Ohio State finally made it official Friday that the 2013 spring game would be held at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Those familiar with Urban Meyer will no doubt recognize this as a recruiting tactic – both for high school players and football fans in the Queen City. Cincinnati has some excellent high school football talent, but its last few blue-chip players have gone mostly to either southern or Catholic schools.
Case in point, the last five-star recruit in the area, Lakota West's Jordan Hicks, spurned Ohio State for Texas. Springfield, OH's Trey DePriest (Ohio State sure could have used him this year) bolted the midwest for Alabama. Elder's Kyle Rudolph (now in Vikings gear) ditched Ohio for Notre Dame, as did Moeller star QB Andrew Hendrix and St. Xavier QB Luke Massa (who now plays WR). The list goes on and on. There are a few exceptions, Braxton Miller included, but for the most part, players from southwestern Ohio haven't really found their way to Ohio State in recent years.
In full disclosure, I was born and raised in the Queen City and am an unabashed homer for the Reds, Bengals, and Xavier Musketeers (and pretty far removed from a UC backer, especially after that whole "bUCkeye state" non-sense). Now, notice that last sentence. Reds, Bengals, and Musketeers. Pro baseball, pro football, college basketball. Those three sports are Cincinnati's passions (along with high school football to a lesser extent). College football is at best fifth banana on the list of Cincinnati fans' priorities.
Xavier has not played football for fifty-one years. Miami University and Cincinnati have vocal, but small, followings. If Xavier played D1 football I think it could be a sleeping giant, being a Catholic school in a Catholic high school dominated city, but unfortunately there is no in-city rivalry to keep the sport in the forefront of the sports fans in the city's radars. UC football just doesn't have the hearts of of Cincinnati fans, and in many cases, any feelings towards Ohio State is either indifference, or negative. Cincy fans live and die with the inconsistent Reds, pine over the inconsistent Bengals, and a common greeting among newly introduced Cincinnati natives when they meet one another (a phenomenon I have not observed near as much amongst other cities' residents) is "where did you go [to high school]?"
It's not that Buckeye-level college football can't be a successful one-off event in Cincinnati. For all my negative attitudes about this spring game, it is certainly possible that Ohio State could be received well. However, I have to expect the turnout will not be what the Buckeye players or faithful fans are used to. Everyone makes jokes about Bengal fans not filling the stadium, but Cincinnati fans are not bad fans. They show up for a winner that they're passionate about; high school stadiums all over the region are stuffed full on Friday nights. Cincinnati fans just aren't passionate about the Buckeyes, and while having a spring game there will bring out the OSU graduates, it likely won't draw the average fan in the area. If UC can't fill in the gaps in relatively small Nippert Stadium with locals, the Buckeyes aren't going to fill up PBS for a scrimmage.
Urban Meyer's got a nice idea, thinking that he'll gain some recruiting brownie points by playing the spring game in Cincy. It certainly may help bringing some local talent from the area to Cincinnati. But at what cost? Local fans in Columbus will be spring game-less, or at least inconvenienced by the drive. Northern Ohio fans (where the passion for the Buckeyes is undeniably higher) will be even more inconvenienced and given some of their sentiments towards Cincinnati and southwest Ohio, potentially put off altogether.
We certainly get that the Buckeyes had to audible due to necessary maintenance for Ohio Stadium. But what about Crew Stadium? I get that Browns stadium is less sexy since Cleveland is already in the tank for the Buckeyes and OSU was just there to play Toledo relatively recently. And while it's definitely not out of the question for Cleveland to get a future spring game, there's still plenty of reasons for healthy skepticism for taking a chance and skipping it now. While the reviews aren't fully in yet, so far, both Cincinnati residents and Buckeye fans seem to be lukewarm at best on the developments, and at worst, upset about it.