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You Know Who Needs Another Scandal? Ohio State

Weeks after the revelation that our pay-for-play scheme has apparently weakened to the point that our new signees still don't exceed federal poverty guidelines, more bad news for the Evil Empire as apparently the Ohio State Buckeyes have stolen our trade secret of providing some good ol' Detroit muscle to football players. Per the Columbus Dispatch:

Ohio State University's chief enforcer of NCAA rules said yesterday that he will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of OSU athletes at two Columbus car dealers to see if any sale violated collegiate rules.

The investigation was initiated after The Dispatch found in public records that at least eight Ohio State athletes and 11 athletes' relatives bought used cars from Jack Maxton Chevrolet or Auto Direct during the past five years. The investigation will involve outside experts and examine at least 50 sales, focusing on whether the athletes received improper benefits.

And, of course,  it gets even better:

Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0.

Mauk could not explain it. "I don't give cars for free," he said. Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. "I paid for the car, and I'm still paying for it," he said, declining to answer further questions

I'm willing to give the benefit of a reasonable doubt, but at some point in time that built-in, shock-proof, bullshit detector that Hemingway advised we all have just starts going off constantly. And when one random Columbus used car salesman somehow corners the market with half the Buckeye football program and a heavily-recruited star linebacker seemingly "buys" a car for $0.00, that time has come.

Moving forward, it's really impossible to predict how the NCAA will act here. Several major violations have been alleged in Columbus the past few months, but then again this wouldn't be the first time the NCAA simply looked the other way with the Buckeyes. One way or the other, though, it seems increasingly unlikely that Ohio State won't have to make some major institutional changes in the weeks and months ahead, and even the scarlet homers are realizing that now.

The obvious caveat is that anything can happen on the field come September, and strange occurrences can often be the rule, not the exception. I still have no clue how an Auburn team with two star players and zero quality depth somehow went 6-0 in games decided by one possession or mounted so many late comebacks, but nevertheless it happened. The Big Ten will remain relatively weak in 2011, and admittedly Ohio State is still probably the most talented team in the conference, suspensions or no. Even having established that, though, given the ongoing circus in Columbus it's very hard to see the Buckeyes making a legitimate run at New Orleans this season. There are still some other non-SEC / non-Big XII threats out there right now to possibly earn a berth in the BCS National Championship Game next December -- namely, Oregon, Boise, and Florida State -- but for now I have no great concerns over Ohio State running 12-0 through a relatively weak Big Ten.