Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith commented on archrival Michigan on Tuesday when he was asked about the Buckeyes potentially holding spring football practice in Florida like Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh did this year.
Smith said, per Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com: "Is it creative? Does it help from a recruiting and marketing point of view? I get that. If we were jump-starting our program, I’d probably try and do that, too. But we’re not jump-starting our program. We’re in a different place."
Smith took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to apologize for his comments:
STATEMENT: My comments at a soccer press conference yesterday were not meant to discredit our rival. I apologize to ...— gene smith (@OSU_AD) March 23, 2016
...UM student-athletes & my good friend Warde Manuel. We at OSU look forward to continuing the greatest rivalry in collegiate football.— gene smith (@OSU_AD) March 23, 2016
Prior to the apology, the ever-vigilant Harbaugh didn't let the comments go unanswered, and he took to social media to share his take on Tuesday:
Good to see Director Smith being relevant again after the tattoo fiasco. Welcome back!— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) March 23, 2016
The tattoo scandal Harbaugh referenced is the one that shook the Ohio State football program in 2010 and 2011 and led to former head coach Jim Tressel’s resignation.
Smith caught plenty of criticism even within the Ohio State fanbase at the time because he decided not to self-impose a bowl ban during a 2011 season in which the Buckeyes finished 6-7 after an unceremonious Gator Bowl loss.
The NCAA then gave Ohio State a bowl ban for the 2012 campaign, which just so happened to be Urban Meyer’s first year at the helm. The Buckeyes finished that season 12-0 and could have theoretically played for a national championship, but they were instead forced to watch the postseason at home.
Many within Buckeye Nation were left wondering what could have been if Smith had elected to institute a self-imposed bowl ban the year before, even if there was no definitive proof that would have saved the program from the same fate in 2012.
In regard to spring practice, Lesmerises also noted that Smith was concerned with the time commitment it would put on the student-athletes to take them out of state during a normal break.
Coach Meyer echoed similar sentiments when asked about the issue, per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com:
Someone said, "Boy, I saw in the paper you guys are going to Florida." I said, "What are you talking about?" Someone stuck a microphone in my face and I said we look into everything.
I can't see taking spring break away from players. That doesn't mean we don't research and keep an eye on it.
While Harbaugh may have touched on what could still be a sore subject among Buckeyes fans, there is a reason Smith suggested Michigan has to jump-start the program in comparison to Ohio State.
Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff title after the 2014 season and finished 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win in 2015. It has won double-digit games in 12 of the past 14 years and is unquestionably one of the best programs in college football.
What’s more, Meyer himself has three national titles, two of which came at Florida, and is considered by many to be one of the sport’s top two coaches alongside Alabama’s Nick Saban.
The Buckeyes are also about to watch a boatload of former players hear their names called in the 2016 NFL draft, including running back Ezekiel Elliott and defensive end Joey Bosa.
As for Michigan, it has more losing seasons (three) than double-digit-win seasons (two) in its last nine campaigns and also suffered embarrassing losses to the likes of Appalachian State and Toledo in that span. Harbaugh reached the Super Bowl as the coach of the San Francisco 49ers and made the Stanford Cardinal one of the best teams in the Pac-12, so he has the track record to continue turning things around.
Still, Michigan could use a jump-start in the rivalry as of late:
|2001||26-20, Ohio State|
|2002||14-9, Ohio State|
|2004||37-21, Ohio State|
|2005||25-21, Ohio State|
|2006||42-39, Ohio State|
|2007||14-3, Ohio State|
|2008||42-7, Ohio State|
|2009||21-10, Ohio State|
|2010||37-7, Ohio State|
|2012||26-21, Ohio State|
|2013||42-41, Ohio State|
|2014||42-28, Ohio State|
|2015||42-13, Ohio State|
Even last year, with Harbaugh on the sidelines for Michigan and the game in Ann Arbor, Ohio State won in convincing fashion, 42-13. The team as a whole manhandled the Wolverines up front, running for 369 yards and five touchdowns and essentially sapping Michigan’s will throughout the game.
Elliott, who may have just scored against the Wolverines again in the time it took you to read this sentence, responded to Harbaugh on Twitter on Tuesday:
Wasserman summarized things in a separate piece: "The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is bitter, but facts are facts. Ohio State and Michigan are in different spots, and Smith was explaining his stance."
While there is still quite a bit of ground to make up for the Wolverines in direct comparison to the rival Buckeyes—not to mention their in-state rival, Michigan State, which just made last season’s College Football Playoff—Harbaugh is off to an ideal start.
He led Michigan to a 10-3 record and a bowl-game victory over the SEC’s Florida Gators in his first year and sports the No. 5 recruiting class in the country in 2016, per 247Sports' composite rankings (coincidentally, right behind Ohio State at No. 4). He also isn’t afraid of the Buckeyes, if Tuesday’s tweet was any indication.
Even in March, the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry is as heated as ever.