The decision wasn't Urban Meyer's, but the Buckeyes coach is living with the repercussions. In fact, he's doing such a great job of pulling Ohio State out of the ditch it crashed into last year, Meyer is making the school's choice not to sit out a bowl game more painful by the week.
Had the Buckeyes self-imposed that punishment last fall, in the wake of the memorabilia-for-tattoos mess that cost Jim Tressel his job, and passed up what turned out to be a depressing 24-17 Gator Bowl loss to Florida, perhaps the NCAA would have allowed Meyer to take this year's team to the postseason. Imagine how the landscape might look now.
Even Meyer, Mr. Next-Game's-My-Only-Focus, has. "You know, I could lie to you and say that I don't. Every once in a while -- but not as much as I thought -- I'll hear it and read it ... and I'll think for a second," Meyer admitted Monday during his weekly news conference. "But then I go back to knowing exactly who we [are]."
Who are they? One of only four unbeaten squads in Division I, the sixth-ranked team in the nation at 10-0, a would-be heavy favorite to play in the Rose Bowl and perhaps the national championship game.
On the other hand? "We're pretty fortunate where we are," Meyer said, and Ohio State's narrow escapes against Cal, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue prove his point. The Big Ten's national profile this year is one of mediocrity, so the Buckeyes would be fighting a strength-of-schedule debate this month, although closing with Wisconsin this weekend and Michigan the next gives them an opportunity to prove themselves.
But it's all just a painful daydream in Columbus, because athletic director Gene Smith gambled the NCAA would not impose a penalty as serious as a postseason ban.
That doesn't mean there is nothing for Ohio State to play for. After all, a successful Buckeyes season is one in which they beat Michigan, and they'll be gunning for payback after last year's 40-34 loss. And an undefeated season would be only the sixth in Ohio State history.
Then there's the Associated Press poll, which has bestowed its own national championship since 1934. The Buckeyes might not be eligible for the BCS championship, but the 60 writers who vote in the AP poll (including myself) are under no such restriction.
So could Meyer win his third national title this year? "At some point, that might be worth a discussion," Meyer said warily on the Big Ten coaches conference call. "Certainly not now."
The Buckeyes would be an intriguing title candidate if they were bowl-eligible, But according to an informal survey of AP voters conducted by the Toledo Blade, a significant portion of the electorate (once again, including myself) would not vote for the Buckeyes as champion, even if they are the lone remaining unbeaten team.
The reason is simple: Without a significant January hurdle to clear, as every other team will face in a bowl game, they cannot be judged to be the best.
It's unlikely to matter, given that three undefeated teams remain, and three SEC teams have only one loss. The BCS Championship Game will undoubtedly feature a strong matchup, and its winner will be a deserving champion.
It's just a shame that we'll never know if the Buckeyes are, too.