The various newspaper, Internet, radio and television reporters hung on every word as ABC's John Saunders and his crew discussed the controversy surrounding the national championship game at the Sugar Bowl.
It wasn't until the broadcast headed toward its second commercial break that the reporters in attendance knew something was up. A picture of Florida State's Bobby Bowden appeared on the screen and Saunders intoned, "Bobby Bowden is headed to the Orange Bowl."
A murmur went across the room as it was suddenly apparent that all of the bowl projections were wrong: Ohio State was not heading to the Orange Bowl to face Miami (Fla.). Instead, minutes later, Saunders announced that the Buckeyes, ranked fifth in the final BCS poll, would return to the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2 to play Big 12 champion Kansas State, ranked 10th.
A few minutes passed before athletic director Andy Geiger, head coach Jim Tressel and team captains Tim Anderson, Michael Jenkins, Craig Krenzel and Will Smith took the podium in the meeting room to discuss the surprise selection.
"We are going back to Tempe, a place where we had a memorable experience last year," Geiger said. "We are delighted to have been chosen to play in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State after they stunned the nation by defeating No. 1 Oklahoma last night. We know how well the Fiesta Bowl treats its participants after last year. We could not be more pleased to return to the desert. We look forward to a great game."
Geiger shed some light on the BCS process, where the Fiesta Bowl used a so-called "economic priority" pick to take Ohio State against host school K-State and leaving the Orange Bowl with a rare regular season rematch with FSU and Miami.
"In all candor, the only mystery in the process was whether or not Miami vs. Florida State at the Orange Bowl would pass through all of the reviews this thing has to go through," Geiger said. "The Fiesta Bowl was the only opportunity we had to play in the BCS system. The Fiesta Bowl had the first and third picks for at-large teams. If we were to be selected for the BCS, it would have been in the Fiesta Bowl.
"I knew for a fact we were going to enter the BCS system through the Fiesta Bowl. The Orange Bowl had the first choice last year. That's how Iowa and USC got there last year. They rotate it on an annual basis. It depends on who has the championship game and who used the option last year. This year, the Fiesta Bowl had the first choice."
No doubt, Fiesta Bowl organizers had last year's great showing by Ohio State and its fans in mind when it pulled this power play to avoid Miami and Florida State, which do not travel as well outside the Sunshine state. Geiger revealed OSU will have a ticket allotment of 15,000. Details on how those tickets will be disbursed will be revealed Monday.
For his part, Tressel was just glad the Buckeyes (10-2) landed on their feet after dropping their season finale at Michigan.
"At the beginning of the year, our goal was to be in the Sugar Bowl," Tressel said. "But we didn't do what we needed to do to make that happen. But one thing this coaching staff wanted was to send these seniors out the right way. To get to travel back to Tempe, this reward is very fitting for this outstanding senior class."
Tressel noted the way Kansas State (11-3) rebounded from three straight midseason losses to win its last seven games, including a 35-7 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma in Saturday's Big 12 championship game.
"We will play an outstanding Kansas State team, who did a great job against the No. 1-ranked team this weekend," Tressel said. "The game will be a great challenge for us.
"We have fond memories from last year. It was a great experience and we look forward to playing against a great Kansas State team. Everything they do at the Fiesta Bowl is first class. They loved having us there last season. I think being familiar with the Fiesta Bowl will help us when we get out there."
Each of the players sounded excited to get a chance to return to the scene of their greatest triumph.
"We are glad to go back to the Fiesta Bowl," Smith said. "The people in Tempe treated us very well last year. Going back and playing a good Kansas State team will present a challenge for all of us. This should be a great game."
Anderson said he intends to see if the Fiesta Bowl committee can back up its talk from a year ago.
"Everybody on the team had a great time out there last year," Anderson said. "We asked them if the treatment was because it was the national championship game, but they said they do it that way every year. I guess we will find out if they do it for a regular game."
Krenzel added, "We are definitely excited about returning to the Fiesta Bowl. There is no better bowl experience in the country and we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us. The last thing we want to do is finish out the season by losing two games in a row. We need to play our best game of the season if we hope to win."
* We will have more from the players and Tressel on playing Kansas State beginning this week and continuing all the way up through game day.
* Tressel noted how OSU and Michigan, each in BCS games, are among eight Big Ten schools in bowl competition this year.
"That's pretty good respect for the Big Ten," Tressel said.
* Tressel discussed the team's schedule for the month.
"This week, we have the good fortune of going to New York City to see Craig Krenzel honored as a National Football Foundation scholar-athlete and to see Andy Geiger honored as the John Toner national director of athletics for the year," Tressel said. "So we have a busy Tuesday honoring people. So Monday, we're going to recruit all day in New York and New Jersey.
"Wednesday and Thursday, we will recruit our way out to Phoenix. Do our Phoenix thing and come back and go to work."
Tressel revealed the team will resume practicing after exams on Wednesday with a session in shorts.
"Thursday, we finish exams at noon and we'll go light," he said. "Friday, we'll put the pads on."
The coach said the team will continue practicing in Columbus through Dec. 19. They will fly to Phoenix on Dec. 26.
* The coach also discussed reports out of Cincinnati that defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio has been offered the vacant Cincinnati job.
"I don't know that he's talked to them," Tressel said. "I would think that would be a great thing for Cincinnati. I think he's a heck of a football coach … but I don't know that he's talked to them."
Tressel also admitted he has had discussions with officials in Akron, where he got his start as a Division I-A assistant, about its vacant job. Dantonio or linebackers coach Mark Snyder could be candidates for that job.
"I have talked with Akron because I'm a graduate," Tressel said, referring to his graduate degree. "I talked a little bit. I talked about some of our guys. I don't know if they have decided who they want to interview. I talked to them last week when I was on my way to Cleveland. I haven't heard from them since."
* Tressel also discussed Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.
"He's a program maker," Tressel said. "He has attention to details. He will know everything that he wants to get done every minute of the day between now and the Fiesta Bowl. That's why he's so well prepared and his teams are. That's why he has assistant coaches who are out there now as head coaches. He was trained well by Hayden Fry.
"In the early going, Kansas State wasn't an easy thing. We all remember them as a good program. But when he took over, they weren't very good and he has done an extraordinary job."