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.