Commentary

OSU scandal? Michigan still can't win

A victory over an Ohio State team crippled by scandal just won't seem as sweet

Originally Published: June 11, 2011
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

There are at least two men happy to see the stew in which U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's ... well, weiner photos have landed him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, because it takes some of the cheating focus off him.

And Gordon Gee, because it takes some of the cheating focus off his Ohio State University football program.

[+] EnlargeMichigan
Danny Moloshok/Getty ImagesIt's been a long time since Michigan fans had much to cheer about at the end of games against Ohio State.

You may recall that a week ago, the news media (as opposed to the sports media, which was on the story earlier) was just beginning to report on Jim Tressel's resignation and the allegations surrounding the school's football team, some of them apparently stretching back nearly a decade. Then ... boom! Weinergate broke, and much of the nation's attention went elsewhere. Now Gee, the Ohio State president, might be able to go about the business of kissing future bowl games -- and prized recruits -- goodbye without the constant barbs from late-night TV talk-show hosts.

But a little sex scandal in New York is hardly going to stop the Buckeyes' rival in That State Up North from celebrating Ohio State's predicament.

No way.

Big Blue in Ann Arbor has been waiting for something like this to hit Ohio State ever since the NCAA Committee on Infractions scrubbed Michigan's Fab Five from the record books. Now with Tressel gone and OSU's would-be star quarterback, Terrell Pryor, on his way out, Wolverine country is salivating at the possibility of doing something it hasn't been able to do in seven years: celebrate a football victory over the Buckeyes.

How important is this rivalry?

More than 200 people in Columbus walked a half-mile in 90-degree heat from a nearby park to Tressel's house to thank him for his service. After the crowd sang a song disparaging Michigan, the former coach said, "Don't forget: Nov. 26th, we're going to kick their ass!"

That remark drew the loudest cheer.

And it epitomizes the just-win mentality that got the school and the image of big-time college athletics into trouble.

Quite honestly, the remark ticked me off because it reminded me, as a Wolverine fan, that Michigan is in a bit of a no-win situation.

If Tressel's brash talk comes to pass and the Buckeyes go into the Big House and win -- again -- what will it say about Michigan? Just how bad will that program look if it can't beat this Ohio State team? A team that abruptly had its coach and starting quarterback yanked away by a scandal.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Tom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesA too-familiar (at least for the Wolverines) pose from Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes.

Now, new head coach Luke Fickell -- who was just going to be a stopgap fill-in this fall while Tressel served a five-game suspension -- is "the man" for the first time in his career.

What will it mean if Michigan can't beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor with the returning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Denard Robinson at quarterback and a "Michigan Man," Brady Hoke, in charge? That the school, which played fast and loose with its winning legacy under Rich Rodriguez, has officially joined Notre Dame as a football powerhouse in name only? That even more in-state kids might choose to become a Spartan rather than a Wolverine?

No, Michigan simply can't lose to Ohio State this fall.

But even if Michigan wins, so what?

Where's the glory in beating an Ohio State football program in shambles? A program licking its self-inflicted wounds? A program handed over to a rookie coach out of desperation?

Tressel is the man the school needed to beat. He finished his Buckeyes career with a 9-1 record against Michigan. In that span,the quarterbacks Michigan needed to beat -- Pryor and Troy Smith -- went a combined 6-0 in their games against the Wolverines.

Michigan's glorious victories in this rivalry came from knocking off the Buckeyes when they were at their strongest. Twice in the 1990s, Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in the country coming into a game against Michigan and had its shot at a national championship derailed by Big Blue. Those are the kinds of victories Michigan fans should be craving, not wins over these less-than-full-strength Buckeyes.

It's bad enough to have had to watch Ohio State fans enjoying their team's longest winning streak in this 114-year-old rivalry. When Wolverine fans start thinking "beggars can't be choosers" about a victory over the Buckeyes, that's when the crack in the armor is most glaring. That's when wins and championships come with mental asterisks and yeah-buts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke and Team
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesAt least new head coach Brady Hoke brings some Michigan background into the rivalry.

Hey, the Houston Rockets won back-to-back rings in 1994-95! Yeah, but Jordan took those years off.

Look, Roger Federer won the French Open in 2009! Yeah, but that was the one year he didn't have to play Nadal.

Jay-Z is easily the most popular MC around, right? Yeah, but that's because Biggie and Pac aren't with us anymore.

I disagree with ESPN.com posters such as mpanje5, who wrote "I hope [Fickell] sucks, and makes OSU look bad, Go Blue!"

I hope Fickell does a great job and marches the Buckeyes into Ann Arbor undefeated.

Then I hope they lose like it's 1995.

Michigan should want to see Ohio State at its strongest. At its most dominant. So when the two teams face each other, there are no mental asterisks, no yeah-buts, only bragging rights that have been savagely earned rather than meekly gifted.

"Hail to the Victors" will sound so much sweeter and mean so much more that way.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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