With Saturday's 52-49 win over Indiana, Ohio State is a cool 7-0 now, over halfway to an undefeated regular season and with very few serious hurdles left on the schedule. You know what would be even cooler than that? An undefeated season that can last beyond 12 games.
Ah, but that's not to be, seeing as how the NCAA ruled Ohio State ineligible for the 2012 postseason in the wake of the scandal that cost Terrelle Pryor his eligibility and Jim Tressel his job before the 2011 season. Your hamster wheel's probably already turning, but in case it's not: Tressel and Pryor gone in 2011...postseason gone in 2012.
The difference between the hasty farewells to Tressel and Pryor and the postseason ineligibility is that the former was Ohio State's doing, and in relatively swift fashion. The latter, however, fell to the NCAA, who imposed the one-season ban as part of the sanctions it handed down near the end of the 2011 season.
Now, the NCAA's committee on infractions is notoriously difficult to predict, especially with its haphazard approach to precedent. There's no guidebook, no X infraction = Y sanction to plug data into and get a result. And to the NCAA's credit, it knows that every situation is different and governs accordingly.
That being said, what Jim Tressel did was enough for a massive show-cause penalty, which Ohio State clearly knew was coming since he "resigned" after admitting some blatantly egregious violations of NCAA policies. And such willful disregard for eligibility regulations—which are only the backbone of the NCAA's weird, long-standing mission against athlete compensation—draws the NCAA's highest ire.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith really should have seen the postseason ban coming. Tressel and Ohio State had taken advantage of some serious cajoling to get five ineligible players' suspensions (including Pryor) pushed forward to the 2011 regular season so they could participate in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.
Ohio State won that game, largely due to the efforts of Pryor and his fellow ineligible players, and while that win would later be vacated, you had to expect the NCAA was taking a bloodthirsty look at Ohio State's future postseason situation if it came down to it.
Still, Gene Smith decided to punt on the postseason issue, protecting a bowl bid for a team with an interim coach and an overhauled defense and without its best player in Pryor. Unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes barely qualified for a bowl that year at 6-6 and summarily dropped their Gator Bowl date with Florida, 24-17.
We'll bet Smith is glad he jeopardized Ohio State's 2012 postseason for that.
But this is part of a constant theme of underplaying the amount of trouble Tressel and the school were in, right from the start. Remember this now-infamous quote from Ohio State president and bow-tie enthusiast Gordon Gee about whether he'd fire Tressel?
And remember what Ohio State's first idea of a proper punishment of Tressel was when the allegations first surfaced? It wasn't firing or a forced resignation. It was two games. That's what Ohio State thought the NCAA would be cool with after arguably the most egregious flouting of NCAA rules by a coach in Big Ten history.
Now, that hubris appears to be ready to cost Ohio State two more games: a berth in the Big Ten Championship and a bowl game. And if Ohio State finishes off the season the way it started it, what we're really talking about is two more wins to tack on to a 12-0 season—which sounds an awful lot like an NCAA championship run.
We don't know what the other teams in the nation will do between now and the end of the regular season, and we don't know that Ohio State could rise to No. 2 if there are two other teams that finish undefeated.
But we do know it would have been a hell of a lot better for Ohio State and the Big Ten if the Buckeyes had the opportunity to compete for that conference title and that shot at the crystal trophy, rather than just sit at home once the Michigan weekend comes and goes.
For that missed opportunity, Buckeyes fans can thank not only Jim Tressel, but his bosses as well for not even considering the fact that the NCAA might not share their rosy opinion of Ohio State's goodness. This postseason ban is on their hands.
Just remember that when Ohio State fans storm the field after beating Michigan, finishing the season 12-0, knowing their season is over long before it should be.