Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Barnhart Unloads

So Tony, what do you really think about Ohio State's descent into NCAA hell?

As of this moment all of my friends from the Big Ten are on notice. And you know who you are. You are the ones who call and write constantly about the (expletive) Southeastern Conference and claim with such confidence that the only reason the SEC has been so successful (five straight national championships and counting) is that its schools are ethically challenged and have their priorities misplaced.

You are the ones who talk about the Big Ten schools in hushed, reverent tones and use terms such as "greater academic mission." Your schools are not football factories like ours in the great, unwashed South. Your schools would never cut ethical corners like we do down here, where you believe our motto is: "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't trying." You look down your collective noses at us.

Give me a freaking break.

I don't want to hear any more lectures on ethics or morals or accountability from that part of the world -- not if Jim Tressel returns as Ohio State's football coach this season.

If a Southern football coach did what Tressel did, which was to engage in an orchestrated coverup of potential NCAA violations, the calls for his firing would have been immediate and would have come from sea to shining sea, especially from the Big Ten. And they would be right.

I can’t really disagree, although I would add one point that Michigan fans - in our snooty, ivory tower, condescending manner – have made for years: Ohio State is the school in the Big Ten that would fit in perfectly in the SEC. Same uncomfortably rabid fan base. Same prioritization of winning over all else. Same “screw yer book-learnin’!” mentality. I suspect that Penn State fans would make the same criticism. How much of this criticism is grounded in reality and how much is just displaced anger that the Bucks have been clobbering Michigan and (to a lesser degree) Penn State on the field is anyone’s guess. That said, the overall point is that Ohio State’s scandal does not reflect a systemic problem in the Big Ten; it reflects a systemic problem at Ohio State. The Big Ten has other systemic problems (mediocre coaches, declining talent base, Gerry Dinardo), but a casual attitude to NCAA compliance isn’t one of them.

Barnhart’s column also has a whiff of a preemptive strike. There isn’t so much smoke coming from the Plains as a plume of radioactive waste. (Happy 25th anniversary, Chernobyl!) If prior history is any guide, Auburn will go down and take everyone they can with them. Every little morsel of dirt that they can find on their rivals (especially that rival in Tuscaloosa) will come out. What Mike Slive had successfully avoided for most of his tenure, but is now confronting is a repeat of the 80s and 90s where SEC teams turned one another in in a never-ending spiral of allegations. With media interest in the SEC at an all-time high, the prospect of multiple scandals looms. Barnhart knows this, which is why playing the “you’re dirty, too!” card, early and loudly, makes sense.


Anonymous said...

OSU is also the program with enough talent to fit into the SEC. OSU's demise will just exacerbate the Big Ten's demise.

Seriously, be ready to field queries from a lot of disconcerted Michigan bloggers and fans in 2012, when a purportedly good Michigan team gets pummelled by Alabama, just like PSU and MSU were eviscerated by Alabama last year. The Big Ten is a massive sell.

Tommy said...

I'm kind of surprised that Barnhart is maintaining the regional apologist role with his new national platform. The cornpone element in his writing always made me cringe, but he was always kept a measured tone (albeit often blandly). This kind of redneck link-trolling seems to be an unfortunate thing CBS has forced on him.

I also don't get the approach of framing this in terms of conference vs. conference. You know who's really happy about Ohio State's woes? Michigan and Penn State fans. You know who's really excited about Auburn's issues? Alabama fans. Mastery of this dynamic is how Finebaum covered his kids' college funds by their fifth birthdays.

Michael said...

I don't think Michigan fans will be surprised if UM gets rolled by Bama in 2012. At least I won't be.

Tommy, CBS employs Gregg Doyel. Why would you be surprised that Barnhart would troll for links on that site? Also, he's always been something of a regional homer and CBS covers the SEC exclusively, so he's really going to scratch that itch now. At least when he was with the AJC, he was restrained by the fact that the AJC has an ACC audience.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that OSU resembles the character of an SEC program, I'd argue that further precision is necessary to the argument. Namely, I'd argue that OSU is the Big 10 team most similar to SEC teams from Alabama. The characteristic winning-at-any-cost attitude may exist on, e.g., UGA and UF message boards, but UF coaches and boosters still turn their noses up at greyshirting. And you'll have a hard time finding a serious USC or Ole Miss fan who will tell you that only their team embodies everything right in America. In contrast, talk to a UA/Auburn fan, coach, booster, or watergirl, and I'd guess that even the watergirl would scissor kick you for questioning medical redshirts.

Besides, other Big 10 teams also resemble SEC squads. Frankly, I'm amazed that a UM man like yourself didn't, watch the pun here, go for the green on this excellent lie and name MSU. Character issues all over the team? Frequent arrests? Strange feeling several recruits were paid? Unbridled and often unsuccessful devotion to I-formation running? Could be Tennessee in any recent year.

Or: crazy coach who’s a “great recruiter” and relies on motivation instead of game-planning and is willing to give players “second chances?” Talented teams who can never quite put it together through an entire season? Consistently drunk student body trapped in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t really expect a championship? We could equally be talking about Ole Miss or Illinois here.

Wisconsin’s out, though—no head coach in the South would ever wear hair gel.

Personally, I think that the main media foci of the past year (greyshirting, paid players, etc.) stamped the character of Alabama-based football on the entire SEC—and this is exactly what we’re now seeing at OSU. Also, while I’d never impute to Northwestern or Penn State the oversigning techniques of MSU, Ole Miss, or USC, I’ll be interested to see whether Pelini, D’Antonio, Ferentz, and Zook begin to think that competing against Madison, Ann Arbor, Columbus & Happy Valley takes a little more than devotion to academic mission. Academics doesn’t build “Legends,” after all …

Anonymous said...

Academics *don't* build "Legends" ... in my defense, as an SEC fan I'm required to view "academics" as a unitary entity distinct from (and principally opposed to) all things athletic.