In normal years, “Michigan week” is the highlight of the year in Columbus. Following his hire in the winter of 2001, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel even gave a speech at a Buckeye basketball game saying that in 310 days his team would be successful in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines.
But the reasons the national media are focusing on Columbus this week have little to do with the annual battle against Michigan this Saturday.
In a group of ESPN the Magazine stories released on Nov. 9, former players made allegations of wrongdoing against the Ohio State football program, which have led to a host of problems for Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger.
After former running back Maurice Clarett claimed that he was given cars and bogus gardening jobs by Ohio State, the school declared that the popular ESPN program “College GameDay” was not welcome in Columbus on Saturday. Also, former Buckeye basketball coach Jim O’Brien sued Ohio State last week because he feels the school owes him millions from the remainder of his contract. Earlier this season, Lydell Ross, the Buckeyes’ leading rusher, was suspended for one game and kept out of another for an incident at a local strip club. This is all in the middle of a disappointing 6-4 season for the Buckeyes.
The various problems have caused Geiger to conduct long press conferences after Tressel met with the media at Ohio State’s weekly press luncheon the past two Tuesdays. Tressel started his press conference this week saying that he feels “very good about how we do things at Ohio State” before answering any questions regarding his team’s biggest game of the year.
Geiger then had to attend to a number of other issues. One of which was his disdain toward ESPN.
Earlier this week, ESPN had preliminary discussions with Ohio State about coming to Columbus on Saturday. Although the show appeared at Ohio State the last time Michigan played in Columbus, the Buckeyes said that they would have declined if they had been formally asked.
“Given some of the emotion around ESPN in this community, and given the required security, it probably would have been our judgment — had we been asked — to ask them to go someplace else on this particular day,” Geiger said.
Geiger didn’t comment on the likely upcoming legal battle between the school and O’Brien. According to an Associated Press report, O’Brien was fired in June after Geiger said O’Brien admitted paying $6,000 to a recruit. O’Brien is suing for damages because he and the school are under disagreement as to whether O’Brien should have been fired without pay.
“I can’t comment on pending litigation, OK?” Geiger said. “If I could, I would.”
Geiger also defended a number of Ohio State policies including giving credit to players for simply playing football. Geiger added that Ohio State gives credit to students in a number of activities including musical organizations, theatre groups and student publications.
“We think intercollegiate activities is an important part of a person’s education and to not value them in some way, given the time and effort that students put into it and the role that it plays in their lives, I think, would be too bad,” Geiger said.
For now, the Buckeyes are preparing to ruin the Wolverines’ dream of a trip to Pasadena. But with the multiple allegations they’re facing, it’s just a little bit harder.