Coach's Corner: The Game, JoePa and November

Former OSU assistant coach Bill Conley weighs in with his thoughts on the plans to sell The Game to corporate sponsors as well as the state of the Penn State program and his views on the final month of the football season for OSU.

The victory over the Penn State by the Ohio State Buckeyes this past weekend was huge. It not only keeps OSU's chances for a good bowl game alive, but also marks the continued dominance over Penn State in Ohio Stadium since their emergence into the Big Ten Conference in 1993.

Even though the victory was not a masterpiece, it was a much needed win for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Other events of the week caught everybody's attention, and I would like to expound on two of them: First of all, the attempted selling off of the great Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry; secondly, the status of current Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.

Finally, I will weigh in on the month ahead for the Buckeyes.

Traditions For Sale

It was announced early last week that the number one rivalry in all of sports as voted on by ESPN had been sold. Yes, "The Game," would no longer be sacred. Two great universities and two great football programs had been sold by their administrations to SBC Ameritech.

The 2004 Ohio State-Michigan game will be number 101 in the cherished tradition. It was disgusting to see officials from both schools proudly announce how the money made -- $250,000 per school, per year -- would be used for a variety of noble causes. This attitude helps explain why just a limited number of students can get tickets to games and why longtime loyal ticket holding fans and alumni have steadily been pushed to worse and worse locations in the stadium.

The explanation is simple: They don't give enough money in the eyes of the administration to warrant decent seating. It is very obvious that loyalty is a one way street.

Numerous telephone calls, newspaper articles and public outcry by Ohio State and Michigan faithful forced both schools' administrations to back out of the deal with SBC. I'm sure it shocked the athletic directors and presidents of the two universities that there are actually those that believe some traditions should be upheld. It was equally embarrassing that after the entire deal was nixed, officials from both schools indicated that after further thought the integrity of the great Ohio State-Michigan game would be diluted if the deal was followed through with all parties involved.

Wow, how about that for a 48-hour turnaround? We all know there was a lot of sincerity in that change of mind. It's completely despicable that the selling of the naming rights to the Buckeye-Wolverine annual football classic was even considered.

I sincerely hope this incident will end any other attempts to sell off sacred traditions for the almighty dollar. Hopefully, Brutus Buckeye won't be changed to "Brut Buckeye" named for the famous men's cologne. Hopefully, the "gold pants club" won't be sponsored by Wrangler jeans. Hopefully, Buckeye Grove won't become the "Minute Maid Buckeye Orange Grove." Enough is enough.

Let's fantasize that student seating was behind the opponent's bench; a big advantage for the home team. The way it is supposed to be and the way it is at nearly every stadium OSU ventures into. Instead, of students taking up the first 20 rows of the east side of the stadium at the 50 yard line, the reality is they are lucky to get into the game at all. Even though the stadium has over 10,000 more seats than just a few years ago, money, not school spirit rules.

By NCAA rules, the university is allowed to give tickets to high school recruits and coaches. What a great way to spread good will and foster relations with those who are the key to keeping the football program strong. Unfortunately, the football program at Ohio State is limited to less than 200 tickets per game for recruits and coaches. It seems like the top priority is to make as much money as possible, not the future success and security of the program.

Maybe, there will come a day when school spirit, loyalty, and tradition returns as the most important elements of a universities athletic program. But don't hold your breath; Listerine might buy the rights to it.

Thoughts On Joe Pa

I was driving through eastern Pennsylvania in the summer of 1993 when I noticed a billboard publicizing Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten Conference. It was apparent that Penn State was excited about being in the Big Ten and had high hopes of dominating the other teams in the conference.

After all, Penn State traditionally had winning seasons and made major bowl appearances under coach Joe Paterno. After all, the Nittany Lions were consistently in the top 10 of the country and voted national champions in 1982 and 1986.

Penn State finished 6-2 in their first year in the Big Ten Conference, finishing behind co-champions Ohio State and Wisconsin. The next year, however, the Nittany Lions did win the Big Ten with an undefeated record and finished second in the nation behind Nebraska. The fact is since 1995 Penn State hasn't finished higher than third in the conference and the last two seasons had only won one conference game. To make matters worse for the Nittany Lions, they will be denied a bowl appearance again this season. As a matter of fact, Penn State has only been to one bowl game in the last five years.

It's been a terrible blow to the Penn State faithful to see their traditionally strong program fall into a state of mediocrity. The media, alums and powerful program supporters are calling for the head of the living legend, Joe Paterno. Instability in the coaching staff, an impotent offense and negative recruiting by opposing schools are all taking their toll on the once proud football program and its leader.

No one in the coaching profession likes to see one of their colleagues, especially one the stature of Joe Paterno, experience such an ending to a stellar career. There is one thing for sure, whoever becomes his replacement whether at the end of the season or in the near future, better be ready for the cries from the stands, "Joe Pa didn't do it that way."

Regardless of how or when his tenure ends, his legend will live on.

November To Remember?

The win over Penn State moved Ohio State to 5-3 on the season. The Buckeyes still need one more win, though, to assure themselves of a winning record in the regular season and a postseason bowl berth. The Buckeyes travel to Michigan State this weekend, then will see Purdue Nov. 13 before hosting Michigan Nov. 20.

It is imperative that Ohio State secures win No. 6 as quickly as possible, preferably this weekend at Michigan State. The reasons are many. For starters, after this weekend, Ohio State will play two of the best teams in the conference in Purdue and Michigan – at least Purdue was one of the best teams until its recent losses.

For the coaching staff, qualifying for postseason play is incredibly important. Without a bowl game, you lose extra bowl practice. You also lose the exposure of national TV for recruiting. If they don't win this weekend's game at Michigan State, that pressure will only increase next week.

If you don't make it to a bowl game, all you can do as a coach is take that extra time and work on recruiting during December. But it is such a negative for the program if you don't have that exposure. With each game that they fail to win No. 6, the pressure just mounts more. That's why it was a huge load off their shoulders to beat Penn State. Now if they can win at least one of the last three, they're in.

And the good thing is they are playing two teams that are down right now. Michigan State is all banged up and they are probably down mentally. Purdue is also down after its recent losses, but OSU fans know Purdue can be a tough place to play. And, Michigan is always a tough game.

Going on the road in the Big Ten the next couple of weeks will not be an easy task. Ohio State has lost its last three conference road games (Michigan last year and Northwestern and Iowa this year).

Michigan State always seems to play well at home up there in East Lansing. The key for Ohio State will be that they can't turn the ball over. That will be crucial. Plus, the Buckeyes will again need to play great in the special teams, as we saw this past week with the punt and kick return teams. If they are able to do those two things well, Ohio State should be able to win this game.

To me, the momentum is in Ohio State's corner. The Buckeyes have won two straight, while the Spartans lost that crucial game last week and have had some injuries.

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley served 17 years as an assistant coach at Ohio State, including the last 11 as the recruiting coordinator. He will contribute columns and participate in Chat sessions on the site this season. His next Chat session will be Monday at 3 p.m. Check the home page Monday for access details. You can also hear his weekly radio show on WTVN-AM (610) from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday.

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