lot softer than you might expect coming from a body measuring 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds. "Your mind kind of wanders. We accomplished everything we possibly could.

"But you've got to keep the demons out."

The Buckeyes aren't allowed, due to NCAA violations committed by those no longer with the team, to play in a bowl game. They did all they could during the 2012 season, going 12-0.

So while Notre Dame and one-loss Alabama fight it out for the national championship, and while lesser teams play in sunny climes and get maximum exposure, Mewhort and the rest of the Buckeyes are left with their thoughts.

Coach Urban Meyer is perfectly willing to move on, to cease all the talk about NCAA crimes and punishment.

But that doesn't mean, the Ohio State coach still doesn't have a lingering regret: What might have been.

"It's very difficult," concedes Meyer, not one to spend a lot of time dealing with the what-ifs of daily life. "After we won our last game (against rival Michigan) and we saw we couldn't go play in the Big Ten championship game, and then if we would have won that we might have been playing for the national championship -- you can't help but think about it."

There's plenty of regret to go around at Ohio State these days. There's regret that former Coach Jim Tressel, who wrote books about integrity, morals and leading a Christian life, found out in 2010 that some of his best players took money from a suspected drug dealer and yet did nothing about it. He played those players anyway and they were later ruled ineligible for taking cash and free tattoos. A 12-1 season, including a Sugar Bowl victory two years ago, was wiped off the books.

Tressel was forced out of the job in disgrace after 10 years and all of the players involved either graduated, moved on to the NFL or went elsewhere.

There's also regret that Athletic Director Gene Smith, who once worked on the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, didn't give up a meaningless Gator Bowl bid after the 2011 season as a pre-emptive strike to mollify the NCAA. The thinking is that, had he surrendered that game -- what would be the seventh loss in an utterly forgettable year of suspensions, innuendo, investigations and sanctions -- perhaps the current Buckeyes might still be pursuing that elusive national championship berth.

Smith, for one, refuses to play the blame game. He said he doesn't feel any remorse for his decision whatsoever.

"No. As I've said before, with the information we had at the time we made the decisions at the time that we felt were the best decisions," he said. "So we've moved on. I guess that's the challenge. We've moved on. We're looking at what we accomplished this year, we're looking at the future and we're recognizing the opportunities ahead of us that are exciting because of how we stayed focused on helping this team and this coaching staff be successful."

Of course, the players affected the most by the bowl ban are Ohio State's seniors. They overcame doubts and questions to post just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in the program's 123 seasons. Yet, for the sins of others, they're deprived of the reward of going on a good bowl trip.

(Continued on page 2)

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