The demands of Columbus for unbroken strings of victories were accompanied by radio broadcasts attacking coaches individually, open requests for resignations and a civic chill that made a loser's life impossible. Among the many distinctions of Woody Hayes at Ohio State is the best won-lost record in the Big Ten (74 won, 26 lost and six tied), plus four Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowl wins. But his most impressive achievement is that he has staved off the Columbus scalp hunters for 16 years.
Of late, however, this amazing feat of Woody's is losing its gloss, for the scalp-hunters' zest has ebbed. Each football season Columbus has grown a little quieter. They no longer bother to take the furniture out of the hotel lobbies for a big-game weekend. It is even possible to find a room in Columbus on a football Saturday. Things have changed. Perhaps the lack of student interest has proved infectious.
Should anybody, even the townspeople of Columbus, be concerned that Ohio State students are showing less football enthusiasm than they once did? What is behind the trend, and why has it developed? There are arguments on all sides.
There is the contention that the entire Big Ten (bear in mind that the Big Ten is an athletic conference, not a confederation of academic institutions) is breaking up. At most schools football attendance is down. Minnesota's attendance last year was the worst in its modern history. Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not fill their stadiums. Ohio State's stadium is still filled, but the crowd now comes from Columbus and Cleveland, not from the student body. The number of students going to Ohio State games has remained constant or even declined a little, while enrollment jumped from 28,290 in 1950 to 38,000 last year.
Big Ten recruiting regulations, which are among the strictest in the country, have made it difficult to attract the best athletes. Six boys from Ohio played on the 1966 Nebraska team that won the Big Eight championship. Strict enforcement of the regulations is increasing the muscle gap between the Big Ten and other conferences. Michigan State was put on probation in 1953, Ohio State in 1956. Indiana went into the conference doghouse in 1957 and in 1960 was in trouble again. In 1964 Michigan State was investigated, and last spring Illinois was forced to fire three coaches, including Football Head Coach Pete Elliott.
Grades, IQ ratings, American College Test scores and Scholastic Aptitude Test medians, are playing a bigger part in enrollment. There are 965 high schools in Ohio, and last year they graduated 135, 620 students. Some 47,500 of these went to college. Any graduate of an accredited high school in Ohio who is a resident of the state is entitled to enroll in Ohio State University, and the university is bound to consider his application. And in practice the Admissions Office says that everyone who applies is accepted. A situation like that might seem to be made to order for such candidates for degrees as Bolenciecwcz. But Big Ten regulations now provide that to qualify for an athletic scholarship a college freshman must have a predicted grade average of 1.7 (C minus), which is enough to discourage applicants from the lower half of a high school class from applying. If these not-so-intellectual types happen to be good football players, they have no trouble finding plenty of non-Big-Ten schools that are eager to have them.
How important is that factor in the Big Ten's football future? Last November the executive director of the Minnesota Alumni Association wrote in the alumni magazine that stiffer academic standards and intensified student concentration on studies mean the demise not only of Big Ten football, but of big-time intercollegiate football as it is known today. He argued that the pros will find it necessary to by-pass colleges entirely: "Their recruiting will not be done at the college level, but at the high school level."
It is also discouraging to a football player to find that the campus role of an athlete has changed at schools like Ohio State. Today the Ohio State campus has all the ivy-covered charm of a thruway exit. The colossal building program that has filled the campus with pale-brick residence halls and signs reading STATE OF OHIO, YOUR BOND DOLLARS AT WORK has also left excavations and piled-up earth that suggest plowed fields where they are not going to plant anything but more buildings. Booklets welcoming incoming freshmen show what it will be like in the future, with tall towers surrounded by greenery. Meanwhile one is principally conscious of crowds and the hurry between classes. It is a big place, with little time for, or inclination toward, an athlete who would once have been a hero.
"You could walk through the Oval at 11:50 in the morning with the most prominent athletes on the campus," says Marvin Homan of the Sports Information Office, "stop a hundred students, and they would not know who the athletes were."
"The day of the big football wheel is over," says an Ohio State Official. "For that matter, the day of the big man on campus is over. The campus here? There isn't any."