All this week, LGHL writers will be bring you articles with inspired by their favorite Ohio State theoretical questions. Check out all of our What If? thoughts throughout the week HERE. Whether you disagree, let us know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Landgrant33.
In line with this week’s theme of “What If?”, we’re exploring what could have been when it comes to Ohio State — in this case, what if name, image and likeness rules had been resolved in players’ favor, say, back in 2010 or so.
So, we’re basically talking about time travel here. And for those of you who have seen the any movie about time travel, you know that changing just one little thing in the past can have drastic implications for the future.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But we could probably identify a few points of what might have happened specifically for Ohio State. So while there are numerous implications of NIL, we’re going to focus on the obvious implications for Ohio State specifically in 2010 — which means Terrelle Pryor and Tattoo-Gate.
This discussion is even more relevant this week, since the players involved in Tattoo-Gate just announced they are seeking a reinstatement of their records in light of the NIL rule changes.
Let’s kick off with the obvious chain of events. If name, image and likeness rules had allowed players to receive payment based on their positions as student athletes in 2010, Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas would not have needed to sell their team issued items to make some extra cash, or to get tattoos.
Jim Tressel would never had needed to lie to cover it up. Jim Tressel would have remained the coach at Ohio State. Terrelle Pryor would have still been the starting quarterback, and we would never have had to see Joe Bauserman on the field.
While that thought might have been a comforting pipedream in the fall of 2011, when Ohio State football was in a truly unfortunate state, the sad truth is that Ohio State football as a program had started to show cracks — cracks that were becoming noticeable to SEC schools... and their recruits — well before Luke Fickell took the reins as interim head coach in 2011. e
Sure, the 2011 season itself might have been better for Ohio State, but the days of future past get much darker from there.
The most long-term implication is that Tressel would be kept on the staff because of his relatively recent success. A national title in 2002 was not so far gone, and a pair of title game appearances in 2007 and 2008 would have provided plenty of job security.
But that should have been the first indication that there were cracks in the system. The SEC had made a leap ahead — and the Big Ten was falling behind. In particular, Ohio State, who remained the titan of the conference, famously could not keep up with Florida and LSU in those 2006 and 2007 championship games. What was thought to be the epic battle of the two best teams in the nation — top-ranked Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan — to close out the 2007 regular season turned out to be a fight for second place. But no one knew that yet.
Because the SEC had disrupted college football — and fast. The late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen defined disruptive innovation in business as the process by which a resource-strapped smaller company can challenge an established business. It’s how Netflix took down Blockbuster — by being better at the new game.
Now, it’s not a perfect translation. Ohio State is one of the greatest, most historic programs in the game, but it isn’t fair to say Alabama was an up-and-comer or in any way resource strapped. Florida, however, fits the narrative better. The Gators had been enjoying a recent surge in success since the 1990s and, like many SEC schools, benefited from more robust recruitment in the southeast. They also grew their reputation with the increase in bowl games, also in the mid-1990s, which gave more teams a more prominent postseason.
But back to the hypothetical and depressing scenario at hand. If the Big Ten and its de facto leader (Ohio State) continued down the path it had laid with Tressel, the conference likely would have become less competitive even in just a few short years. Because of Tressel’s departure, bringing in Meyer meant a dramatic shift in the type of players Ohio State recruited and the style of play on the field — a style that brought the Big Ten’s best closer to the future of college football, and allowed the Buckeyes to be competitive for years to come.
But again, what if it hadn’t played out that way? What if we did have more years with Tressel? We have a good (not great) case study for that very scenario, because we all saw what happened with Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. They were the Blockbuster to Meyer’s Netflix — an aged style that couldn’t compete in the new college football landscape. Neither was able to establish an identity or style with the Wolverines in the way Meyer did at Florida and then Ohio State.
While Michigan has the resources and pedigree to be great, their lack of identity and boring, old-school style of play mean that the Wolverines have fallen well-behind Ohio State. Tennessee, though not a regular competitor of Ohio State, would also fit this bill.
Meyer put the Buckeyes on a trajectory that, even being so far behind in 2011, allowed them to outpace the competition in just a few short years.
Further, if Tressel didn’t leave Ohio State, would the Big Ten ever shift its power-centric, run-first, defensive-focused mindset to compete with the SEC on a broader level? Meyer is widely credited with bringing the fast-paced innovative offense to the often reluctant to change B1G.
When it comes to the Big Ten conference as a whole, we can look to the Pac-12 for a case in point of the dangers of not adopting a disruptive mindset. Struggles to recruit against the SEC led to struggles in winning games which reinforced the cycle. Even Chip Kelly couldn’t bring his Oregon magic back to UCLA.
Bringing it back to the NIL, the rule changes we’ve seen in recent months were a long time coming and, really, should have gone into effect long ago. In reality, the rules themselves had little to do with the implications discussed here, but it is interesting to look at the darker alternative of what could have been had these changes been around back in 2010. The bottoming out Ohio State experienced in the 2011 season was a huge motivation to shift what Big Ten football looked like and, despite the growing pains, led to a stronger conference overall.