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The case for an All-Ohio basketball tournament to begin the season

As teams scramble to fill out their schedules, why not allow the top programs in Ohio to fight each other for bragging rights?

Kareem Elgazzar/ Marion Star

On November 4, Ohio State had a full schedule of 27 games, which was the maximum number of games allowed per NCAA rules, not counting the Big Ten Tournament. In addition to their 20 conference games (which still haven’t been announced), the Buckeyes were set to face Morehead State, Alabama A&M, Notre Dame, and North Carolina in their nonconference slate. They were also supposed to participate in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis, which was actually moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and renamed the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic. This tournament would have given the Buckeyes up to three more games, which would round out their schedule.

However, on November 5, Head Coach Chris Holtmann sent out this tweet, informing everyone that Ohio State would no longer be participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis/ Crossover Classic.

Holtmann did not give an explanation why Ohio State bowed out, but a tweet from Governor Mike DeWine sent just one day earlier helped connect the dots. South Dakota was included with six other states as places where Ohioans need to quarantine for 14 days at home after returning from those destinations. Therefore, if Ohio State played in the Crossover Classic from November 25-30, they would not be able to do any basketball activities for 14 days upon returning. This explains Holtmann’s quick (and reasonable) decision to withdraw from the event.

Now, there was a second noteworthy Ohio team that had to pull out of Crossover Classic, one that many have been clamoring for the Buckeyes to play for several years. That team is the Dayton Flyers. Dayton, who went 29-2 last season and rose all the way to No. 3 in the AP Poll, were also the undefeated A-10 champions. Not to mention that they had Obi Toppin, the National Player of the Year, on their team.

No longer involved in the Crossover Classic, both the Buckeyes and Flyers suddenly have some flexibility on their schedules. Neither Chris Holtmann nor Dayton Head Coach Anthony Grant want to leave those slots open, so I expect both teams will move swiftly to schedule new games and fill out their schedules. But could we potentially see the two teams stay in-state and play each other for the first time since 2014?

The last time Ohio State and Dayton met up was the 2014 NCAA Tournament, where the 11-seeded Flyers shocked the 6-seed Buckeyes in the first round, knocking off the top basketball program in the state of Ohio. That win helped propel the Flyers all the way to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, which was their deepest NCAA tournament run since 1984.

Chris Holtmann and Athletic Director Gene Smith have publicly discussed the possibility of playing the other in-state schools, but noted how difficult it can be to fit in a game with someone like Dayton when (during a normal year) you’re also playing 20 conference games, a handful of nonconference games, and early-season tournaments.

“Chris and I haven’t specifically talked about Dayton or Xavier, but he and I share a similar philosophy that we ought to try and play Ohio schools if possible, which is why we’re doing that with the exhibition games as well,” Smith said in November of 2019, “So he and I haven’t talked about those two in particular, but I imagine down the road we probably will.” This comment was following the completion of a home-and-home series with Cincinnati, in which the Buckeyes took both games.

While nothing was ever ironed out schedule-wise, it seems there was some discourse between Ohio State and Dayton previously. In late 2019, University of Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan told the Dayton Daily News that “There’s been some good conversation, but the stars just haven’t lined up the right way yet.”

He goes on: “We’ve got a ton of respect for Ohio State, a ton of respect for Gene Smith. We’ve had some dialogue, and I think there just has been tough, primarily on their side, just some tough logistics related to their conference, but you know we certainly would be interested in playing Ohio State, UC or Xavier. We’re interested in all of those. We’d do all of those for sure.”

The Dayton Flyers celebrate their victory over Ohio State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament
AP/ Frank Franklin II

So what are we waiting for? The circumstances surrounding it are unfortunate, but what we have here are two of the top programs in the country who happen to be from the same state, but rarely play each other. Two rabid fan bases who have not been able to hold bragging rights over each other in nearly a decade. With Dayton and Ohio State both withdrawing from the Crossover Classic, it provides a perfect opportunity for the two schools to play for the first time in six years.

I am not a coach or a director of basketball operations. I am certain that more goes into scheduling a game than just “Hey are you free over Thanksgiving weekend?”, but going strictly off availability and what’s best for the athletes health-wise, holding an all-Ohio tournament in Columbus seems like a doable and awesome idea. Here is what I propose:


The Battle for Ohio

  • November 25-30
  • Columbus, OH (Schottenstein Center)
  • 4 participating teams, all from Ohio
  • All participating teams play all other teams (each team gets 3 games)
  • One day in between games, allowing for COVID testing on off days (games on the 26, 28, and 30th)
  • If a team produces a positive test, they must withdraw from the tournament

At the surface, it seems simple. Get each of these teams three additional games on the schedule against schools they don’t get to play often. This also simplifies travel and allows teams to drive home at the conclusion of the tournament, rather than flying.

The four schools that most people would want to see are Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Dayton, naturally. But I went ahead and double-checked the schedules of eight Ohio teams to make sure they all have fewer than 27 games, and therefore could participate in the Battle for Ohio. They are:

Priority Teams

  • Ohio State - 24 games
  • Dayton - 20 games
  • Cincinnati - 22 games
  • Xavier - 12 games (games still being added)

Alternates

  • Wright State - 21 games
  • Akron - 22 games
  • Ohio University - 21 games
  • Bowling Green - 22 games

All of the above schools could add three games and still be at or below the NCAA maximum of 27 games for this season. While the OSU/ Dayton/ Xavier/ Cincinnati group would probably bring the highest level of talent, any combination of the above schools would create a unique all-Ohio tournament that’s never been done before.

Akron has been very successful in the MAC lately, and could turn heads in a weekend-long tournament where they’re playing close to home. Ohio University’s basketball program is led by former Thad Matta-assistant Jeff Boals. Wright State appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years in 2018, and look to be on the upswing in the Horizon League. Any way you mix and match it, an all-Ohio tournament would be an awesome way to kick off the college basketball season.

As I said before, I am not a college basketball coach nor do I work in the athletic departments of any of the schools listed here. I’m simply a fan, just like you, who sees a window of opportunity for the best basketball programs in the state to duke it out and rightfully claim the title as the best college basketball team in Ohio. Who wouldn’t love to see that?