Imagine you’re in a bus rolling into Columbus, and you’re hours away from the biggest game you may ever play. If you beat Ohio State, you finish the conference season undefeated and earn a bid to the Rose Bowl.
You get out of the bus, and you and your teammates make the short walk to the locker room. The gate is straight ahead, but otherwise, you’re surrounded by scarlet-clad fanatics trying to rattle you. You’ve visited Notre Dame and Purdue this season, but you’re still not prepared for Ohio State.
All you want to do is get into the locker room, collect your thoughts, and focus on the game ahead.
But instead, a police officer stops you, and tells you that he and his wild, barking dog are going to check your bags.
This is what happened to all the players and coaches on Saturday, and it’s something Michigan coach Lloyd Carr isn’t very pleased with.
“I think, at best, it was extremely disrespectful,” Carr said. “It was an extreme measure from the standpoint that the potential for a serious confrontation — some kind of reaction from our team and our players. It could have been an ugly situation.”
But wait — there’s more. Much, much more.
Carr ordered Michigan’s director of football operations, Scott Draper, to find out why this happened, and he was told Ohio State can “do what they want to do at Ohio Stadium.”
Carr wouldn’t say whether or not he thought it was gamesmanship on the Buckeyes’ part, but it appears as though it was.
“We had people in our traveling party who took bags in, who weren’t coaches, and they didn’t even ask them for their bags,” Carr said. “They just walked in right behind us with their bags, and nobody said a word to them.
“It was just the players and the coaches.”
Later, an Ohio State media relations director announced that this check was not out of the ordinary, and had been done for all visiting teams.
Well, Michigan looked into that, and when Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana visited Columbus, they didn’t face anything like this when they entered the stadium.
Finally, with the entire ordeal over, Carr walked to the field and was approached by a police officer who let him know that the search wasn’t ordered by his superiors, but by the Ohio State athletic department.
“We’re talking about how a university in this conference, how their athletic department chose to try to embarrass us,” Carr said.
Carr said time and time again yesterday that the Wolverines did not lose the game because of the security check, and he’s absolutely right. Poor tackling and run-blocking took care of that.
Besides, the check lasted around 10 minutes, and while it forced the players to be subjected to abuse a little while longer, it hardly rattled them.
What makes this entire episode something worth noting is the fact that this security check was ordered by Ohio State’s athletic department, and not some Columbus police officer with a little too much power. And then, the Buckeyes weren’t even forthright.
“What really is interesting is that they would say that with all these other schools it’s been the same all year long when it hasn’t,” Carr said. “There is an issue of credibility here.”
Credibility and Ohio State? Here we go again.
“Athletic department” is awfully vague, but it’s hard to believe some useless clerk could have ordered this security check. And if this kind of shadiness can occur with something so insignificant, how can that endless list of NCAA rules be enforced?
How could Ohio State’s former basketball coach Jim O’Brien be expected to know not to give a recruit a few thousand dollars, even if his family needed the money?
And what about the Maurice Clarett saga? Should football coach Jim Tressel be blamed for setting up players with cars and jobs, as Clarett has alleged, when the people he works with are so desperate to beat their archrival that they send cops with dogs after opposing teams?
And on and on it goes.
Before the game, Carr and Tressel chatted briefly, and the security check came up.
“(Tressel) asked me if we got in okay, and how was everything going,” Carr said. “I said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, they just had your dogs out there searching our bags, Jim. I don’t know what the hell that was all about.’
“But he said, ‘Well, I didn’t know anything about that.’ ”
Carr later added: “I’d have to believe him. But somebody in that department knew.”
It’s hard not to wonder if Ohio State is corrupt from the top to the bottom.
Hopefully, none of it is true, and the future of the biggest rivalry in all of college sports will be as good as ever.
But there’s yet another question Ohio State will have to answer.
Sharad Mattu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org