A short while ago college football teams were allowed to add a 12th game to the schedule. Crazed football fans were delighted. They envisioned great inter-sectional games, new rivalries, and more competitive schedules to determine who earned the right to play for the national championship.
It didn’t happen. Major college football factories continue to play teams that virtually have no chance of winning. The general rule of thumb is to schedule one big-name school and three powder-puffs.
If the big-name school experiences a down year, the non-conference schedule is a series of meaningless pay-days for both the football giant and the four cupcakes.
Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, Mack Brown and many other coaches could change the direction of college football by insisting that the strength of schedule determines who plays for the national championship.
It’s unlikely to ever happen because most coaches would prefer to look good by playing games that improve their won-loss record.
Tressel has an impressive won-loss record, but does it deserve as much praise as Ohio State fans have doled out about it?
Instead of playing more non-conference games that have national significance, it appears Tressel would rather enhance his image by beating teams that have no place on an Ohio State schedule. Not once has he spoken up to improve the level of competition.
The non-conference schedule is cloaked in benevolence; it is supposedly helping the poor out-matched competitors balance their budgets.
During the Tressel Era, Ohio State has played 33 non-conference opponents during the regular season. Of those 33 games, only 5 teams were ranked in the AP top 25 at the end of the season.
The five included # 10 Washington State in 02, #1 Texas in 05, #13 Texas in 06, #3 USC in 08, and #22 USC in 09.
Ohio State won 2 and lost 3, following a pattern similar to the Buckeye losing bowl record where they struggle against better opposition.
Ohio State has lost only once against the other 28 unranked non-conference teams. This amounts to two full years of non-competitive teams that are included in Tressel’s nine-year record at Ohio State.
Those 28 teams don’t include a wide range of Big Ten cupcakes that also get counted to his inflated total wins column.
When it comes to getting to the national championship game, Tressel has an advantage. He coaches in a conference that lacks parity, and he does not have to endure a conference championship game.
There shouldn’t be any illusions about the enormity of this advantage.
Because of the decisive advantage, Ohio State should be adding more challenging non-conference games to the schedule. One competitive game each year is not enough. Several such games need to be played.
This would demonstrate to the football world that the Buckeyes have earned the right to go to the big game. Sadly, that has not happened, and won’t if Tressel doesn’t use his influence to make it happen.
The Ohio State faithful are like any other enthusiastic fan base that blindly supports its team. They justify playing teams like Marshall, Eastern Michigan and Ohio University by claiming “everyone is doing it,” instead of demanding that Tressel take responsible for playing more credible teams.
Unfortunately, criticism of Tressel’s complacency toward non-conference games would be considered blasphemy at Ohio State.
If Buckeye fans could face reality head-on, they would realize that those shallow non-conference victories disguise the true strength of any team--including Ohio State. These games exist because they help a team get to the national championship game.
Who loses when teams like Ohio State schedule these games? The fans lose when then they pay for an expensive ticket to watch an inferior product. The athletes lose when they play non-competitive games. The sport loses when its integrity becomes an issue.
Jim Tressel is an enigma. He rescued Ohio State from being the “thug” capital of the football world, but left Youngstown State facing probation. He developed stout defenses at Ohio State, but his offenses resembled backyard pick-up games. He has been a leader on the football field, but a follower when it comes to changing the game.
Tressel is the norm among college coaches today. With these coaches at the helm, there will be no reform to upgrade non-conference opponents anytime soon.
Should Jim Tressel be embarrassed by Ohio State’s non-conference games? Maybe not. But he shouldn’t be proud either.