The Price of Being Champion

By now most Ohio State fans have probably read about this story until their eyes look like someone working the midnight shift. They have heard what was said at the press conference and maybe even have a printed transcript (if you have not, then check the net and you will surely find one).

So, today I will be submitting several shorter columns.

These columns will not be designed to rehash and go where others have gone before. They will be focus on the troubles of past champions, what is right and wrong with the allegations, and some editorial comments about the entire situation.

The Price of Being a Champion

First off, I was waiting for something along these lines to occur.

I alluded to it in the previous Babb Bits article, but I truly do not believe most Ohio State fans and players understood the target painted on the Scarlet and Gray uniforms for 2003. It is not a simple circle with a bulls-eye. This target is more akin to those the special forces use to paint targets and guide bombs where to impact.

Unfortunately, I believe that most people in Ohio now comprehend the kind of target to which I was referring.

It is borderline tragic that it has to be this way in the modern football culture, but it is what it is.

Ohio State cannot change the way a champion is treated. It can only hope to survive it.

Pick your national champion in recent years and most have had their share of bumps and bruises after they claimed the title.

· Alabama (1992) ended up on sanctions from the fallout of their national title. Shortly after they won the Sugar Bowl, defeating a supposedly unbeatable Miami squad, one of their players took money from an agent. When the NCAA found out, they ended up forfeiting a number of games from the following season.

· Florida State (1993) had their own embarrassing episode. It was revealed that sports agents provided a number of Seminoles with expensive sneakers. The total bill ended up around $6,000. Steve Spurrier, in one of his infamous quotes, referred to Florida State as "Free Shoes University." The name is still used by Seminole haters to this day. If that were not enough, the Scott Bentley recording of a sexual encounter followed in 1994.

· Nebraska (1994, 1995, and 1997) earned more than its share of police blotter headlines in Tom Osborne's closing years. Heartbreaking would be the only term one might use to describe it. Not only did it tarnish a proud legacy for the one who once considered the ministry, the Nebraska players left a string of damaged victims in their wake. The most famous of these perpetrators was Lawrence Phillips, but there were others – too many others. The respect they gained on the field paled with the accompanying scandals off of it. It has taken their program almost 6 years to escape from under the cloud created by the incessant arrests and accusations.

· Florida (1996) claimed a title after being given a mulligan for their loss to Florida State. Not long after, Florida faced an ugly situation: Tank Black had been paying star players for the Gators at least as far back as 1997. Black eventually went to jail and while Florida escaped sanctions, they did not escape the public black eye.

· Michigan (1997) looked like they had managed to avoid the negative headlines until it came out that Woodson, the star of their season, had reportedly accepted thousands of dollars from an agent. One South Carolina paper investigating the matter claimed Woodson accepted over $13,000 worth of clothing prior to the Heisman ceremony. Once a hero to fans of the Maize and Blue, he has been marginalized because his actions tarnished their championship season. Had the violations been discovered sooner than they were, there might have been a full scale NCAA investigation and the forced forfeiture of games in 1997.

· Tennessee (1998) endured more than its share of scandal in the 1990's. Three FBI investigations and multiple NCAA inquiries dogged the program to the delight of their SEC rivals. In November of 1999 (following their championship season), ESPN alleged that athletes at Tennessee were receiving improper help from tutors and that those who needed better grades to retain eligibility were given grade changes. More recently, Tee Martin was alleged to have accepted illegal monies from a Tennessee booster. Nothing was uncovered, but in the court of public opinion, they have been tried and found guilty in the eyes of many fans.

· Florida State (1999) was given a second batch of scandals to go with its second championship. Sebastian Janikowski's erratic behavior chased the program like a hound-dog does a rabbit. Writers and fans alike questioned the discipline provided by Bobby Bowden, especially after it was clear that Janikowski's problems with substances began long before his trouble with the law.

· Oklahoma (2000) has been the only team in the past decade that did not (at least as of yet) suffer any negative fallout from the swarming of the press after a national title. Even so, in their moment of triumph, articles still referred to the days of sanctions and lawlessness that once characterized the program.

· Miami (2001) dealt with questions regarding the eligibility and preferential treatment of Andre Johnson – their star player in the Rose Bowl. Would anyone care to guess who broke this story? Yup. The New York Times.

The NCAA Football National Champions attract more attention than a glob of honey near an anthill. They always have. They always will. Ohio State is no different in this regard; expect the Buckeyes to get negative press because it is easier to make a name by coming after the champion. Reporters come from far and wide to try and make a name for themselves and their paper, and where better to start than with the reigning champs? If there is even a memory of dirt under a football player's pinky nail, some ambitious writer will discover it, take a sample, and send it to a United Nations' lab to see if there are any biological weapons underneath.

And what is the prize these reporters are after?

Unfortunately, it is rarely the truth that they seek.

Often it is a more sinister motivation that causes them to spend hours combing through multiple individuals and their stories. They seek personal glory and the ability to sell papers for their employers.

Clearly, the prize for this year has been claimed. I have no idea who will nab it next year, but I am certain of one item: you can bet that whoever it is, their story will be on the national champion…


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