In light of Jim Tressel's resignation and more especially, the recent Sports Illustrated article that alleges that tattoo-gate is only the tip of the iceberg, it seems likely that the gavel of the absurd and mercurial, but ultimately absolute, NCAA is going to come down hard in Columbus.
Will the penalties that fall on OSU resemble the SMU "death penalty" of 1987-1988, or will they be more reminiscent of the current woes of Southern Cal? It is possible that the penalties will be nothing but a slap on the wrist, but at this point, that seems unlikely.
Thus, while the following is strictly conjecture, it is based on fairly logical conjecture and it follows as such: Ohio State will get levied with penalties and those penalties will handicap the athletic department, and particularly the football program, for at least a few years.
With OSU handicapped, opportunities will arise for other teams. Who will those other teams be, and who will benefit the most?
To begin with, it is necessary to state the obvious: the Buckeyes have been the flagship team of the Big Ten for the last decade. They won a record six Big Ten championships in a row, and Jim Tressel's team has been to a BCS bowl eight of his 10 years at the helm. However he accomplished it, it is quite a feat.
After all, there are plenty of teams breaking plenty of rules—often going unpunished—yet those teams haven't won six conference championships in a row.
The first thing to do is look at the fertile recruiting ground the Buckeyes call home—the fair and enigmatic state of Ohio.
In 2011, the Buckeye state produced the fifth-most FBS prospects in the nation. The only states that produced more were Texas, Florida, California and Georgia.
I've always felt that Ohio State had the most cush recruiting situation, because unlike those other top five fertile states, OSU doesn't compete for state prospects with any other BCS schools. Yes, Cincinnati is now a BCS school, but the Bearcats aren't in the same recruiting galaxy as the Bucks.
On the other hand, Georgia has both UGA and Georgia Tech. Texas, California and Florida have four BCS teams within their borders (Texas will have five when TCU moves to the Big East).
14, or 58 percent, of OSU's 24 signees from the 2011 class were Ohioans, which is about par for their course.
Of the 2011 Ohioans the Buckeyes did offer, but who chose to go somewhere else, one went to Alabama and one went to Southern Cal.
Of the 2010 recruits in the same situation: two went to Notre Dame, one went to Miami (FL), one to LSU, one to Texas and one to Louisville.
2009: One to Michigan and one to Wisconsin.
2008: Two to Notre Dame, one to Penn State, one to Michigan and one to Illinois.
All of the teams in the Big Ten actively recruit in Ohio, and all of the teams in the Big Ten have Ohioans on their rosters.
At the top of the scale, Michigan State has 18 players from Ohio. At the bottom of the scale, Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska have three players from Ohio. Iowa and Wisconsin have eight each, Illinois has nine, Purdue has seven, Northwestern has 13, Indiana has 11 and Michigan has 12. Also, Notre Dame has nine players from Ohio on the roster.
When you look at the scout site profiles of Ohio prospects that went to other Big Ten schools, you consistently see the same thing: interest from Ohio State, but no offer.
In other words, the players in question would have chosen OSU if OSU had offered. They didn't, so they chose the next best thing: play for a school that competes directly against Ohio State.
In short, more often than not, Ohio high school prospects want to play for Ohio State.
That will still hold true once/if sanctions are levied, but there is another fact to face. High school football prospects, wherever they are from, want their best chance to get to prestigious bowl games and on to the NFL. A school with sanctions levied upon it might not be the best choice to make those things happen. The prospects in question will not only be aware of that, but they will be made more aware of that.
Looking further at Ohio connections, MSU's coach, Mark Dantonio had two tenures at Ohio State: first as a grad assistant in 1980, and then as the defensive coordinator under Tressel, 2001-2003.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is a native Ohioan and played at Ohio State.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke is from Dayton, Ohio.
Illinois coach Ron Zook is from Loudonville, Ohio.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson spent a good part of his career at Miami (OH). Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spent three years coaching Cincinnati.
Rather than go over every single connection, it is fair to say that every Big Ten team (plus Notre Dame) has some connection to the Buckeye state; a connection they will surely exploit as much as possible recruiting Ohio while OSU is down.
Moreover, the Buckeyes' inhabit the eastern division in the recently expanded Big Ten. It is the more top-heavy of the two divisions. In effect, the two teams at the bottom—Purdue and Indiana—are not in a position to take advantage of Ohio State's misfortunes.
I've always felt that Illinois was a sleeping giant, but that has more to do with rising to prominence by taking over its own decidedly fertile recruiting base.
This brings us to Wisconsin and Penn State.
As already noted, Penn State has the fewest Ohioans on their roster of any Big Ten team. Furthermore, the inconsistency that currently ails Penn State will not be fixed by taking Ohio State out of the picture.
Which leaves Wisconsin.
The Badgers are coming off their best year since the late 90's. They went 11-1, won a share of the conference championship and went to the Rose Bowl. Since Bret Bielema took over the head coaching job in 2006, the Badgers are tied for the 12th best record in college football. The only Big Ten team that has done better is, of course, OSU.
It goes without saying that if Ohio State is exempt from the Big Ten championship game for the next couple of years, Wisconsin will be in prime position to take advantage of their absence.
Moving to the western division, the Buckeyes' issues won't make any great difference to Minnesota or Northwestern. Meanwhile, Iowa and Michigan State might snag an extra four-star recruit or two, but things will remain as they have been.
Nebraska might experience a small bump to their recruiting as Pelini plays his Ohio background for all its worth, but other than that, it won't matter.
And that leaves Michigan.
The Wolverines just finished the most disastrous three-year stretch of their prestigious history. They have hired Brady Hoke—the native Ohioan—to bring them back to prominence.
Not only will Hoke look to exploit the potential recruiting vacuum that will open up, but nothing means more to Michigan fans than beating Ohio State, especially after the seven-year dry spell that they are currently in the middle of.
If Hoke can secure a win over Ohio State this season, his W-L record will almost be secondary. And with that sort of success, Michigan will be assured a place in the national scene.
Finally, there is Notre Dame, who is in a similar situation to Michigan. In 2011, Brian Kelly will be in his second season at the helm of the Irish, and he will be expected to win more than seven regular season games.
As the above information points out, over the last four years, Ohio State has lost more Ohio recruits to Notre Dame than anybody else.
While Notre Dame officially calls Indiana its home, it recruits nationally more than any other team in the country. In fact, there are 24 different states represented on the Irish's current roster.
The two states that the most current Domers call home are California and Ohio.
For a program that is looking to reestablish its place on the national stage, the one or two extra blue chip players that Brian Kelly might be able to snag out of Ohio could make all the difference in the world.
The last two teams of note come from the Big East.
Pitt and West Virginia both recruit heavily in the neighboring state of Ohio. West Virginia boasts 11 Ohioans on their active roster, while Pitt has seven.
Both teams have been attempting to establish dominance within the Big East since Miami (FL), Virginia Tech and Boston College defected to the ACC in 2005. West Virginia had success until Rich Rodriguez left, while Pitt has sputtered and spattered.
With the entirely illogical addition of TCU to the conference next year, the gauntlet will be thrown down. If Pitt or West Virginia hopes to have any chance of challenging TCU, they will need every advantage they can find. A recruit or two from the state of Ohio could make that difference.
In short, we don't know how all of this is going to shake out, but it doesn't look good for the Buckeyes.
Eventually they'll be back, but for now, look for Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin to be the first to walk away from this situation as winners, while Pitt and WVU will also look to throw their hats in the ring.