By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Ohio State’s football program has been under investigation since last December, and the NCAA finally announced its penalties on Tuesday. And the news is not good for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State was hit with a one-year bowl ban and must vacate nine scholarships over the next three seasons. The Buckeyes will serve their bowl ban in 2012 and won’t be eligible to play for the Big Ten title next season.
Losing scholarships is never a good thing, but vacating nine shouldn’t drastically impact Ohio State’s roster. The biggest loss is easily the bowl ban, which also takes away Ohio State’s opportunity to play for a national title next year.
Former coach Jim Tressel was also hit with a show-cause penalty. Although Tressel was facing an uphill battle to get another head coaching job, this penalty likely ends any hope he had of returning to the sidelines in college.
The investigation centered on players exchanging memorabilia for tattoos and cash. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams were the key players in the scandal, with each getting suspended for several games in 2011. Pryor decided to leave Ohio State before the season began, but Herron, Adams and Posey eventually played this year.
The NCAA does not follow precedent in future cases, but Ohio State’s penalties cannot be good news for North Carolina, Oregon and Miami.
What does this mean for the Big Ten race in 2012?
Ohio State was expected to be the Leaders Division frontrunner in 2012, especially with new coach Urban Meyer taking over.
However, the Buckeyes will have to wait another year to play in the Big Ten title game. And the race to win the Leaders Division is now wide open.
Ohio State was predicted as the No. 6 team in Athlon’s very early top 25 for 2012. With a young team coming back next season, the Buckeyes were expected to contend for a 10-2 or 11-1 record. Although Ohio State could still achieve that next season, one has to wonder about the motivation, especially with nothing to play for.
Wisconsin arguably benefits the most from Ohio State’s bowl ban next year. The Badgers already capitalized off Ohio State’s scandal by winning the Big Ten title this season. And they should have a good chance to repeat as the division champs in 2012.
Replacing quarterback Russell Wilson is going to be crucial to Wisconsin’s success, but is there another challenger in the Leaders Division? Penn State is still in disarray and has yet to name a head coach for 2012. The Nittany Lions certainly have some talent, but considering all that has transpired this year and the uncertainty facing the team, it’s hard to envision Penn State as division champs in 2012.
Outside of Wisconsin and Penn State, is there another threat to win the division? Illinois has some talent returning, but it will also be coach Tim Beckman’s first in Champaign. The Fighting Illini could also lose defensive end Whitney Mercilus to the NFL Draft.
Purdue and Indiana figure to be picked at the bottom of the division next year. The Boilermakers showed some progress in 2011, but are unlikely to jump from 6-6 to division champ. After a 1-11 finish this year, Indiana is considered a longshot just to get bowl eligible next year.
Wisconsin isn’t the only team that will benefit from Ohio State’s bowl and conference title ban next year. Michigan should enter the year as the favorite in the Legends Division, and with the Badgers expected to take a step back in the win column, the Wolverines would figure to have a favorable path to the conference title. Michigan has be a heavy favorite to play in the Rose Bowl next year.
There’s no question the bowl ban is a huge blow to the Buckeyes next season. Considering the excitement surrounding Meyer’s arrival and a young team expected to be better, 2012 had the chance to be a Big Ten title season in Columbus. However, those celebration plans will have to wait until 2013 – but don’t expect that to slow down Ohio State’s momentum on the recruiting trail.