Ohio State, UC playing rights decades-old wrong

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann tries to get his point across during the first half against the Cincinnati. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

CINCINNATI — Picture a family reunion where fisticuffs replace fruit salad and hard feelings take the place of hard-boiled eggs. Where an uncle insults an aunt and the two parties barely speak for decades. 

Loosely speaking, that has been Ohio State vs. Cincinnati in men’s basketball, where bad blood from an increasingly distant past has squelched what could and should have been one of the best rivalries in the sport. Instead, the schools have played only twice since 1962, and those games were played as part of tournaments on neutral courts far from either school.

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What happened? Who insulted who? Well, in a manner of speaking, Cincinnati insulted Ohio State — in deed, not word. The No. 2 Bearcats defeated the No. 1 Buckeyes in both the 1961 and 1962 NCAA national championship games, which did not sit well on the banks of the Olentangy, where OSU has repeatedly turned down offers from UC to schedule each other.

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve never had the conversation with any prior coach on it,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said of the cold war between the programs. “Sometimes, it could have been it just didn’t work on the schedule. That happens. Other times maybe it was … (pause), I don’t know beyond that.”

Some know. Holtmann’s predecessor, Thad Matta, did not push to schedule UC. Having previously coached at Xavier, Matta was sensitive to diminishing the UC-Xavier rivalry by injecting Ohio State into the mix. Plus there was just something about the Ohio State-Cincinnati history that felt politically incorrect.

Most likely the feud has been embellished, but until Wednesday the reality was that Ohio State had not played a game on UC’s campus since Jan. 3, 1920. Two of the biggest stories that year were ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, and Congress for the first time passing immigration restrictions for Europeans.

It is fast approaching a full century later and so much has changed. Women are powering up in politics, immigration is … uh … and the Buckeyes are back playing in Cincinnati.

It’s true. Ohio State and Cincinnati have made peace and a new beginning has begun. The Buckeyes hopped a bus to the Queen City for their season opener and held off the Bearcats 64-56.

The two teams connect again next season in Columbus — for the first time since 1921 — in the back half of home-and-home season openers. It is fairly amazing, given Ohio State’s reluctance to play UC. Good for the city of Cincinnati, too, which has never been fond of anything north of Kings Island. But maybe that is changing? A good sign: renovated Fifth Third Arena serves Cleveland-based Great Lakes Christmas Ale on tap. Sa-lute.

Terry Nelson, who played the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons at UC under Bob Huggins, said it’s about time the two schools finally put their differences aside.

“I’m glad we have two ADs and two coaches who are level-headed to make this happen. It was long overdue,” Nelson said.

Props to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith for green-lighting director of basketball operations Dave Egelhoff to pursue the deal with Cincinnati, whose AD, Mike Bohn, enthusiastically signed off.

Likewise, Holtmann and UC coach Mick Cronin both saw multiple benefits to scheduling each other.

“I appreciate them playing us,” Cronin said. “I think the game is great for both of us.”

Holtmann said scheduling more competitive nonconference opponents is “more my natural bent.” He wants to schedule teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament.

“That would project us as having a quality win, if we could beat them,” he said.

This time the Buckeyes did, thanks to clutch shooting down the stretch by C.J. Jackson and Kaleb Wesson, as well as UC shooting just 27.4 percent from the field. It was a big win for the Buckeyes, who just might be better than many think.

“At times it was not the most pleasing thing to watch,” Holtmann said of the opener.

Maybe not, but the scheduling was a thing of beauty.


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