By now, the discussion about Ohio State football’s place in the hearts of Cincinnati sports fans is tired and lame.
There are plenty of Buckeye fans in and around the Queen City, but people in the rest of the state don’t get why there aren’t more, and some of them are bitter about it. As far as that goes, to each his own.
But there is a tangible reason why Ohio State’s influence matters in Cincinnati, and it relates to football recruiting.
In that realm, there can be no debate that Cincinnati takes a backseat to Cleveland when it comes to producing future Buckeyes, at least in the past 10 or so years.
Jim Tressel is a native of the Cleveland area with extensive ties throughout northeastern Ohio (although he was an assistant at Miami University for two years), and he leaned heavily on those while recruiting at Ohio State.
From 2002 (his first full year on the recruiting trail) through 2011 (his last), he offered roughly as many players from one school in Cleveland (Glenville) as he did the entire greater Cincinnati area.
Overall, he signed 39 Cleveland area players compared to 23 offers (and 10 signees) in the Cincinnati area. While offers can be somewhat ephemeral, signings are not, and this exhibits a clear preference on the part of Tressel’s staff. (So few offers went southwest, it is not hard to count their total with relative certainty. They offered about a dozen kids from Cleveland who went elsewhere, give or take one or two.)
Of course, Jim Tressel won enough football games to prove he knew what he was doing. Ratings from Scout.com seem to bear that out, too, as they heavily favored northeast Ohio in the first half of the past decade.
From 2002-05, there were 15 four- or five-star recruits in Cleveland compared to only five in Cincinnati.
But since then, the Queen City has made a comeback. From 2006-11, Cincinnati exceeded Cleveland in four- and five-star recruits, 23-20. Last year, it was 6-4 in favor of Cleveland, leaving Cincinnati one ahead over the past seven years.
There are a few different possible explanations for this, including a shift in population (the Cincinnati metro area surpassed Cleveland in size during the last census period) and the expansion of the scouting services, but the numbers are pretty clear.
With Columbus also becoming a larger producer of Division I talent, Ohio State under Urban Meyer will not have the luxury of concentrating on one part of the state. His new backyard probably won’t be a problem, but Cincinnati is going to require some effort.
Perhaps playing the spring game there next year will be a good start.