COLUMBUS, Ohio — The football programs at Penn State and Ohio State have had troubled and troubling seasons.
Penn State is still in shock over the scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is charged with sexually abusing young boys. Coach Joe Paterno was fired last week amid claims he did not do enough to alert authorities of an alleged assault that was brought to his attention.
The university president was also let go. The criminal investigation continues.
Ohio State's issues seem minor in comparison. The Buckeyes have been under NCAA investigation for almost a year since it was learned football players traded memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. The scandal led to coach Jim Tressel being ousted. An NCAA probe is ongoing.
A year ago when Penn State and Ohio State played, the game matched the two winningest active Division I coaches.
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions visit the Buckeyes again with both programs in flux.
"There's no question that a lot has happened in the past year for our programs," said two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, now president and CEO of Ohio State's alumni association. "At this point, you just have to focus on moving forward and learning from things that have happened."
Tom Bradley and Luke Fickell, formerly defensive assistants, are now the interim head coaches for the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes, respectively. There is a lot riding on the game — a Big Ten division title — yet it's clear that the world has wobbled off course for both.
Before Penn State came to Ohio State on Nov. 13, 2010, Tressel was asked about the longevity of Paterno, who had been the head coach at Penn State since 1966 and on staff since 1950.
"That's been his home for so long and I don't know if he envisions there being anything different than that," said Tressel, who had once interviewed with Paterno for a graduate assistant job. "He's been there longer than I've been alive."
Now no longer is Paterno the coach at Penn State, but his name has also been removed from the Big Ten's new championship trophy.
The trophy had been named the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy. Amos Alonzo Stagg won 319 games in 57 years, most at the University of Chicago. Paterno's 409 wins are the most by a major college coach.
The trophy will now be called the Stagg Championship Trophy. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced the change Monday.
Tressel was 58 when he stepped down on May 30 in disgrace after going 106-22 in 10 seasons with the Buckeyes. He admitted to having known in April of 2010 that his players were likely committing NCAA violations. Yet he did not report what he knew to his superiors, as required by his contract and NCAA bylaws.
At least 18 Ohio State players have been suspended in the last year, most for breaking NCAA rules for accepting improper benefits — either trading signed memorabilia for cash, getting paid too much for summer jobs or accepting money to attend a charity benefit.
The program has been reeling from what seems like an almost persistent stream of bad decisions.
Before last year's game with Penn State, former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was asked if he could foresee any circumstances that would cause him to leave Ohio State before he played for four years.
"I don't think anything could change it," he said, but that was before he was embroiled in the memorabilia-for-cash scandal and the NCAA was also looking into other aspects of his life. Pryor jumped to the NFL after last season.
To mitigate its eventual NCAA penalties, Ohio State has offered to vacate the 12-1 record in 2010 for using ineligible players (dropping Tressel's record to 94-21), pay back $339,000 in bowl revenue, go on two years or probation and surrender five football scholarships over the next three years. The NCAA is on no deadline, but is expected to hand down a ruling before the end of the year.
Leading up to last year's Penn State-Ohio State game — a 38-14 victory by the Buckeyes — Paterno talked about the growing history between the teams.
"I don't think there's any question it's a big rival for us. They're adjacent states. We work awfully hard to try to recruit some people that they do," said Paterno, who was 409-136-3 when he was fired last week. "We've had some good football games with them."
Both teams are coming off painful losses, No. 21 Penn State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) falling 17-14 at home to Nebraska and Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) losing in overtime at Purdue, 26-23.
Ohio State is still in the running for the Legends Division title. The Nittany Lions can secure at least a share of the Big Ten's Leaders Division with a win. Ohio State
After the emotional loss to Nebraska, Bradley was asked if he had thought about what the future might bring.
"All I've been worried about is just making sure that I do the best job that I can," Bradley said, trying to not lose his composure. "We owe it to (the players). That's all I've been worried about. I don't have time to think about the other things right now."
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