Ohio State fans should be scared right now. This is not going well. Quite frankly, this is going about as poorly as they could have feared. Even with Jim Tressel's resignation, the NCAA was likely to impose some kind of additional sanction on Ohio State. That was when we were just talking about six players and five games. Now, after the addition of nine additional current players, and double digits of new violations over the past five years? It's going to get bad. As Doc. Saturday acutely noted:
The Sports Illustrated story wasn't the bomb many expected it to be, but it's yet another thing the NCAA can point to while it's deliberating on a punishment. It probably won't be the death penalty that SMU received in the 80s because that set the program back 25 years and the NCAA can't afford to do that to a place like Ohio State. But trust that the punishment will be harsher than the one handed out to USC. The Trojans were basically penalized for the actions of one player, the NCAA has at least 18 and a coach to finger at Ohio State.
So what are we talking about?
Are we talking about additional suspensions this year? Very likely. In fact, I'd be surprised if Ohio State doesn't self-impose five games on the other current players. Maybe they try to space them out over the year. Maybe they're all in the first five games. But if the players got tattoos for gold pants (or autographs, or jerseys, or...), they're going to miss five games.
Are we talking about vacated wins? The only question is how many. All of 2010 should be gone (meaning Ohio State still hasn't beaten an SEC team in a bowl game). The four years prior to that? Maybe those too.
Are we talking probation? Of course we are. Probation is not an issue - as long as everything in Columbus is squeaky clean for the next two-five years. However, breaking rules while on probation? That gets really bad, really fast. It also means that NCAA Compliance will take up a permanent residence in Columbus for the duration. Not good news.
Are we talking about a bowl ban? Here's where things get a little more grey. If all we have is the merchandise swapped for tattoos by five players, we might not have this. But, if the NCAA believes the other allegations in the SI story (such as the merchandise for drugs) or finds impropriety in the car dealing, then all hell will come down upon Columbus. It's not enough to say that OSU didn't know. Willful ignorance is no defense. Compliance Officials have to monitor, not just correct. All of these misdeeds under their watch? That sure looks like a failure to monitor. A two year ban similar to USC's? That's as good of a guess as any.
Are we talking free player transfers? Could we see the NCAA allow non-involved players freely transfer from OSU to other schools? I can't see why not.
Are we talking about scholarship reductions? If it's more than just the pants-for-tats, I bet we are. Could it match USC? Unlike Doc Saturday, I don't know if the NCAA will go that far, but let's assume so for the moment. That's 10 scholarships a year lost over three years. Like syphilis, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Let's assume that this starts with the February 2012 recruiting class. Ohio State can only sign 15 players. That means for the 2012 season, Ohio State will have, at most, 75 scholarship athletes. After the same happens in 2013, OSU will have at most 65 scholarship athletes. After 2014, OSU will have AT MOST 55 scholarship athletes for the 2014 football season.
Moreover, until those classes finish their four year cycle, Ohio State cannot use scholarships to fill those losses. That means that Ohio State will have 55 scholarship athletes in 2015, 65 scholarship athletes in 2016, and 75 scholarship athletes in 2017. It will be 2018 before OSU will have a full boat of scholarship players. Brutus just threw up in his mouth. But others just started smiling.
So who should be happy about this? No one, really. It sucks to see this kind of dishonestly brought to light at Ohio State. However, who will benefit from this? Let's count them off...
1) Colorado and Miami
The Buffs and Canes already knew that they'd be facing a slightly depleted Buckeye squad. As of yesterday morning, they also knew that they would be the first and second key test for an interim head coach. But now, if Ohio State has nine additional players suspended for the first week of the season, including several key defensive cogs, Ohio State seems substantially weaker.
2) Michigan State
They're the only Big Ten team that gets to face the Buckeyes during the five game suspension window. The game is in Columbus, but it's still going to be a depleted Ohio State team facing Sparty. If the Buckeyes have lost one of their two non-con tests, there will be blood in the water. Plus, with sanctions this severe, do you think that Mark D'Antonio wants to head to Columbus, right now?
What a great year to join the Big Ten! The six time* defending Big Ten champ is knee-capped. Also, it could well be that Terrelle Pryor doesn't make his first start in Lincoln. It could be a first-year starter. Plus, with sanctions this severe, do you think that Bo Pelini wants to head to Columbus, right now?
4) Wisconsin and Penn State
When the Big Ten announced the football divisions in August of last year, I wrote that the Leaders Division (nee X Division) reminded me of the SEC East. Ohio State was Florida, and Penn State and Wisconsin were Tennessee and Georgia, respectively. Well, in the divisional era, the Vols and Dawgs have not known the joy of seeing Florida hamstrung by the NCAA (hamstrung by Ron Zook, yes. But that's still not this bad). That new annual season-ender between the Badgers and Lions should be for the Leaders crown almost every year through 2018.
5) Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana
When do the little guys kick the bully? When he's down, of course! Get your wins now, guys. This is your decade to get your licks in. It's been too long since these schools have taken two in a row from Ohio State. I'm betting that at least one of them can pull that off.
6) Iowa and Northwestern
With the schedules in place, the Hawkeyes and Wildcats will miss Ohio State this year and next. They will, however, get a chance to pick on Brutus in 2013, as the scholarship losses and transfers really start to hurt.
I know that the vacating of Ohio State's victories will be little comfort. But it's something. You know that wins in a majority of the next 7 Games should be a given. That's exciting. Plus, Ohio State could be in its weakest state since the 1920s. Ohio State hasn't had a losing record since 1988. That streak should be ending. And recruiting? Ohio is still a key component in Michigan's recruiting strategy. With the Buckeyes able to offer fewer scholarships (and likely having difficulty getting others due to the violations), Michigan is a logical home for many top Midwestern players.
8) Notre Dame
Woody Hayes used to joke that he was Ara Parseghian's top recruiter. When there was a Midwestern player that made it clear that he didn't want to go to Ohio State, he would do his best to get the player to commit to Ara, rather than be wooed up to Ann Arbor. It remains to be seen how much help the new Ohio State coaches will give Brian Kelly. But even without their help, the Irish should be in a great position to benefit in the Midwestern recruiting battles.
9) Virginia Tech
This games in 2014 and 2015 look much less daunting, don't they? That is assuming that Ohio State doesn't decide that they need to buy those games out. Because that's what it may come to with Ohio State...