The Read-Option: Ohio State, Evan Spencer and bulletin-board material
We've all heard college football players make off-the-cuff comments when discussing an opponent, and some remarks are obviously worse than others. The question is, is there anything wrong with a college football player expressing public confidence in his team, even at the expense of another team? Or should all players keep their mouths shut when asked about an opponent? And what is a coach's responsibility in these situations?
Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the subject in this week's Read-Option:
Martin Rickman: Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer got himself in some trouble with coach Urban Meyer with his comment (albeit tongue in cheek) that the Buckeyes would "wipe the field" with top teams Alabama and Florida State. For context, reporters had been basically prodding him to give an answer and he bookended his statement with the fact he was biased toward his own team. Do you see anything wrong with this? Was Meyer right in saying he was disappointed in Spencer and that the junior wouldn't be speaking with the media again for a "long time?"
Zac Ellis: I guess there are really two parts to this, one being Spencer's comments and the other being Meyer's handling of the situations. As far as Spencer is concerned, there was nothing about his comments that I felt were inappropriate. I certainly don't agree that Ohio State would wipe the floor with either of those teams, but I didn't view Spencer's take as disrespectful because, what is he supposed to say? You have to show confidence in your team, right? If I'm his teammate and I watch him tell reporters that he's not sure if the Buckeyes could hang with FSU or 'Bama, that would tick me off.
MR: Yeah, it's getting to the point lately where any comment that isn't coach speak is taken as some kind of controversy. Part of what makes college football so great is that these are kids who might, you know, act like kids once in awhile. That means they'll joke around, use hyperbole, steal Skittles, freak out over new uniforms or In-N-Out burgers and otherwise act like college students. I understand that Meyer runs a tight ship and he's of the Saban school of thought that his team needs to be on the same page at all times. That said, this doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary. He thinks his team is good -- and his Ohio State has won like 100 straight games -- what is the problem here?
ZE: Right, and you have to remember Spencer is being poked and prodded by the media, too. I personally think asking a player if he thinks his team can hang with another team is a loaded question. As I said, what is that player supposed to say? It doesn't matter which two teams are playing. But I agree with your point on Meyer: I know he's trying to set an example, but I don't think Spencer deserves to be barred from the media for the rest of the season, especially since the rest of his comments showed he wasn't intending to hate on the Tide or the 'Noles. What would you have done if you were Meyer?
MR: Settled it in house. Don't make an example of the kid in front of the media. When asked about it, just tell them "I saw his comments and we'll be having a discussion." Leave it at that. Unless Meyer explicitly had a discussion with the team and told them under no circumstances to mention Alabama or Florida State, don't drag a kid through the mud. From the OSU spokesperson and from Spencer's tweets, he seemed like he really didn't expect it to become as big of a thing as it did. And the last thing we all want is kids being punished for opening up and being themselves in interviews. It's already hard enough to get players out of their shells when we're trying to tell good stories.
ZE: That's the thing, now Spencer might be overly reserved when he speaks to the media from now on. From an Ohio State standpoint, maybe that's a good thing. But that does take the fun out of it from a media, and a fan, standpoint. I do think there are things players and coaches can say in the media that are disrespectful to other teams, like Michigan's Brady Hoke referring to Ohio State as "Ohio," or Tennessee referring to Alabama as the "red team" earlier this season, or Bob Knight refusing to utter the word "Kentucky." That's all childish, in my opinion. But expressing confidence in your team when asked to do so? Nothing shocking or disrespectful there. Do you think the media is to blame a little bit with these issues, or is this on the players and coaches for not being able to filter their thoughts?
MR: It's shared blame, I'm sure. The media asks the same question over and over because it is looking for an angle and trying to push a certain story, and eventually players crack. At the same time, you don't want to give the other team ammo to use against you. Just look at De'Anthony Thomas's "40 point" comment last week. Sure, David Shaw and the Stanford players dismissed it as no big deal during the week, but after Stanford won, it got brought up -- a lot. It was clear that was just another bullet point to hang in the locker room and use against Oregon in a game that already had plenty of emotion. That said, we need heroes, we need villains, we need heel turns. Without great quotes and without stories there is no media. And if people are afraid or unwilling to talk, then we're pretty much out of a job.
ZE: And these kind of angles are what generate storylines for big games. You know that if Ohio State somehow lands in the BCS title game against either Alabama or Florida State, Spencer's quote will be replayed left and right. But if you're a Crimson Tide player or a Seminole, does that kind of bulletin board material even matter to you?
MR: It shouldn't. Quarterback AJ McCarron has been all about mentioning that type of stuff this year, but if you're the Crimson Tide, why even care what another team or another fanbase is saying about you? You're the best. You're going to take other team's best shots and deal with talk. Win the game, steamroll them, move on. I know it's sometimes hard to get up for lesser teams, but against an Ohio State or a Florida State you don't need extra motivation. If they actually disrespect you, sure, go ahead, post it everywhere. Play it on loop. But every team thinks they'll beat every other team. If they don't, why bother playing? So to get amped up and crazed over someone being confident seems like a waste of energy, no?ZE: No question. And at this point, for better or for worse, the bigger story is Meyer's handling of the situation, not what Spencer said, in my opinion. If the Buckeyes actually get a shot at either 'Bama or FSU, it will be interesting to see if this plays into things at all.