By Dave Wischnowsky–
Ponder this: If Ohio State hadn’t tattooed an “L” on the Arkansas Razorbacks Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl, Ron Zook would have been the 2010-11 Poster Boy for Big Ten Postseason Success.
Now, that’s when you know your conference has had a bad month.
But, as ugly as the past 30 days have been for the Big Ten – what, with the Legends & Leaders debacle, the bad trophy names and logo, and the 0-for-5 New Year’s Day disaster – I think the conference’s most unsightly moment came Tuesday during what was supposedly its biggest triumph.
Yes, Ohio State might have won the Sugar Bowl, but the Big Ten lost in the process.
In case you’ve been busy selling autographs and missed the news, here’s a quick refresher on the Ohio State situation: Last month, five Buckeyes players – including quarterback Terrelle Pryor – were busted for selling memorabilia to a Columbus tattoo artist for cash and ink. The NCAA suspended the quintet for five games – but opted to delay that suspension until next season and allow the players to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Conscious of the TV ratings it would lose without Pryor & Co. on the field in New Orleans, the Big Ten happily accepted the decision. And Jim Tressel did, too.
Ohio State’s coach, mind you, could have sent a message to his team – and to college football, as a whole – by suspending the players for the Sugar Bowl himself, but he didn’t. Instead, the man with the vested interest made the players “promise” to return to Columbus so they could be suspended next season.
“We told them they would have to make the decision on the NFL prior to leaving for the bowl game,” Tressel said at his first Sugar Bowl news conference. “It wouldn’t be fair to not face the consequences down the road.”
So, of course they’re all coming back. I mean, they probably even pinky swore.
So embarrassing has the whole saga been that SI.com’s Andy Staples called out the Big Ten this morning by writing: “Thanks to the events of the past month, you’ve forfeited the right to the moral superiority you’ve enjoyed over the SEC. You can be as good as the SEC on the field, but the human beings in the Big Ten’s premier athletic department are no better than the human beings in the athletic departments at the football factories in the SEC.”
And as for those Buckeyes supposedly returning to Columbus to face the music? Well, they have until Jan. 15 to stick to their word – or to tell Tressel, “Ah, you know what? I changed my mind. I’m going to the NFL.”
Appearing on national TV after the Sugar Bowl, Pryor didn’t say “Yes” when he was asked if he was returning to Columbus for his senior season. Instead, the Sugar Bowl MVP paused and grunted some kind of unintelligible answer that sounded like “All right.”
Later on off the field, Pryor apparently said he would return, explaining, “Another thing is I don’t think I’m really ready for the NFL. I’ve got a lot of learning off the field. I need to grow up and mature as well. I’ve got a plan going down (with Ohio State), and I have to follow it.”
I’ll believe that Pryor and the rest of Ohio State’s Paint Crew will be back for next season when I see it. But Terrelle was right about one thing in his comments, he does have a lot of learning still to do.
And based upon the decisions its made during the past month, the Big Ten does, too.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.