Was God Urban Meyer’s Inspiration in Running Up The Score?

urban1“Is there a bigger hypocrite in college sports than Urban Meyer?” – Mike Ozanian, Forbes

So asks Forbes’ Mike Ozanian the day after the inaugural College Football National Title Game.

Leading 35 to 20 with 1:43 left in the game, Ohio State was set to go for it on fourth and one from inside the Oregon five yard line. Before the snap, two Oregon offensive linemen jumped offsides, giving the Buckeyes a first down and the ballgame. Tradition says you line up in victory formation, take a knee, shake hands, and celebrate. Instead, Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes kept running plays, scoring again with 28 seconds left. “I didn’t even think about taking a knee… we play to win,” Meyer said. (ESPN)

The move has some people asking questions. The Washington Post‘s Des Bieler asked, “Should Ohio State Have Taken a Knee at the End of the Title Game?” Oregon Sportswriter, Tim Brown asked, “Did the Buckeyes need to score, or was the call meant to be an insult to the Oregon Ducks? Were Meyer and his players putting a final exclamation point on a big win, or were they simply running up the score and trying to embarrass an Oregon team that everyone thought would cruise to a title victory?”

Ozanian’s question on Forbes.com was more pointed: “Was God Urban Meyer’s Inspiration For Running Up The Score Against Oregon?” Like it or not, Ozanian gets to bring God into the conversation because Urban Meyer brought God into the conversation. Meyer, like many athletes and coaches, has been outspoken about his Christian faith. Ozanian also mentions Urban’s involvement with the Christian leadership book, Lead… For God’s Sake, which Urban Meyer called one of the most powerful books he’s ever read, eventually penning the foreword for the paperback release.

Was it right? Was it wrong? Was it God? These are the wrong questions.

Running up the score has cultural meaning–it makes a statement. The real question is what did it mean?

What does it mean to Urban Meyer, that he broke with tradition and piled on another touchdown? It’s not the first time he’s dealt with the question. Is he just a fiery competitor, or is he involved in the kind of competitive environment in which human beings have lost all perspective?

What does it mean to coaches and players who are so outspoken about their Christianity? Could it mean, given involving God in sports can so quickly devolve into an unhealthy dynamic (see also: “Tebowing”), that we had best not implicate God in the games we play?

What does it mean for Ohio State that in the championship moment the adults surrounding these student athletes taught them that victors rub their opponent’s noses in it?

What does it mean for college football, already a five billion dollar a year industry?

For one thing, it means the question of right and wrong is irrelevant. It’s college football, so the lines between right and wrong have long since disappeared. My evidence? Rewind the Ohio State v. Oregon championship game to the coin toss where former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel–also an outspoken Christian–was looking on with the rest of the most recent class of inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. This is the Jim Tressel who resigned after years of NCAA violations (cash & cars to players, no-show jobs, memorabilia for cash & tattoos, and so on), resulted in three years of probation, and in Ohio State having to vacate all of their wins from the 2010 season. According to Sports Illustrated, the violations were wide ranging, involved scores of players including Terrelle Pryor, Troy Smith, and Maurice Clarett, and were part of a pattern reaching all the way back to his years at Youngstown State. That Jim Tressel is now in the hall of fame. And the 3 years of probation? Well, the sanctions were so devastating and effective that Ohio State wasn’t able to make it to the national championship game until one month following the end of their probation (it ended Dec. 19, 2014, just 24 days before the national championship game).

Right and wrong no longer play a big role in the future of college football.

In the end, running up the score with your star players still in the game, in the final seconds of a contest that was no longer in doubt may not be technically wrong. But it’s lame. It’s the punch that Ali never threw Sonny Liston. It’s what the great ones never do. Let’s leave God out of it.

This much I do know. Running up the score has meaning. As the father of two little boys who is working like crazy to raise them to be honorable men, it means I need to find ways to keep my little men from listening to these big men, because I’m not okay with what their actions are saying.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • Jeffrey Sykes

    I think there are fundamental problems with the way the NCAA treats athletes at Division I schools. The whole system is rigged and the students who are professional athletes in all but name are abused by a system and an invention called “student athletes” while they receive inadequate compensation for their labor.

    That hypocrisy occurs inside such a system should be no big surprise given that the entire system is built on lies.

  • NanaLynne

    I saw no “running up” the score…Ohio State made plays, Oregon did not.

  • PeaceThruNoParties

    What a load. First off, the entire narrative on Oregon was how they could score so quickly in bunches. The media had endless graphs showing the mere seconds it took for them to find the end zone. 35-20 is a two-possession game with nearly two minutes left. Meyer put the game out of reach, firmly, and he should have. You want an example of RUTS? Check what Oregon did to FSU and others.

    Second, the attack on Tressel is exaggerated. You can’t smear him and then throw in “allegedly” like some absolution. Of all the accusations lobbed at him, two separate investigations by the NCAA turned up one thing: he lied to them. No cash, no academic fraud (quite the contrary), no bogus jobs, no illegal cars. He covered up his players’ involvement in selling their own possessions for chump change and some tattoos, and for that he paid the ultimate price.

    What a hack job from a (cough) man of God.

    • Matt_Barker

      Wow, you’re comment is right on the money. Couldn’t of said it better myself.

      • Mike Kane

        Hey Matt or Peace->was he talking about the “Phantom Punch”?

  • Monty Dayton

    The world needs more Christians pontificating on the actions of other Christians in search of determining and assigning unknowable motivations. “…[A]s the father of two little boys who is working like crazy to raise them to be honorable men,” a good place to start is by telling them that it’s not productive (and most time counterproductive) to try and discern the hearts of people they neither know, or understand, from a football game (after first determining that the answer to WWJD is “watch a football game”). Seriously, though, what is the point of God if anybody can do it?

  • toddh

    As a husky fan, I think Meyer was clearly inspired by God. Go dawgs.

  • Bill Stratton

    “God’s inspiration”? What in the name of faith could bind this phrase to an NCAA championship football game? “Lame” is a good word for it. “Reaching” to plaster something on social media is also a good description. There are a lot of faith-related stories for both teams on both sides of the ball, and this is what you fashioned from it? I repeat what PeaceThruNoParties posted: “What a hack job from a (cough) man of God.”.

  • tbrinley

    I guess that is the problem with blogging. It’s too easy.

    I like Assisi’s input through Donovan:

    If you want your dream to be, take your time go slowly
    Do few things, but do them well, heart felt work grows purely
    Day by day, stone by stone, build your secret slowly
    Day by day, you’ll grow too, you’ll know heaven’s glory.

    Better next time…

  • hartwilliams

    Bravo, sir. Bravo.

  • Missionary Dave

    Huh? I do not even follow football here in the Philippines, but I remember my son telling me about the Rose Bowl game.Oregon won 59 to 20 over FSU and 39 of those points came after FSU had scored their 20.

    I guess that did not fit your twisted logic. I will defend anyone’s right of Freedom of Speech, but please exercise some discernment as you put forth your opinions.

    We already have an abundance of opinions, speculations, theories, personal beliefs, numerical nonsense in Christianity today. Lost folks and believers stand on the sidelines and shake their heads when they hear inconsistency emanating from those who are supposed to be providing leadership within the church. Bottom line: It makes witnessing more difficult when we have to waste time explaining goofy theories.