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No real scandals, but a weird week of Buckeye controversies

Some comments on the buzzer-beater, C.J. Stroud and Desmond Howard, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I was just sitting around, minding my own business waiting for New Year’s Eve, and I’m hit with several odd news stories. Journalists have tried to stretch them into scandals – but they’re not. “Controversies” is a better word for them. But hell yes, I have opinions.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s decision to sit out, get healthy for NFL Draft

Did you read JSN’s Tweet? He might have had help from a publicist, but it couldn’t have been better written. It said all of the right things.

Thanks to the Buckeye Nation (to whom the tweet was addressed) for enabling him to play on the game’s biggest stage. Thanks to his coaches and teammates. A pledge of “everlasting” loyalty to the school. The tone was humble and definitely team-first. JSN says that, after consulting with his doctors, he would “not be able” to participate in the playoff games. At the end, he announced that he would be “officially declaring for the NFL draft.”

I was hoping that JSN would play, but, of course, I wondered how well he would perform after such limited action this season. He played in only three of the Buckeyes’ 12 games, caught five passes, and gained 43 yards. After such a layoff, would he be better out there than, say, Julian Fleming or Xavier Johnson? I don’t know.

Then along comes Todd McShay on ESPN’s “College Football Live.” McShay says that he has learned from NFL scouts (unnamed, naturally) with whom he’s talked that JSN is “healthy enough to play” and that his decision not to is merely for self-protection. McShay goes on to criticize Smith-Njigba’s game – dropped passes, unexceptional size and speed. The implication is that JSN needed to play in order to improve or even solidify his draft position, which McShay figures is late first or early second round. It won’t be long until we learn whether he’s right or wrong about that position.

JSN’s father, Maada, steps in and discusses the limitations that he’s seen in his son’s movement as he undergoes rehab. He’s not ready to play. The elder Smith-Njigba says that he’s “at peace” with the family’s decision to sit him out and try to get healthy.

I don’t claim to be objective here. I love JSN, and I firmly feel that if he were able to play and contribute to a Buckeye run at a national championship, he would. Naturally, I don’t know the state of his injury at present. I doubt that McShay (or the perhaps-fictional scout) does either. He’s just another trouble-making journalist trying to stir things up.

Desmond Howard and the Heisman snub

Although I don’t like Desmond Howard, he would have to be much, much worse in order to surpass my least favorite former TTUN player – Tom Brady. (Did you see Brady whine, whine, whine at his teammates and the refs in Sunday’s game against the 49ers? Sorry for the digression). Howard doesn’t pretend to be unbiased. He gives everything a maize (or is it “maze”?) and blue slant. That’s OK. I’m cool with it. He is what he is.

In 2021, at C.J. Stroud’s first Heisman ceremony, Howard made a crack about Stroud’s not getting much protection from his offensive line. That Michigan game was fresh in our minds. The line deserved the slap. This year, Howard started things off by complaining about Blake Corum’s omission from the Heisman finalists, while former Buckeye Cardale Jones was congratulating the four who actually were finalists. Howard had to take a shot at Jones, too, claiming that he hadn’t played in many big games. True, perhaps, but why say it? What’s the point?

Then came Saturday’s Heisman ceremony. No surprise. Caleb Williams was predicted to win, and he did. The only “incident” that kept this ridiculously televised event from being the total yawner that it annually is, was the SNUB.

I’ve watched the video a couple of dozen times, I suppose. Yeah, Stroud shook a couple of hands, then walked past Howard. But Howard wasn’t even looking at him; he was too busy laughing it up with the guy next to him. Did Stroud snub him? Probably not, but I hope so. This program needs a little action, and it’s good to see the rivalry play out in new and varied ways. And Des deserves to be put in his place now and then.

The “buzzer-beater” that shouldn’t have been a game-winner

No question: Tanner Holden’s three-pointer beat the final game buzzer. By definition, then, a “buzzer-beater.” Instant pandemonium. A shot, a game to remember for Holden and the Buckeyes.

But wait. As the Rutgers bench was demanding a review, the officiating crew hurried off the court, into the safety of... well, wherever officials go after a game.

The replays show clearly that Holden had been out of bounds, then returned to the court to receive the pass from teammate Bruce Thornton. (In fact, Thornton looked to be out of bounds, too). The ball should have been blown dead. It wasn’t. The basket counted, and the game was over. Buckeyes won it 67-66.

Sure, the refs blew the call. But how often does that happen in sports? It’s part of the game, any game with referees or umpires, but it’s a part that’s getting smaller with official reviews and replay videos. I’m not complaining about the call, partly because my team won. If I were a Scarlet Knights fan, I’d complain. But I’d get over it. Might not get over the missed free throw that preceded the play, however.

Here’s the odd thing. On Friday, the day after the game, the Big Ten conference issues an official statement acknowledging the missed call by a crew that is “one of the best in the country,” but one that apparently needs additional education about the rules, according to the statement. The formality of the language – referring to Thornton as “an OSU student-athlete” and the citing of the play as “a violation of NCAA Rule 9, Section 3, Article 1” is kind of bizarre.

Did anybody feel better after that statement? Certainly not Rutgers: they still got the “L” but now know that they were really cheated. Holden? His feat was clearly diminished. Rather than hitting a game-winner, he just got away with something. How about the refs who were taken to the woodshed? I thought that, given the speed of the play, they simply didn’t see the foot over the sideline. But the statement sounds as though they saw it but didn’t know that it was a rule violation. More education. Really? Well, that gives us confidence about other crews that aren’t the best in the country.

What the Big Ten statement didn’t say is that an infraction of that rule – stepping out of bounds and then being the first to touch the ball – isn’t reviewable on replay. Although the refs missed the call, they were right in hurrying away, rather than going to the monitor. Which, of course, brings up the question, why are some things (like clock issues, flagrant fouls) reviewable and some things not? This play determined the outcome of the game. Not reviewable?

It’s high time for the NCAA to review its replay policies, especially in the final five minutes (two minutes?) of the game.

What a week! Always something going on.