Karen A. Holbrook’s tenure as president of The Ohio State University ended somewhat quietly this past week. In an editorial, The Columbus Dispatch declared the school better off than it was when she took over in 2002. In many regards, that is true, yet I would venture to say if you ask most people with any familiarity about the Holbrook era, the overwhelming memory will be her crusade to tamper down the partying that goes with Buckeye football home games.
Before I get too far along, allow me to say that I have absolutely nothing against someone of legal age who wants to toss back a few “pops” before heading into the ‘Shoe. Personally, I choose not to indulge, and I know I may be in the minority, but it’s cool. I’ve never really had a problem with anyone around me at a home game causing so much trouble that it took away from my game experience. If so, I would talk to the individual myself and try to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, I’d head down to the portal and have a police officer come up.
Let me also state that I have never celebrated any victory, no matter how large or small, by setting anything on fire or damaging someone else’s property.
And I’ll also readily admit I’ve never personally met Karen A. Holbrook. When it comes to The Ohio State University, I am a proud graduate, but the football program is where I’m most involved. I know Holbrook is a top researcher, but other than that if I was in a crowd of more active alumni, I’m afraid I’d be out of the loop unless the conversation turned to football. Perhaps we could feature things on our site about the university in general, but you folks come here because you’re a Buckeye football fan, as are all of us on the Buckeye 50 staff. And in my opinion, the vast majority of OSU football fans aren’t going to look back on the Holbrook era with any fondness.
You all remember the evening of November 23rd and early morning of November 24th, 2002. The Buckeyes had just capped off an undefeated season with a legendary win over TBGUN (The Bad Guys Up North for the uninitiated) and had punched their ticket for a trip to the national championship game in Tempe, Arizona. On the east side of High Street just off campus, fires roared throughout the night and police spent the evening trying to quell alcohol-fueled bedlam by students (and some non-students). The story made national headlines and tempered one of the top athletic moments in the school’s history. The powers-that-be at the university certainly did deal with those that were identified to have participated. But that wasn’t enough for Holbrook. At the dawn of the next season, the word was out that police would be cracking down on tailgating. The big problem was that the wrong people ended up getting caught up in this sweep. Older fans and alums that could party responsibly ended up being treated like they were the ones burning couches and flipping cars. I readily admit I haven’t done any exhaustive research, but I would bet that there have been people cited and/or arrested for having a drink during their tailgate that had absolutely no police record whatsoever.
And please don’t get the idea that I’m here to pile on the police. When you have upwards of a quarter million people around the campus on gamedays, it’s a tall task to deal with. And I’m certain that those officers, while being able to differentiate between a responsible adult and an underage youngster, have to do as they’re told. But this crackdown cast too wide of a net.
I’ve never cared for any boss that I’ve worked for who approached problems this way- by punishing everyone for the misdeeds of a few. If I did have a chance to talk with anyone who has been handed a ticket or put in cuffs at a home game the last four seasons, my first question would be- Were you involved with that mob on the night of the ’02 Michigan game? Because the lunacy of those idiots led directly to this attempt to turn football Saturdays into a night at the opera.
Fair or not, in my eyes, that will be the enduring image of Karen Holbrook as it relates to Ohio State football- a leader who decided to discipline the masses instead of the few who deserved it. Will the next president continue with this approach? I guess that remains to be seen. And this is far from a black-and-white issue- I’m sure that police would tell me that they’ve legitimately dealt with adults who were out of hand. I’m certain there are plenty of students who don’t drink when they go to games. But a responsible, legal adult should be able to go to an Ohio State home game and enjoy adult beverages if they wish without fear of reprisal.
I couldn’t sit here and rattle off a list of Karen A. Holbrook’s accomplishments because I’m just not that in-tune with the day-to-day life of OSU. Our site is dedicated to Ohio State football, and solely in that respect, she made a mountain out of a molehill. Whoever takes her place will, no doubt, have challenges of their own to face. I hope we never see anything like we did after the ’02 Michigan game again, but whatever problems may arise, hopefully the leadership will deal with those who cause the problems and not try to single-handedly change a climate.
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