It didn't exactly take the Amazing Kreskin to see this coming when star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three other offensive starters were cited by the NCAA last December for selling rings, jerseys and other memorabilia as underclassmen. But 6 1/2 months later, it's official: Ohio State is vacating all 12 wins from the 2010 season, including the Sugar Bowl win, and placing itself on two years' probation as penance for fielding multiple ineligible players.
The Buckeyes' self-flagellation comes as part of their official response to accusations of major NCAA violations involving both the ineligible players — Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and reserve defensive lineman Solomon Thomas — and exiled head coach Jim Tressel's season-long cover-up of the violations. It also comes arguably 6 1/2 months too late. Initially, when OSU first brought the case to the NCAA last December, it not only escaped a heavy-handed response on the order of probation and vacated wins, but actually managed to keep the offending players eligible for the Sugar Bowl, where they each played a crucial role in a 31-26 win over Arkansas. It was only when Tressel was caught red-handed a few weeks later that the NCAA even decided to return to the case at all.
Now, Tressel is gone, Pryor is gone, and even the record books are being wiped clean of their tainted legacy. Officially, the Sugar Bowl win will disappear from the record, along with the 11 regular-season wins that preceded it and the co-Big Ten championship that came with them. Only the Oct. 16 loss at Wisconsin, the lone defeat of the season, will remain.*
Still, from Ohio State's perspective, a retroactive eraser to the results of games that TV networks and ticket buyers have already shelled out for is the least of its worries.Compared to the heavy scholarship losses and two-year bowl ban the NCAA dropped on USC last year for essentially the same offense, vacated wins is a velvet glove. By slapping itself with the more tolerable penalty now, on the heels of dumping its disgraced head coach, OSU is clearly hoping it can appear proactive enough to fend off the more painful variety later on (emphasis added):
Sources familiar with the university's response [to allegations of NCAA violations] also told The [Columbus] Dispatch that Ohio State is admitting major violations of NCAA regulations, but says it should not face harsh punishment because no OSU official other than Tressel was aware of player violations.
Sources said the university concedes it is a repeat offender, but contends it has responded appropriately, imposed fitting sanctions on its football program and should face no further punishment.
"Tressel as rogue coach" is the only viable card Ohio State had to play against an airtight case of intentional deception, and it's playing it. The only question now, ahead of its all-important date with the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12, is whether the committee is still willing to raise the stakes.
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* Please note that "vacating" a win is not the same as a forfeit: There is no winner or loser. Officially, there was no game. So yes, Michigan fans, even in the record books, the losing streak in the rivalry stands. Sorry if you got your hopes up.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.