Opinion: No point to a paid-to-play system

Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major and the sports editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at rmulhal1@kent.edu. 

Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major and the sports editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected] 

Richie Mulhall

After getting absolutely embarrassed in front of a record crowd of 107,517 cheering Buckeye fans at Ohio Stadium and losing to Virginia Tech, 35-21, Ohio State desperately needed a pick-me-up. 

Disheartened and disappointed, the Buckeyes needed a game they could win as a confidence-booster moving forward with the season. The team already lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to shoulder surgery before the onset of the 2014 season, so a decisive week three win would serve as the perfect confidence-booster.

And what better way to come back from a loss than thrashing an overmatched opponent tiers behind Ohio State like the Kent State Flashes?

This past weekend, the Buckeyes seized the golden opportunity to take advantage of a prime situation for them and bad situation for the Flashes.

In Saturday’s contest in Columbus, Ohio State made quick work of the Flashes, racking up 21 points in the first quarter alone and never looking back. The Buckeyes dominated Kent State in every facet of the game, walloping the Flashes, 66-0.

The Flashes received a generous check for $850,000 to get routed before a packed 104,404 capacity crowd that featured healthy mix of Ohio State and Kent State fans alike. And for what? So that Ohio State could flex its muscles against a MAC team and look amazing after an unexpected home loss and Kent State could make a quick buck? Give me a break.

And Kent State was not the only team Ohio State paid to play this year. Cincinnati, located just a couple hours away from The Shoe, will receive $888,246 to play the Buckeyes on Sept. 27. Combined, Ohio State will pay more than $2 million in total guarantees to bring Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati to Ohio Stadium this fall, according to an article by the Associated Press on ESPN.com. 

This sort of scenario happens every year in college football, so much so that playing the role of sacrificial lamb for high-profile teams in the beginning of the season has become a staple for lesser Division I teams like Kent State, the University of Akron and Youngstown State University. 

The NCAA has designed this broken paid-to-play system in which smaller schools are fed to bigger football programs as part of a grooming method that beefs up their confidence levels and preps them for better competition down the road.

Every once in a blue moon, one of these perennial underdogs shocks the nation and upsets the powerhouse they have been delegated to play. Back in 2007, Appalachian State upset the Michigan Wolverines, 34-32, and it was immediately hailed as one of the biggest upsets in college football history. In the same year, the visiting Stanford Cardinals entered enemy territory and toppled USC, 24-23. The Trojans were favored over Stanford by 41 points, making the win the largest point-spread upset in college football history.

Upsets like these are possible and have clearly sprung up in recent memory, but they are very rare. The majority of the time, the better team is supposed to — and expected to — handily defeat the underdog team in a similar fashion to the way Ohio State took care of Kent State this past Saturday.

Kent State and Ohio State fans alike had a hunch about how the game would transpire, but I highly doubt many people could have predicted a 66-0 drubbing. 

After establishing a substantial 45-0 lead before halftime, the Buckeyes’ offensive unit didn’t let up on the reins after the brief intermission. 

Most of the time when facing undermanned, overmatched squads, teams like the Buckeyes, usually coast in the second half after building up a big lead like that. But Ohio State persisted its aerial assault and kept piling on the points in second half despite a big lead, which was a classless move by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in my book.

The Buckeyes kept pouring on offense, and Kent State head coach Paul Haynes and company didn’t have an answer for it, despite a valiant effort. 

MAC teams like Kent State simply can’t compete with a Big 10 powerhouse like the Ohio State Buckeyes. The level of talent in smaller conferences pales in comparison to that of the Big 10 and SEC.

The fact of the matter is, though, that games like this should not even be allowed to happen. Nobody gains anything from squash matches like this, and all they do is create one giant lose-lose situation for both sides.

Headlines claim that Ohio State is “back,” but what did the Buckeyes really gain from beating up on the Flashes? Bragging rights? I would hardly think so.

If the Buckeyes overwhelm a team like Kent State, critics will say they should beat them badly or call them bullies. If the Buckeyes narrowly defeat a team like Kent State, critics will say they should have pounded them. If the Buckeyes actually lose to a team like Kent State, critics will condemn them for losing to a team beneath them.

And what does Kent State gain from this game? The school draws in a big profit courtesy of Ohio State, but what does the team really gain? I would venture to say they do gain valuable experience playing a great NCAA team in front of a packed crowd inside The Horseshoe, but in regard to seasonal benefits, the team reaps virtually nothing.

Kent State receives a vicious beating at the hands of an expectedly better team and Ohio State uses the victory as a stepping-stone for its next game. The verdict: Kent State has no right playing a team like Ohio State, especially this early in the season, and this is not a knock against Kent State’s ability or suggesting that the Flashes are not a worthy opponent. A team like Ohio State just stands head and shoulders above the rest of the competition among smaller schools. It has consistently been one of the top five recruiting schools in the nation year after year — that’s the bottom line.

It would be a remarkable upset to overcome a team like Ohio State, but based on the caliber and look of this season’s 2014 team, a group that had a difficult enough time with Ohio University and South Alabama, and a squad still coping and dealing with loss of starting center Jason Bitsko, a once-in-a-blue-moon victory like that isn’t in the cards right now.  

No matter how much money Kent State pulls in and how much praise Ohio State receives, games in which sacrificial lambs are pitted against big-name heavy hitters like the Buckeyes will never be justifiable to me.