Gee was talking about football, but really, this is bulletin board material. He was calling out Texas Christian University, a member of the Mountain West Conference, for playing not-so-good schools, while his (Gee's) Buckeyes play "murderer's row" ever week. Whether TCU is under your Red Line or just another non-BCS school doesn't change reality. The fact of the matter is schools like Ohio State do not care about "Little Sisters" when they come to town. They just shove us along and expect a blow out. That's not always the case, as the game between IUPUI and Ohio State proved on December 9th.
Win or lose, we'll always be looked down upon. We have to come to terms with that fact, because those who sit so high and mighty on their thrones of cash will never change. So I went into the belly of the beast. I traveled to Columbus with my Red Zone shirt and my Cameroonian flag. This is the story of my journey into the heart of The Bubble and just how bad it really is in there.
When the 2010-2011 IUPUI Men's Basketball schedule was released over the summer, my first scan through the teams we would be playing made me shiver. Almost every game was away, and there were some really imposing foes to be dealt with, starting at Gonzaga. But then I saw it...A Big10 team. Ohio State. Nothing all season would truly compare to my IUPUI Jaguars rolling into Columbus in the midst of a "rebuilding year" while the Bucks boasted one of the top returning (and recruiting) classes in the entire nation.
Our first game at Gonzaga made me nervous about the rest of the season, as most rational people would after shooting like we assumed the ball would be magnetic or something. Looking down the schedule again after the flogging we took, my heart dropped when I saw Ohio State again. I thought we could've lost by 50. There is always a chance, always a spark, always a little bit of gleaming hope that shines through the decay and destruction, but I couldn't see it. I was petrified.
1:30 pm: Somewhere in Ohio.
We left for Columbus around 12:30 pm in hopes of avoiding any midday traffic and grabbing a bite to eat before the game. Quite honestly, the entire trip was spent wondering if I could mentally prepare myself for the ass-kicking of a lifetime. I know how poorly we played down the stretch against Oral Roberts, and I also knew how much that game took out of our guys emotionally. The radio was unusually quiet, and the only real noise was Allison (a manager for the women's team who helped the men's team last year) and I talking about this and that. But all I could focus on was the idea of winning. I knew the chances were slim to none, especially after seeing the Vegas line at 26.5. The last thing I would ever do is completely discount a college basketball team from winning...but boy was I close. I was even second guessing my trip. I had assignments to do and essays to write, why on earth was I taking a whole day to watch a team lose? But I drove on, braving the negative feelings and thoughts the whole way.
3:09 pm: Thurman Cafe.
I have been to Columbus exactly zero times without eating at Thurman's Cafe, home of some of the best food I've ever had. As we sat and waited for my friend Adam (a recent Dayton graduate and fellow Buckeye hater) to arrive, I couldn't help but notice how annoyed the scarlet-clad people looked. I had always just assumed people who liked Ohio State were a bit off, but this was real life evidence that I had never noticed before. They truly looked...mad! On game day, there is nothing more exciting than grabbing a bite to eat, getting all pumped up for the game, and walking through the doors into the Natatorium. But for these people, it seemed like a chore. Like they had gone to the university, bought season tickets, and just hated every second of it. There was no comradery between these people. They just wanted to get the day over with so they could say they went and saw the blowout over Christmas break.
5:15 pm: Speedway Gas Station
The three of us decided it would be better to take just one car to the Ohio State campus, just in case it was expensive to park. While we were digesting and pumping gas, it hit me. We could win this thing. I don't know what or who or how it came over me, but it did. The atmosphere was so filled with scoff and obvious entitlement - the sense of "We've never heard of them, so obviously they can't win" - was so thick you could open your mouth and swallow it. But I didn't. I was full of good food and hope. I knew the guys weren't thinking they had driven three hours for a loss, so how could I? My positivity had to mirror theirs, or I was wasting my time. I began to get light headed and faint, but not in the "oh my goodness I need to sit down" way...It was more of a "If we can pull this off" kind of way. That was a feeling I had never really had about this game before. During my time at IUPUI, we had never faced a Top 10 school, and I had most certainly never been to a game at a school like Ohio State since I graduated. But I felt it. Something floating in the air. A buzz that only a fan with nothing to lose could hear. The feeling spread through my entire body...We could do it.
5:45 pm: Arrival at Value City Arena
There are a few venues IUPUI has played at recently with special names attached to them, but they mean nothing to me. Value City Arena looked like just another crappy concrete building that was build and named for the highest bidder. No matter what time of the year it was, I'm sure it would have felt just as cold and lifeless outside. Once Adam and I had gotten our tickets from Will Call, we immediately went on a search for the cheapest and lowest-priced ticket for Allison, as IUPUI was exactly had already reached their 75 ticket limit. I approached the ticket window and asked how much for the least expensive seat. The woman replied, "This is NOT where you purchase tickets. If you want your IU seats, you have to get them from Will Call or go somewhere else" and promptly rolled her eyes and sat down. Not being familiar with the arena at all, I inquired where exactly the ticket purchase window was, because the window I was currently standing at looked like it served that purpose. She retorted bluntly, "The southwest rotunda," and pointed to her left. Assuming (correctly) that it was the doors we had first attempted to enter, we sent Allison back with money for her ticket and proceeded to find our seats in the venue.
6:00 pm: The Seats, Part I
We entered Value City Arena and looked at our tickets: Section 310. Hoping that was just a special section for away fans, we began searching for someone to ask. Our search brought us to a sign that read "Escalator to 200 level -->;" and "Stairs to 300 level -->;", meaning we were at the top. Oh joy. When we finally found our section, we plopped down and I snapped the picture to the right. If it looks far on camera, just imagine how far away it was in person. Two players girlfriends, who shall remain nameless, appeared on the terrace below us and shouted up, "Is that our section??" I replied, yelling loud enough for most of the arena to hear, "YES, EXCEPT WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE UP AT THE TOP. THEY REALLY KNOW HOW TO TREAT AWAY-FANS HERE, HUH? PUTTING US AT THE VERY TOP SO THEY CAN'T HEAR US. TOO BAD FOR THEM, I'M LOUD." This immediately prompted two security guards on either side of our section, monitoring every move we made. Goody. They truly didn't want the opposing fans to ruin their day by caring about a team besides Ohio State. Not one of us really wanted to watch the game from Cincinnati, so we made the choice to head down in searched of better seats.
6:29 pm: The Seats, Part II
We rode an elevator down to the ground floor, encountering the only pleasant human being since arriving on OSU's campus. The elderly elevator attendant politely asked us which floor, held the door open for anyone else who had wanted to ride down with us, and then joked lightheartedly about driving so far for the game. When our short ride ended, the door opened and he gently proclaimed, "Ground floor, coming out." A group of scarlet covered men proceeded to push past us, ignoring our existence, in a bid to be the first one onto the elevator that still contained three people attempting to get off. One of the player's girlfriends stopped us in the hall and told us there were plenty of empty seats in the section they had gotten their tickets switched to (as far as we could tell, all of the IUPUI fans were put in section 310) and suggested we join them there. We found a hallway not far from where we had been stampeded Lion King-style and walked up to the usher. He stopped us, asked if we knew where we were going, to which I responded yes and attempted to proceed. Smelling something fishy in Denmark, he asked to see my ticket so he could correctly point us in the right direction. I handed him my ticket from Section 310, and he said "Oh you're right this way, Row Q, Seat 3." I smiled, thanked him, and sat down with my associates flanking me. He came down and warned us if we had deceived him, he would be upset. I assured him it was not us who deceived him. The Girlfriends came over a few moments later and we talked about our new seating arrangement and how we had gotten there.
6:58 pm: The Seats, Part III
A few moments after The Girlfriends left our company, two men came down and insisted that we move because they had our seats. We complied quickly and quietly, moving down a row to avoid suspicion. The elderly man came down immediately and asked for our tickets. We told him our story, and he said we 'had better get our butts to where we belong' before we got in trouble. We needed to get back where opposing fans were supposed to be: Out of sight, out of mind. So we complied, simply because we didn't want to get booted out of the arena. We went all the way back to our original seats, just a couple rows in front of where our tickets demanded we sit. In the back corner, where no one could see us or hear us. Where we couldn't cause any disturbance to the delicate fabric of The Bubble. I even got snarled at to put my flag away during player introductions, despite the fact the only other people in our section were six rows down. So I stood up and held my IUPUI rope bag as high as I could. There was no rule against that.
7:17 pm: The Beginning/The Seats, Part IV
Unfortunately we were too far back for the pictures to look any different than the first I took, but we were busy. IUPUI was playing Ohio State tough. From the opening tip that was knocked towards OSU but Alex nabbed it. My body perked itself up in the chair. Early momentum was in favor of IUPUI. He took a shot that banked out, but Christian tipped the ball in. My IUPUI Jaguars were beating Ohio State. The Bucks answered on the other end with an and-1, but Alex drained a superhoop that was beautifully choreographed. At that point, people in the section over from us were being told they could move down and sit closer, in the OSU student section ("Block O") that had been empty all night - save three rows in the front. We sprinted down the stairs, meanwhile we could hear the groans of Buckeye fans as IUPUI continued to make shots and frighten the "faithful". I forgot my jacket, and made it all the way up and down again by the first TV timeout. At 15:18, IUPUI was up 14-10, and my hopes were through the roof. I figured if we could hit a few shots and stick around, maybe...just maybe...
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7:58 pm: The Middle
Our new seats were working out famously, as there were plenty of grumpy, moaning Buckeye fans trying to figure out how Thad Matta could possibly "allow" such a stupidly named team to hang around. Meanwhile, as IUPUI scored an easy layup to tie the game with just a few seconds left before the break, Ron Hunter and all 76 IUPUI fans in Columbus were buzzing with joy. They just couldn't stop us. The Bucks looked second rate, not second ranked. We were having an easier go with them than Oral Roberts! People all around were cussing and drinking, scrunching their faces together in bewilderment. I was literally jumping with joy. Our boys were playing better than I had ever seen them play before. Limited turnovers, exploiting poor defense, and a million other things made me say: This is it, this is our moment. The negative little dude on my shoulder was harping away, but I couldn't let his voice win. IUPUI had tied the game at 35 with the number two team in the nation going into the half. And the Buckeye fans hated it.
9:16 pm: The End
Halfway through the second half, the impossible was happening, IUPUI was up by 9. We were doing it, something Vegas said would be near impossible. There would be a charge, there is always a charge, but how the Jags could hold it off would be the story everyone would care about. Slowly, but with near precision timing, shots began to fall for the Bucks. Right in sync were the seemingly lopsided calls from the referees and noise level of the crowd grew each second. Two 11-0 runs later, and IUPUI had been vanquished. The Buckeye fans went on their way, glad they could see what they'll call an okay game instead of the blowout they expected. Those of us there to root on the Jaguars were able to come away with a much more interesting and exciting tale filled with moral victories, but the world would have to wait a little longer to be shocked by the Ron Hunter's boys. After the game, those of us who stuck around piled into a guest-team room that rivaled an upscale hotel lobby. There we encountered the only other kind person on our trek, an older gentleman who pointed us toward the room to wait. Coach's spirits were up, but the players knew how close they were to doing something incredible.
If there's one thing I took away from my time at Value City Arena, it was how little OSU cared about their match up with IUPUI. The stands were only about one-third full, and the fans that were present weren't exactly watching every bounce of the ball. No one, besides the elevator man and away-team assistant, showed us any true kindness or care. Our seats being twenty rows back in the furthest corner section meant even the athletic department didn't even pretend to care about us in the first place.
Fans, employees, the athletic department...No one cared about us.
So thank you, Ohio State. I will always remember my journey to Columbus as beyond exciting to watch and beyond disappointing in literally every other aspect. I cared. There were 76 of us there, and thousands more watching, who cared, even if you didn't. You have reinforced my hatred of nearly every single "Big Time" program by proving you really, really think we're the Little Sisters of the Poor.
For the record, I'd rather be destitute than a Buckeye any day.
The big-time guys on the boards at Rivals.com are sure reinforcing exactly what I'm saying.
Also, not every single person at big time programs should be called terrible. There are tons of great people who have no affect on the negative aspects I despise about these programs...but the vibe and actions of nearly all of those at Ohio State during our game there sure gave us a near perfectly negative experience.
Just for a point of reference, our travels to Ohio University a few days later were the exact opposite in terms of kindness and the such. Everyone was extremely helpful, they answered questions kindly and quickly, and even a group of fans congratulated Coach Hunter before the game for his work with Samaritan's Feet. It was abundantly clear as we were leaving: It wasn't the state of Ohio that was the problem, it was Ohio State.