Last week I wrote about Hank Aaron, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his record-breaking 715th home run. I concluded that Aaron would still have been a great player — and would very likely have made the Baseball Hall of Fame — even if all of his home runs had been counted as singles instead.Or at least — that’s almost what I wrote. What I actually wrote left a lot of room for interpretation (emphasis added from original):What if Aaron had never hit a home run? What if those 755 round-trippers had fallen for base hits instead? (If we’re trying to isolate the effect of his power, that seems like the fairer way to do it, instead of turning them into popups or something.) Would he still be a Hall of Famer?If all of his homers had been singles, Aaron would still have his 3,771 hits.The ambiguity is over the means by which we’re turning Aaron’s home runs into singles. When writing the original post, I’d imagined that this was accomplished by some sort of accounting trick. After Aaron retired, some Evil Commissioner decreed that all of Aaron’s homers would be counted as singles in baseball’s record book (like how the NCAA sometimes retroactively forfeits a team’s wins after it’s determined to have used an ineligible player); but it wouldn’t have changed what happened on the field.But what if the change had occurred on the field instead? So as not to violate any laws of physics, we can imagine it happened by means of a ground rule. Before Aaron made his major league debut, our Evil Commissioner decreed that any ball hit over the fence in fair territory by Henry Louis Aaron would be counted as a single rather than a home run. This rule applied to Hank Aaron and only to Hank Aaron. Everybody knew about the rule, including Hank Aaron, the pitchers who faced Hank Aaron, and the teams who employed Hank Aaron, and they were free to adjust their strategies accordingly.1A couple of complications: First, is Aaron allowed to hit inside-the-park home runs? Sure, let’s let him; he hit only one during the course of his career anyway.Next, what happens to the baserunners when Aaron hits a ground-rule single? Do they advance only one base? This would make Hank Aaron’s ground-rule singles less valuable than regular singles, since baserunners sometimes advance from first to third or score from second on a base hit. So let’s imagine that our Evil Commissioner decrees that a set of Strat-O-Matic dice shall be thrown by the umpires when Hank Aaron hits a ground-rule single. The baserunners will then be allowed to take an extra base in accordance with league-wide averages for runner advancement.This thought experiment is starting to get a bit complicated. Still, it gets to the point that the economists Scott Sumner and Tyler Cowen have made, which is that changing the ground rules for Aaron would have changed the way he and the pitchers who faced him approached the game. It thereby might have affected the rest of Aaron’s batting line and not just his home runs. There are several such effects to consider.Aaron would have drawn fewer walksThe number of walks drawn by a hitter is partly a function of his plate discipline and partly a matter of how much the pitcher fears him. The reason to risk walking a hitter, as Cowen notes, should be largely a function of his extra-base power. There’s not much reason to pitch around a singles hitter and give him a free pass to first base when most of the time the best he’s going to do is get to first base anyway by means of a base hit.This is clearest in the case of intentional walks.2Or at least it should be obvious in theory; whether it’s quite so obvious to pitchers and managers is another question. I was surprised to discover that singles hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Wade Boggs each led their league in intentional walks multiple times during the course of their careers. Some of these intentional walks may have been prudent if first base was open and there were runners in scoring position. But I’d guess that many of them were not very smart. Still, the aggregate trend is suggestive of rational behavior. In the 2013 season, the correlation between a hitter’s rate of intentional walks drawn and his isolated power was .44. The correlation between intentional walks and his rate of singles per at-bat was essentially zero (.03).Aaron’s unintentional walks would probably also have declined if he weren’t allowed to hit home runs. According to data compiled by Fangraphs, the percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone to major league hitters varies between about 40 percent and 55 percent. The hitters on the low end of the range are power hitters (Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Vladimir Guerrero, Pablo Sandoval); those at the top end are singles hitters (David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Chone Figgins, Juan Pierre). A homerless Hank Aaron would have seen considerably more strikes.Aaron would have hit for a higher batting averageSeeing more pitches in the strike zone would have made it easier for Aaron to make contact. From 2009 to 2013, the league batting average for at-bats that concluded on a pitch thrown within the strike zone was .291; for pitches outside the strike zone, it was just .175.3Players were also 3.6 times more likely to hit home runs on at-bats that concluded on pitches thrown in the strike zone, although that doesn’t help Homerless Hank. (This research was provided to me by Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info.)A quick calculation from these figures shows that if Aaron finished an additional 10 percent of his at-bats on pitches thrown inside the strike zone, he’d boost his career batting average by 12 points (from .305 to .317). However, that’s a crude estimate. We’d also have to consider how Aaron and the pitchers and defenses who faced him would have changed their whole approach to the at-bat.There’s reason to think that Aaron would have adapted to these conditions more readily than his opponents. He was a smart and versatile hitter; Sports Illustrated’s 1958 scouting report described how Aaron was very difficult to defend because he could hit to all fields and leg out infield hits (emphasis added from original):Man who excites the experts is Henry Aaron, of the loose, free swing. Called “best wrist hitter in baseball,” he’s actually an arm hitter, lashing pitch with masterful coordination of forearms, biceps, wrists and bat. Slumped through June but has had best record in league since then. No set way to fix defenses against him, since he hits to all fields, bunts beautifully, is fast enough to beat out infield hits. He’s also a good, if lackadaisical, outfielder, with a fine arm. The team’s big man.Furthermore, we have some experimental evidence on cases in which Aaron had an incentive to hit for contact. He performed very well in these situations.Singles increase in value relative to home runs when there are runners in scoring position. For his career, Aaron hit .322 with runners in scoring position.4Aaron accomplished this by means of hitting more singles; 20.4 percent of his at-bats with runners in scoring position concluded with singles, compared to 17.6 percent with the bases empty. His rate of extra-base hits was largely unchanged. Note that there is not a strong systematic tendency for players to hit for a higher average with runners in scoring position. In 2013, major leaguers hit .255 as a group with runners in scoring position, compared to .253 for all at-bats.Singles become more valuable still when there are runners in scoring position and the score is tied late in the game. In these cases, either a single or a homer will usually score the go-ahead run and win the game, so the hitter should be hitting for contact and the pitcher should be trying to prevent contact. I looked for at-bats on Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index when Aaron hit with runners in scoring position in the seventh inning or later of a tied game. It’s a small sample — just 139 at-bats. But Aaron hit .331 in these situations for his career.Another natural experiment comes from cases in which home runs aren’t necessarily less valuable, but are harder to hit. Of the ballparks Aaron played at regularly during his career, the one least conducive to home runs was almost certainly Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, where the left field and right field power alleys were 392 and 395 feet away from home plate, respectively. From 1954 (Aaron’s debut season) until the Pittsburgh Pirates’ last full season in Forbes Field in 1969, the Pirates hit 65 percent more home runs in road games than at Forbes Field. They also hit for a slightly higher batting average in Forbes Field than on the road, although the difference was modest (.267 versus .259).How about Hank Aaron? He adapted wonderfully to Forbes Field, hitting .338 for his career in 639 at-bats there. That’s a little bit better even than Pirates great Roberto Clemente (.329), whose game was tailor-made for Forbes Field.Aaron might have seen less playing timeThe no-homers ground rule might have made teams more reluctant to employ Aaron, especially toward the end of his career. After breaking the home run record as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Aaron played two farewell seasons as a designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975 and 1976. He hit just .234 and .229 during those seasons. The Brewers were terrible back then, but they might not have had much patience for Aaron if he didn’t compensate for his poor batting averages with occasional home runs.It’s also plausible that the start of Aaron’s major league career would have been delayed, but this case is more debatable. Aaron’s potential as a singles hitter would have been evident quite early. He began his professional career as a 17-year-old in the Negro Leagues, where he hit .366 in recorded at-bats as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns. Purchased by the Braves for $10,000, he then hit .336 and .362 in minor league seasons in 1952 and 1953.5Furthermore, the Braves had an opening for Aaron since they had traded the veteran outfielder Sid Gordon at the end of the 1953 season. Press accounts from the time do not seem to mention Aaron’s emergence as a motivating factor for the Braves to trade Gordon, though it may have played into their thinking.Aaron might have stolen more basesIn the comments on my original post, some readers noted that if Aaron had hit more singles, he’d have had more opportunity to steal bases. This is true — although I also have Homerless Hank drawing fewer walks and perhaps getting less playing time than the real Aaron, which would counteract his increased rate of singles.It’s probably the case, though, that Aaron could have stolen more bases if he’d wanted to. He was reasonably fast early in his career, as the Sports Illustrated scouting report mentions. But the stolen base was not in vogue in the 1950s and Aaron rarely attempted to steal. Steals became a much more popular strategy in the 1960s, however, and Aaron proved to be a proficient base-stealer. He stole 240 bases during his career and was successful on 77 percent of his steal attempts, leading the National League in stolen base percentage in 1966 and 1968. His high rate of success suggests that Aaron may have left a few opportunities on the table. Perhaps if he had been cast as a singles hitter, his teams would have expected him to be more active on the bases. He presumably also would have hit first or second in the batting order rather than third or fourth, which means he’d reach base more often with second base open.Aaron might have hit doubles and triples at a higher rateIf Aaron had only been credited with singles on balls that cleared the fence, he would have had reason to swing for the gaps more often in an effort to hit doubles and triples.In general, however, it’s not all that easy for players to try to hit doubles. The league leaders in doubles change quite a lot from year to year and the lists mostly comprise good overall hitters who play in stadiums like Fenway Park that are conductive to doubles. Still, none of those hitters faces incentives where doubles are actually more valuable than balls hit over the fence. As the scouting reports and batting splits makes clear, Aaron could hit to all fields and was smart about adapting his approach to the situation. I imagine that he’d find a way to hit a few more doubles and triples.Summing upThe real Hank Aaron hit for a .305/.374/.555 “slash line” (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). If all his home runs had been changed to singles after the fact, his line would have been .305/.374/.371 instead. But this doesn’t account for the changes Aaron and the pitchers might have made as they adapted to the ground rule.It’s just a guess, of course — but I imagine that Aaron would have hit somewhere in the .320s as a result of seeing more strikes and changing his approach to make more contact. His slugging average would have gone up accordingly, perhaps also boosted by a few extra doubles and triples. However, he would have drawn fewer walks, which could offset any gains in his on-base percentage. I envision his slash line as being something like .325/.375/.405, which is reasonably similar to Rod Carew’s.I don’t think Homerless Hank would have been in any jeopardy of failing to notch 3,000 hits. He may even have reached 4,000. The real Hank Aaron had 3,771 hits, and I have Homerless Hank hitting for a higher batting average. I also have him drawing fewer walks, which means more opportunities to put the ball in play. In fact, a .325/.375/.405 batting line would translate to roughly 4,150 hits given the number of plate appearances Aaron had. That would put him in striking distance of Ty Cobb, who had 4,189 hits. (Pete Rose surpassed Cobb’s record in 1985 and finished with 4,256 hits.)I also imagine that Homerless Hank wouldn’t have been very productive in the last couple of seasons of his career; his batting average over his final three seasons was .244. Teams don’t normally have much interest in singles hitters who hit .244. Still, they sometimes find spots for players who are pursuing career landmarks; Rose was somewhere between marginally productive and counterproductive after the age of 40, and yet he got (and gave himself as player-manager) another 2,469 plate appearances. If the Braves or the Brewers had been so generous to Aaron, it’s possible the Home Run King would have ended up as baseball’s Hit King instead.
Jabrill Peppers runs the ball during Michigan’s 32-23 win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI. Courtesy of TNSOn May 27, 2013, five-star safety Jabrill Peppers committed to the University of Michigan for the class of 2014. Three years later he’s entering one of the biggest games of his career against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. At the time, Michigan imagined Peppers to be a special athlete. However, when Jim Harbaugh was hired as the head coach in the winter after Peppers’ freshman season, the safety’s utilization in sporting a maize and blue jersey and a winged helmet was amplified to the extreme.The junior from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey is now a linebacker, safety, nickelback, cornerback, running back and whatever-back for the third-ranked Michigan Wolverines, and is a player who demands attention.Peppers was on the field for 72 plays at 10 different positions in a game at Michigan State earlier this season. He plays the majority of his snaps at linebacker, but serves as an extra defensive lineman considering his quickness and how often he blitzes. Peppers is difficult to handle at just 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.“I do know he’s a dynamic player. You’ve got to give credit where it’s due. He’s a hell of a talent,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said.Last season, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Peppers ran the ball seven times for 29 yards, caught two passes for 25 yards and registered five tackles. It was not the type of performance a player such as Peppers has been attuned to.OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett had one of his best games of last season against the Wolverines. He gained 252 total yards and scored four times on the way to one of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s most embarrassing defeats, 42-13. Barrett challenged Peppers a few times, but in all, he made the star player a non-factor.With the move from primarily playing safety to linebacker, Peppers has become a menace in the backfield in 2016. He ranks third in the Big Ten with 16 tackles for loss and has accompanied that with four sacks.Even with a greater presence on the field this season, Barrett does not believe he will change his way of accounting for Peppers on the field from the 2015 game.“I think he’s a really good player but, I mean, I guess last year I didn’t seek him out,” Barrett said.Peppers has added a little flare to the rivalry this season via social media. In the past, he has referred to Buckeye backers as “Suckeye fans” and even trolled OSU when the Buckeyes were losing to Wisconsin. Just what the rivalry needed — a little more hate.Regardless, the ability of Peppers to play at as many as 10 positions is something straight out of a video game. He has only caught two passes all season and gained just 163 yards rushing on offense, but Peppers is most feared when he’s on defense, even by the most prolific offenses — which, at times, OSU has not been.“This year, I know he’s playing a different position, but I think what we’re going to do is going to be effective,” Barrett said. “It’s not going to be me trying to figure out where he is at all times.”
The NCAA has suspended Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other athletes for the first five games of the 2011 season “for selling awards, gifts and university apparel and receiving improper benefits in 2009.” The players are eligible for the Sugar Bowl, in which OSU will face Arkansas on Jan. 4 in New Orleans. Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey and Solomon Thomas also “must repay money and benefits ranging in value from $1,000 to $2,500. The repayments must be made to a charity,” the NCAA announced in a press release Thursday. “While we believe sanctions should be rendered, we do believe they are severe,” athletic director Gene Smith said at a press conference Thursday. According to the release, Pryor must repay $2,500 that he received for his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award and his 2008 Gold Pants, given to players for beating Michigan. The NCAA reinstated the athletes for the Sugar Bowl on the basis that the athletes “did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, in the release. “We were not explicit with these young men that you cannot resell items that we give you,” Smith said. “They stated in their interviews with us and with the NCAA that they felt those items were theirs, that they owned them, that they could sell them to help their families. … We were not explicit, and that’s our responsibility to be explicit.” Adams, the starting left tackle, must repay $1,000 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring. Herron, the starting running back, must repay $1,150 for selling his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000 and receiving discounted services worth $150. Posey, a starting wide receiver, must repay $1,250 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,200 and receiving discounted services totaling $50. Thomas, a reserve defensive lineman, must repay $1,505 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,000 and his 2008 Gold Pants for $350 and receiving discounted services worth $155. The discounted services stem from players receiving tattoos in exchange for autographs. “They got a perceived discount on tattoos — that’s what the NCAA felt,” Smith said. “As an athlete, you can’t use your persona to get discounts.” Linebacker Jordan Whiting also must sit out the first game of the 2011 season and repay $150. Smith said the university plans to submit “mitigating circumstances for the NCAA to consider, to hopefully reduce the number of games” the players are suspended. “I can’t speculate on the appeal,” Smith said. “But I think we can build a case, and we’ll begin doing that next week. But I can’t speculate what the outcome will be, but obviously I hope there will be reductions.” Quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl in 2004 and the opening game of the 2005 season after accepting $500 from a booster. “The biggest disappointment I have is knowing there are mitigating circumstances in all of our lives,” said OSU coach Jim Tressel. “We have to seek the right solutions, (which) are to come to the right people who can maybe provide a direction we could go.” Gene Smith said the U.S. Attorney’s Office contacted OSU on Dec. 7 after finding the items while conducting an unrelated investigation. The office thought the items might have been stolen, Smith said. The university interviewed the athletes on Dec. 16, at which point the athletes explained that they didn’t know they couldn’t sell the items, Smith said. “They were honest, forthright, told the truth and were remorseful,” Smith said. Following the interviews, Smith said OSU contacted the Big Ten and NCAA offices to inform them the university was in the process of filing a self-report on a “secondary level one infraction.” “We sent it in on (Dec. 19) and declared our student-athletes ineligible on that report,” he said. The NCAA, not OSU, handed down the suspensions. Smith said the university did not suggest self-imposed sanctions to the NCAA. The players were informed of the consequences via phone Thursday morning, Smith said. “We, as coaches, feel the buck stops here,” Tressel said. “We’re the ones who need to make things even more crystal clear.” On a holiday break, the team reunites in Columbus on Sunday night before practicing Monday and Tuesday and leaving for New Orleans on Dec. 29. For their first five games next year, the Buckeyes play Akron, Toledo, at Miami (Fla.), Colorado and Michigan State. Pryor, Herron, Posey and Adams — all juniors — could look into leaving early for the NFL draft, rather than spend nearly half of their senior seasons sidelined. Pryor, Herron and Posey have accounted for 44 of the team’s 53 offensive touchdowns this season. Adams was named first-team All-Big Ten. College juniors and redshirt sophomores must declare their eligibility for the 2011 NFL draft by Jan. 15.
With about six weeks left in the Ohio State women’s volleyball team’s season, senior outside hitter Emily Danks is trying to push her team as far as she can. The Buckeyes (14-6, 5-3 Big Ten) find themselves fifth in conference standings and ranked No. 20 in the nation. With a chance to upset Big Ten-leader and No. 1 Penn State on Wednesday, however, Danks and her fellow seniors might take one giant step toward that goal in their last year in Columbus. “It’s my senior year, and I want to take this team as far as we possibly can,” Danks said. “More importantly I just want to enjoy everything, even the little things that sometimes we take for granted.” Seniors outside hitter Mari Hole, middle blocker Mariah Booth and setter Amanda Peterson all echoed Danks’ comment. “As Emily said, it’s our senior year, so of course we want to get as far as we can and, preferably, I would like it to be the best season we have ever had,” Hole said. “I also want to take care of the small things, and really appreciate what happens on a daily basis here in the gym that the outside world doesn’t get a chance to see or experience.” Danks and Hole, who were both named honorable mention All-Americans by the American Volleyball Coach’s Association last season, agree that winning prestigious awards is an honor, but their success as a team is more important. “Getting awards is always flattering and special, but I care a lot more about the things we do together and how far we have come,” Danks said. Peterson is ecstatic for the new season but is also ready to “live up” during her final year of being a collegiate athlete. “As a freshman, you come in and you’re just kind of struggling to keep your head up above the water,” Peterson said. “Sophomore year, you come in and you kind of get it, junior year you’re trying to make a name for yourself and then senior year, you know what it’s about. Now it’s my time to sit back and appreciate the little things that maybe I haven’t appreciated the past three years, and just live up my last year.” Now in their last year as student-athletes, the seniors’ time spent together during their career seems memorable. “I never had a sister, so I really enjoyed having 14 of them,” Danks said. “I want to make sure I keep an eye out on all the important things, like moments with my teammates.” Booth said she felt similarly. “My teammates have been so important to me,” Booth said. “They mean more to me than anyone could possibly understand. I really can’t put that into words.” One of the things Peterson said she loves about being a part of this team is the camaraderie on and off the court. “Honestly, I just love playing with my teammates,” Peterson said. “When we all gel together, we can all tell on the court when were all playing as one unit. That’s the best feeling in the world, whether we win or lose.” Coach Geoff Carlston said he has a great group of seniors on his team, and it has been an honor to coach them. “It’s a great group, I like them a lot,” Carlston said. “They have come a long way since they first got here, and it has been fun to see their progress and to coach them.” Danks, Booth, Peterson and Hole have a tough road ahead of them, as they have arguably one of the toughest schedules in the country this year with No. 1 Penn State, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 10 Minnesota, No. 17 Purdue, No. 22 Illinois and No. 25 Michigan State on the docket. Even with a schedule filled with top-ranked opponents every weekend, Carlston knows that this group of seniors is more than capable of accomplishing the task at hand. “That’s why I scheduled so hard, because I have confidence in them and that they are going to make some things happen this year,” Carlston said. “It’s because of them, they’re great leaders. They’re certainly the core of our team and I have a blast coaching them.” OSU is scheduled to take on the Nittany Lions on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at St. John Arena.
Men’s soccer coaches John Bluem (left) and Frank Speth discuss strategy before a game against Cal State Fullerton Sept. 6, 2009, at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU won, 1-0. Credit: Courtesy of OSU athleticsKnowing the other’s thoughts and habits and finishing each others’ sentences are just some of the qualities assistant coach Frank Speth said are present in his relationship with coach John Bluem. The two have been coaching together longer than some of their current players have been alive.Bluem is in his 17th year as head coach for the Ohio State men’s soccer team and Speth has been his assistant for 14 of those years. While at OSU, the two have accounted for all eight of the program’s NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the College Cup in 2007 and the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships in 2009.Prior to coming to OSU, Bluem was the head coach at Fresno State University, with Speth serving as assistant during his three seasons with the Bulldogs. All three seasons ended with the Bulldogs finishing in first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference, including the 1994 season, in which the Bulldogs finished the season ranked No. 3 overall.Bluem said since they’ve known each other, their relationship has transcended their work on the field.“I’d say we are good friends and that we do socialize off the field quite a bit,” he said. “We socialize with Cindy (Speth) and Bethany (Bluem) (their wives) and the four of us do things together. So over the last 20 years, it’s even longer that we’ve known each other because I knew Frank for about three years before he became my assistant out there, so we’ve known each other and shared a lot over the last 20, 25 years.”Speth said he views himself and Bluem as a “yin and yang” and that such a long relationship has allowed them to be largely on the same page.“It goes between all the years on the field and recruiting and then socially you get to know each other and you obviously develop a very good friendship,” Speth said. “Just the memories and experiences that you shared together and a lot of the same thoughts and a lot of the same philosophies, so it’s just probably the biggest thing is the friendship off the field as well.”Speth said that off-field relationship and other shared ideals help the two work together with players.“Just like with any other relationship, the honor system sort of (speaks) where you feel a lot more free to voice your opinion because you’ve been together for so long, so I’m not worried or afraid to tell him what I think about this player or that player just like he’s not (afraid to either),” Speth said. “So we really get into some conversations concerning players, both pros and cons, but I think because of the relationship and friendship, I think it’s easier to put it all on the table and just say this is how I see this guy based on past experience and what I’ve seen.”The Buckeyes are off to a slow start to the 2013-14 season and have an overall record of 2-6-4 and have yet to record any Big Ten wins, going 0-2-1 record in conference play. Bluem said Speth’s training sessions with the team help the players immensely.“He’s a no-nonsense guy. He’s hard on (the players) and he’s fair, and they know that and respect him for that,” Bluem said. “One of the things that I like about Frank the most is that he makes the training sessions good, they are conducive to improving the players — and they’re fun.”Buckeye senior defender Sage Gardner has started all four seasons since coming to OSU and has been the team captain for the last two. Gardner said he has always had a good relationship with both of the coaches.“All four years it’s been positive, and I knew Frank a little bit coming in so I’ve always felt comfortable coming here,” he said. “I think it has definitely grown over the years, I think we’re a little more comfortable with each other, coach Bluem and I, and I think he’s good at handing over some of the responsibility and team leadership to me over the past four years, so it’s definitely been a positive relationship that’s evolved.”Another player who has gotten to know both coaches in the last four years is redshirt-senior defender Ben Killian, who said he has the “utmost respect” for his coaches.“I’m pretty close with both of them. They are great guys, great guys to talk to,” he said. “They know the game, they’ve been around it for many years and national title finalists, so when it comes to soccer they know it. They know the game inside and out. Every day I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”Bluem also mentioned how the long-lasting relationship has led to great respect and admiration for Speth.“Obviously, we have a very good relationship,” Bluem said. “To be honest with you, I think we coach the team together. I’m the head coach in name and he is the associate head coach in name, but when we work together I feel like he has as much to say with what’s going on with the program as I do. I respect his opinion completely and he’s an incredible, valuable associate to have.”
2013 NBA Champion for the Miami Heat and Akron, Ohio native LeBron James stands on the sidelines at the Wisconsin football game Sept. 28 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Lantern file photoThe droplets trickled down my face, falling and creating mini oceans upon the speckled floor of the gym, when he uttered those unforgettable words.With a tank top and the chiseled physique I could only dream of, he walked towards me as the words slid so nonchalantly out of his mouth and into the air.“LeBron’s coming back,” the stranger said. “He’s coming back to Cleveland.”—Quite ironic that the announcement of LeBron’s arrival came amidst a workout, as workout routines were something that I’d never done as a boy in South Florida.Even as a high school football player taught daily the importance of rigorous workout regiments, I didn’t get it. By simply arriving at the gym or to the field, I thought that I would be in shape and that I would improve as an athlete.The merits of hard work of any kind- physical, mental, or emotional- didn’t register… until I came to Ohio.—Each and every year, my parents, my siblings and I would leave behind the sun-filled beaches of South Florida to travel to Cleveland to visit my family.While I don’t remember my first visit to Northeast Ohio- I was merely an infant resting comfortably in the arms of my mother- I’ve been in love with the area since my early years.I never knew what it was that drew me in so quickly, so wholeheartedly.When I walked around school sporting Chief Wahoo upon my chest or “Couch” across my back, I knew how much pride I had in the city, but couldn’t really explain it to my peers.“If they haven’t lived it, they’ll never learn it,” I thought.Reality was, outside of those bi-annual trips, I hadn’t lived it.After a year at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, however, I decided that I couldn’t pretend anymore. I couldn’t pretend to understand what made Ohio so special to me without ever having spent more than a couple weeks there.So, with the begrudging approval of my parents, I packed my bags and headed off to The Ohio State University- the school of my dreams since I was eight years old.—When I left Florida for Ohio, I didn’t understand the importance of much.My father- my hero, my role model and the hardest working man I’ve ever known- sacrificed any resemblance of free time so that I could spend my youth amongst the elite of South Florida and attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country.While I knew he worked hard, I couldn’t comprehend the grueling hours and the unbelievable work my father put forth.How could I?Many of my friends and I, we were handed everything. It didn’t make us bad people, rather, we just never had to fight for anything. All the clothes, the food, the cars we wanted were right in front of us, there for the taking.Amidst all of the fun in the sun, I still wondered why something in my life was missing. My friends and my family were incredible pieces in my puzzle, but there was still a massive piece that I needed to find.When I arrived in Ohio as a full-time resident, that puzzle piece instantly emerged and I was well on my way to finding what made this place, these people, so special.—I’d like to think LeBron James and I shared a similar experience in the entirely opposite direction.James spent his early years in Ohio, living in poverty, dreaming of the life of leisure I previously described. Rather than to loaf through life, he worked incessantly to hone his craft in order to provide for his family in the way that his family could never provide for him.After working for seven years at home in Cleveland with an unfulfilled promise of a championship ring to Northeast Ohio weighing upon him heavily, enough was enough.For once in his life, LeBron needed to take the easy road- the road that I’d traveled for years.As I had departed from South Florida to learn a different way of life in Ohio, LeBron James departed from Ohio to learn a different way of life in South Florida.—I’ll never say I “grew up” in South Florida. I lived there, I loved there and my friends for life are from there, but to say I “grew up” in South Florida would be a lie. To grow up is to mature, to understand what you value in life. In South Florida, I did neither of those things.I “grew up” in Ohio and amidst that maturation process, understood that Ohio is where I belong.It started with work ethic- the something I’d never had in the Sunshine State.As I inundated myself into Ohio’s culture, I developed an understanding of the hard-working,“blue collar” reputation of the people and connected the dots quickly.In Florida, while my father certainly worked his rear-end off to provide for me the aforementioned life of ease, I never learned how to work hard. My father was too busy putting his work ethic to the test every day to force me to find mine.Buried deep inside my Midwestern blood, however, it was there all along and only Ohio could bring it out of me.When I started to mirror the work ethic that my fellow Buckeyes put forth every day, I suddenly began to understand the things I truly valued in life.That’s what hard work does.It instills a sense of greater value in everything, but especially in your fellow men. I began to value my family in a way that I never had before. I began to count my blessings, rather than my problems. I began to feel that I belonged, as I’d always dreamed of belonging while boasting my Cleveland sports gear as a toddler.It took a while to find, but “blue collar” was in my blood.—Again, I feel as if LeBron James had the same findings, but on the opposite path.In Miami, LeBron realized that his fame, his fortune and most especially his rings didn’t have the value they would in Northeast Ohio.He worked for them, but not in the way he would have if he stayed home.Rather than understanding the value of hard work first-hand, as I did in Ohio, LeBron took a look in the rearview mirror from South Florida.This was all evidenced by his article in Sports Illustrated, which may be known as the most important piece of literature in the history of athletics in Ohio.“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned,” James wrote. “You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge.”For James, should he win one ring or several, his new era in Cleveland will be filled with a value he’s never felt.For myself, well, I head into my final year at Ohio State with a new outlook on life, yearning to get back to work.Be our journeys polar opposites or juxtapositional parallels, venturing from the sandy beaches of South Florida to the rolling hills of Ohio, LeBron and I have each learned of the value of hard work.It’s what brought me and it’s what brought LeBron…Home.
As the Big Ten expands to 14 teams with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, Gene Smith thinks improvement across the conference will come down to individual schools making changes.The Ohio State vice president and athletic director said in a July 7 interview with The Lantern the Big Ten is already doing its part to boost competition levels.“The conferences is doing its job with the national exposure that we get to the Big Ten Network and all the other contracts,” Smith said.He added this income gives the coaches and programs at Big Ten schools the resources to recruit highly-rated athletes and improve their own teams. Smith also said improving the conference’s national standing has to go beyond recruiting.One step towards improving schedules could be eliminating games against Football Championship Subdivision opponents –– a practice OSU has steered away from over the past few years. Last year marked the first time the Buckeyes played an FCS opponent since they took on Youngstown State in 2008. That game ended with a 43-0 OSU victory, while the Buckeyes defeated Florida A&M 76-0 in September.According to a February 2013 article by ESPN, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the Big Ten agreed to stop scheduling FCS opponents across the board.“The non-conference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvaraz said on a Madison, Wis., radio show, according to the article. “It’s not very appealing.”The article said the ban could start by the 2016 season.Smith said the Big Ten’s new scheduling guidelines are hard to commit to for schools, but it is important to play major opponents.“It’s very difficult to do, to say that you’re not going to play a (FCS) team,” he said. “That you’re going to play one major, at least, in your non-conferences schedule.”Smith added the drive to schedule opponents who are easier on paper stems from the system of needing just six wins to qualify for a bowl game. He said he has never been a fan of that system and thinks it leads to teams trying to pad their schedules with less challenging non-conference games.At the end of the day, Smith said it is still up to the individual schools to figure out how they can put their best product on the field year in and year out.“As an institution, what do you do with your football coach to help him recruit the best talent to where you are so that you can get better?” he asked.While there have been knocks on OSU’s strength of schedule throughout the years, it has been rare to see the Buckeyes not schedule at least one major non-conference opponent. Since the beginning of the decade, OSU has taken on the University of Miami (Fla.) and the University of California twice, and the team is set to take on Virginia Tech this season and in 2015.While Miami and California were not at their peak performance levels during those seasons, Smith said OSU’s non-conference schedule is set to ramp up beyond the next two seasons. Between 2016 and 2023, the Buckeyes are currently scheduled for home-and-home matchups with Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas Christian University, Oregon and Texas.Scheduling better teams is a start, but Smith said there is still one more ingredient in the recipe for improving the conference’s reputation.“I think our problem in the Big Ten is we need to go beat people,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to go beat non-conference people, so that’s something we have to do better.”Beyond scheduling high-powered opponents, OSU has made changes to Ohio Stadium to boost recruiting as well as the fan experience at Buckeye games. Those changes include a new turf field, additional seats in the south stands and permanent lights to help the scheduling of night games.Smith said these additions are part of a plan for the future but can help recruiting off the bat, especially as OSU’s schedule begins to include more prime-time starts.“Recruiting is off the chain, we know that,” Smith said of the atmosphere at night games. “Because it’s a cool environment.”He also said there is a novelty to night games, so the school has to be sure not to schedule too many or too few.In a May interview, associate athletic director for facilities operations Don Patko said the stadium project had a deadline set for Aug. 14. As of July 7, Smith said the project was still on schedule and within the initial budget of $8.9 million.The OSU football team is scheduled to begin its season Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore, Md., at noon. The first game of 2014 at Ohio Stadium is scheduled for Sept. 6, when OSU takes on Virginia Tech at 8 p.m.
OSU senior wide receiver Devin Smith. Credit: Courtesy of OSUWith kickoff less than a week away, Ohio State is preparing for its 125th season of football in Columbus.The Buckeyes are looking to replace four starting offensive linemen, their leading rusher and leading receiver — not to mention injured senior and Heisman hopeful quarterback Braxton Miller, who accounted for 44 percent of the Buckeyes total offense last year.The Big Ten’s leading offense from last season will need many young players, as well as returnees, to step up. Here are five impact players to watch on the Buckeyes’ offense this year: OSU redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett scans the field during practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center Aug. 9.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor1. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. BarrettBarrett might not be the biggest playmaker in this group, but he’s definitely the most important. Really, Barrett has become arguably the most important name in Columbus.As just a redshirt-freshman, he must take the reins of the record-setting Buckeye offense in order to keep the national title hopes of the Buckeye team alive.As if that kind of pressure wasn’t enough, Barrett has yet to take a snap in an actual game since his senior year of high school when he tore his ACL.Barrett, like former Buckeye backup Kenny Guiton who stole the hearts of the Buckeye faithful last season, is a Texas native.The talent around him is there, but will he be able to distribute the football around and help lead the Buckeyes to a championship season?Only time will tell, and the time is quickly approaching as the Buckeyes are set to play Navy Saturday at noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. 2. Sophomore running back Ezekiel ElliotBetween losing Miller and former Buckeye and current San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde, OSU will lose 2,589 rushing yards, and it needs someone to pick up the load.Enter Elliot, who has been tabbed as the favorite to take Hyde’s place in the OSU backfield.Elliot is the returning leading rusher to the Buckeye offense, besides Miller, as he carried the ball 30 times for 262 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.Elliot is not the only back in the running to replace Hyde, as redshirt-sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt-senior Rod Smith have also earned praise from coach Urban Meyer during fall camp.If Elliot can overcome minor wrist surgery and take up the carries left by Hyde and Miller, the OSU offense should remain consistent. If the Buckeye offense is to be productive, it will need consistency, especially with Miller out. 5. Senior wide receiver Devin SmithBest known for his game-winning catch against Wisconsin in 2011, Smith has always been a big-play threat for OSU.The senior speedster has a knack for making those noteworthy moves as he scored on plays of 47, 90 and 53 yards last season as a junior. The 90-yard strike from former OSU quarterback Kenny Guiton against the California Golden Bears is the longest play from scrimmage in school history.But the problem that Smith in his career at OSU has been consistency.He recorded 38 catches in OSU’s first nine games last season, including six touchdowns. In the Buckeyes’ last five games? Six catches and two scores. 3. Junior offensive lineman Taylor DeckerAnytime a team loses its best player, it hurts. But other than losing Miller in the OSU offense, the offensive line poses the next biggest question.Decker, the only returning starter from last year’s offensive line, will now be the anchor and leader in the offensive huddle.The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Decker started all 14 games for the Buckeyes last season and played more snaps from scrimmage than any other offensive player for OSU in 2013.He’s not the only offensive lineman with significant game experience, however, as redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein played in place of Marcus Hall last season following Hall’s ejection against Michigan and subsequent suspension against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.With Miller out and a young offensive line, Decker will need to remain healthy and become a leader for the 2014 Buckeye offense. Then-freshman running back Dontre Wilson runs the ball in a game agains Purdue Nov. 2. OSU won, 56-0.Lantern file photo4. Sophomore H-back Dontre WilsonWith last year’s leading receiver Corey “Philly” Brown gone to the NFL, Wilson will probably be touching the ball a lot in 2014.Wilson, who will likely be seen in the Percy Harvin role in coach Urban Meyer’s offense, showed glimpses of his electric play last season as he totaled 460 offensive yards to go along with three scores as a true freshman.Not only is Wilson a playmaker on offense, the 5-foot-10, 188-pounder led the team with 523 kickoff return yards in 2013, making him the returning leader in all-purpose yards (983) with Carlos Hyde and Brown off to the NFL and Miller out with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.Wilson, who changed his number from No. 1 to No. 2 this offseason, could double his touches this season with Hyde, Brown and Miller gone, and could be OSU’s best skill player on offense.
Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) attempts a pass to senior wide receiver Devin Smith (9) during a game against Navy Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. OSU won, 34-17.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorJust one game into his career as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, J.T. Barrett has already picked up his first Big Ten award.The redshirt-freshman signal caller was one of two freshmen to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after his performance leading the Buckeyes to a 34-17 win against Navy on Saturday, according to a Big Ten release.Barrett, a Wichita Falls, Texas, native, threw for 226 yards and completed 12 of 15 pass attempts with two touchdowns and led the team with 50 yards rushing. Of his 226 yards through the air, 80 came on one play when Barrett hit senior wide receiver Devin Smith for a touchdown that gave OSU the lead for the rest of the way.The win against the Midshipmen marked Barrett’s collegiate debut after he redshirted last season, making it his first competitive game since his senior year of high school when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He took over OSU’s starting job after senior quarterback Braxton Miller tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during fall camp.Before Barrett, the last Buckeye to be named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week was now-sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson last season. Wilson earned the award for his part in helping OSU to a 63-14 win against Penn State on Oct. 26 at Ohio Stadium. In that game, Wilson had 96 all-purpose yards, including a 26-yard touchdown catch.Penn State freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton was the other recipient of the honor.OSU’s next game is scheduled for Saturday against Virginia Tech at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
Coach Urban Meyer looks on during a game against Maryland on Oct. 4 in College Park, Md. OSU won, 52-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorFollowing games against Cincinnati and Maryland in which the Buckeyes combined for more than 1,200 yards, they are facing what could be their biggest opponent yet: another bye week.After seeming to hit their stride both offensively and defensively, the Buckeyes will be left watching from the couch Saturday for the second time in a month.But even though OSU will not take the field this week, I compiled a list of things you should look for around the college football landscape. 1. Could this week be the most exciting week in 2014 for college football?During the Buckeye bye week, there are five matchups scheduled that will pit ranked opponents against each other, with two of those games involving top-five teams. Those matchups feature No. 5 Baylor against No. 9 Texas Christian and No. 2 Auburn against No. 3 Mississippi State. Both games are battles of unbeaten teams and will no doubt make or break each team’s season, as well as their dreams of making it into the first ever College Football Playoff. So if the Buckeyes get bored just sitting around, all they will have to do is flip on the TV and enjoy. 2. Can OSU’s rival Michigan get out of its current rut?Ever since the fallout from the Shane Morris incident in which the sophomore quarterback was put back into a game after seemingly suffering a concussion, Michigan has not looked in more of a state of disarray since the Rich Rodriguez era. Rodriguez was ousted from Michigan after just three seasons in which the Wolverines made just one bowl appearance. After the team’s loss to Rutgers in its last game, Ann Arbor, Mich., is ready to implode. All is not lost for the Maize and Blue, however. The Wolverines are scheduled to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions Saturday at home under the lights. If there is anything that can give a program hope for the future, it’s a win during a night game at home (see: OSU vs. Wisconsin in 2011).The Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week, one that came a week after they were embarrassed at home by Northwestern, 29-6. If there was ever a time for Michigan to turn around its season, this weekend’s game is the opportunity it has been waiting for. 3. Will a team emerge as the country’s clear No. 1?Going into its seventh week, the college football season has yet to provide us with a clear, dominant team, despite what the polls may have us believe. The defending national champion Florida State Seminoles are still undefeated and remain atop most polls, however they have not impressed like they did a year ago.Just last week, it took the Seminoles nearly a full half of football to start scoring against the lowly Wake Forest Demon Deacons before pulling away late to win, 43-3. In addition, the Seminoles have played just one ranked team on the season, and are currently set to play just one more ranked foe for the remainder of the season against Notre Dame. With that said, this leaves the door open for teams like Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Baylor and many others to make their mark on the college football world.4. The Big Ten as a whole is a must-miss this week.Aside from the Michigan-Penn State matchup, you might want to stay away from watching Big Ten football this weekend.With OSU on an off week, the only ranked Big Ten team in action, No. 8 Michigan State, is set to take on conference bottom-dweller Purdue.Not exactly the most riveting game. However, if matchups such as Northwestern against Minnesota or Indiana against Iowa pique your interest, I encourage you to tune in (at your own risk). 5. Will two early bye weeks end up hurting the Buckeyes in the long run?How could they not?Any time two bye weeks are scheduled within a month, it could very well lead to players, and even coaches, becoming lackadaisical.While OSU coach Urban Meyer said he will not allow this to happen, one has to wonder what the Buckeyes’ mindset will be like going into their Oct. 18 matchup with Rutgers.And even if they come out firing on all cylinders and bring down the Scarlet Knights, a straight stretch of games from Oct. 18 through Nov. 29 could mean players missing time because of injury. Injuries are part of the game, there is no denying that, but not having time to heal from these injuries could prove crucial for the Buckeyes.We will find out as the season presses on.OSU’s matchup with Rutgers is set to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium.