Ohio State a title contender, but at what cost?

National championships come at a cost.

How high a price are you willing to pay? Are you willing to swallow a little integrity, placing your values in a blind trust until further notice?

The Big Ten is still figuring that out, its football conscience pulled in varying directions. The conference still swims against the national current, naively clinging to an ideal of regional superiority. It still dreams of roses, believing that a century of tradition should supersede an evolving national playoff landscape.

But the Big Ten might have a genuine national championship contender this season.

It was easy identifying that team Wednesday at the annual Big Ten football meetings in Chicago. It was the team whose coach sweated and squirmed at the podium like Rodney Dangerfield pleading for a little respect.

“How do I view my own reputation?” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said to reporters there. “I don’t view my own reputation. I guess a reputation is what others think of you.”

Many think Meyer’s reputation perfectly fits the conflicting mission of today’s big-time college football. As long as you regularly compete for national titles, the majority of fans and donors happily will accept the rise in ticket prices and player arrests.

With a more definitive championship process over the past 15 years with the Bowl Championship Series and, beginning next year, a four-team playoff, the only goal that matters now is hoisting the national championship trophy.

If you can’t do that, you don’t count.

It’s college football’s slimy reality. And if nothing else, Meyer’s a realist.

Loathe him. Love him. Take your pick. But it’s those equal parts ire and irresistible that make him the second-best college football coach in the country — behind Nick Saban. College football’s mandate of titles-or-bust demands taking more chances on players of extraordinary talent but questionable character.

Reporters in Chicago thoroughly grilled Meyer. The majority of questions he faced discussed off-the-field issues rather than on-the-field expectations. How does he define internal discipline?

Meyer vigorously defended himself, displaying raw emotion when he talked about how an entire team shouldn’t be defined by the actions of “a couple knuckleheads.” He questioned whether he has offered players too many second chances.

He fielded a national championship team at Florida that could have operated as a prison work-release camp. One of his former Florida players, Aaron Hernandez, now sits in a Massachusetts jail charged with one murder — at least for now, anyway.

We can self-righteously smirk all we want, but those BCS title trophies in Gainesville, Fla., are draped in orange and wrapped with leg irons.

Though sad, it’s nonetheless true. It’s ugly, but everyone should see it for what it is. People don’t care as long as you win.

The Big Ten is still uncomfortable with that new reality, openly spouting principles of honor above all else. But the conference is also so desperate for anything nationally relevant in football, it happily will latch itself onto the Meyer bandwagon — despite the negative attention it attracts as several Ohio State players faced disciplinary action this week.

The Buckeyes are only two years removed from a football scandal that the wishful thinkers in East Lansing and Ann Arbor thought would decimate the only dominant Big Ten program during the BCS era.

Yet the Buckeyes quickly bounced back to national significance primarily because Ohio State long since has adopted the necessity of burying its conscience.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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