At one time there existed in the minds of the people around Athens, Ohio a wisp of doubt as to whether the home town team, Ohio University of the Mid-America Conference, really was better than Minnesota, leader of the Big Ten and the top-ranked team in the nation. Then last Saturday, Ohio whipped unbeaten Bowling Green 14-7 while Minnesota was being upset by Purdue, a four-time loser, 23-14. In Athens all doubt disappeared.
For Minnesota, which had succeeded in winning "the big game" against powerful Iowa the week before, the loss was difficult to accept. With it went its undefeated season, the No. 1 ranking, and perhaps a bowl invitation. Purdue, led by Quarterback Bernie Allen's accurate passing, took the opening kickoff and moved 80 yards to a touchdown in eight plays. "We couldn't adjust quick enough," said Minnesota's Murray Warmath after the game. "They were playing inspired ball. When they got their noses in front they liked the feeling, and we could never catch up."
Minnesota's defeat does not automatically place Ohio University—unbeaten in nine straight games—in the top-ranked spot, despite opinions from Athens. As a matter of fact, Ohio will not be ranked in the top 10, or even 20. Ohio University, like the rest of the schools in the Mid- America Conference—Western Michigan, Marshall, Miami ( Ohio), Bowling Green, Kent State and Toledo—bears the designation "small college," a stigma that bars it from consideration as a football power. It doesn't matter that Ohio has scored 221 points to its opponents' 28. It doesn't matter that Ohio beat Boston University by a larger margin than Syracuse or Penn State did. No small college, say the men who rank the teams every week, can compete with a large college.
That the NCAA lists Ohio University as a small college is absurd. Ohio has 8,100 students, more than Notre Dame, more than Indiana, more in fact than most of the colleges in the NCAA's university division.
"It's not right that we should be in the small-college category," says Coach Bill Hess of Ohio. "It hurts, but there isn't much we can do about it. In time it will change."
Bowling Green's backfield coach, Bob Dudley, has found there are practical difficulties in being in the small-college category. "The designation can be troublesome when you're trying to arrange a schedule," he says. "Last year I sent 60 letters offering to play any team, anywhere. Big Ten, Southwest, just anyone. We got answers from all of them, but only five were faintly encouraging. Some of the major schools frankly admitted they had nothing to gain by playing a small college. Others asked for a preposterous $20,000 or $30,000 guarantee."
One group of people does not concern itself with what category a college is in. That group is the pro scouts. In the Mid-America Conference they discovered Mel Triplett and Bob Schnelker, now with the Giants, and Vince Costello of the Browns. This season scouts have made frequent visits to Mid- America campuses.
Ohio U. is situated in the hilly, sparsely settled southeastern part of the state, about 75 miles from Columbus and Ohio State. The faculty points with pride to the school's Ivy-like layout, with Georgian Colonial quads surrounded by ancient sycamores and near-extinct elms.
It is no accident that much of the campus resembles Harvard, for President John Calhoun Baker, the man responsible for much of the school's growth, is a former dean of the Harvard Business School. In the 15 years that Dr. Baker has been president, the school's enrollment has grown from 2,030. Its recreational facilities have grown, too. There is now a nine-hole golf course, the only college-owned indoor hockey rink in the state, a new physical education center that contains eight of the best basketball courts in the country and a student union which houses bowling alleys, ping pong and billiard tables.
"I'd always hoped I would go to a school like this," said Dick Grecni, Ohio's starting center. "It took only one visit to the campus to convince me. I love it. It's like the college campuses you see in the movies."