It hasn’t taken the nation by storm like “Who Shot J.R.?” did in the ’80s, but “Who Hit J.T.?” was very much the focus of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s postgame rant at Michigan Stadium after beating the Wolverines last weekend.
Meyer said OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was unable to finish the game against Michigan, was bumped on the crowded sideline by a “guy with a camera” while he was warming early in the game. A video surfaced Tuesday on TMZ that showed Barrett hopping on one leg after apparently being hit, but there is no evidence of the perpetrator.
In the three days since the incident, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has told reporters that he is not interested in finding the cameraman but is encouraged that this will be a catalyst for the Big Ten to examine sideline policies at every stadium in the league.
Meyer was incensed in his postgame news conference and blamed the incident on “too many damn people on the sideline.”
Barrett said Michigan’s offense was facing third down its first series of the game while he warmed up behind the Ohio State bench. He said someone wearing gray “tried to squeeze through” and hit his knee and the knee “kind of shifted.” Barrett said he didn’t know if it was “fans, or photo camera people.”
“He just kept walking,” Barrett said of the unidentified individual, who hit him. “I’m pretty sure he got a little nervous.”
Barrett was asked if he thought it was intentional.
“I hope not,” Barrett told reporters. “I don’t think it’s that type of rivalry you try to do that.”
The bump aggravated an issue he has had to deal with this season, and he left the game with 6:07 remaining in the third quarter, because the swelling prevented him, he said, from popping the knee back into place.
Meyer said after the game he was determined to get answers and planned to launch an “all-out investigation.”
Smith told Cleveland.com in a story posted Tuesday that there will be no investigation.
“I’m more concerned about two things — that J.T. gets better, and that we do everything we can to help him get better,” Smith said. “And then beat Wisconsin.”
Meyer told reporters Monday that Barrett’s status is “probable” for the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin on Saturday night.
Earlier this season, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh described at length not only the poor visitor’s locker room facilities at Purdue but also the lack of an on-site X-ray for quarterback Wilton Speight, who suffered three broken vertebrae.
During a meeting of Big Ten athletic directors on Oct. 11, the group decided to review locker room facilities and medical care at each conference member.
“I know the Big Ten is addressing it, will address it,” Harbaugh said on his radio show late last month. “I think everyone has admitted there needs to be a high standard of care for the student-athletes and their health and welfare is the most important thing, overarching over everything else. You hope to see changes that result from it.”
Smith told Cleveland.com that he expects to examine every aspect of football game days, including sideline conditions, at their next meeting in February.
“Every place is different,” Smith said. “Some places have two tunnels (with access to the field), some have one. Some have tight sidelines, some have more space.”
At Michigan Stadium, like most stadiums, there is a narrow lane around the field that goes behind both team benches that is used for photographers and television camera people. Photographers, who must wear a vest issued by the school, must keep moving and are not allowed to stop and take photos behind the benches. For bigger games like Michigan-Ohio State, the sideline accommodates a larger number of credentialed media, not to mention cheerleaders from both schools, and the opponent’s band.
Sidelines at most stadiums are tight spaces. Samii Stoloff, a Michigan junior who shoots photos for UM, was taking pictures from the end zone at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium last month when Michigan running back Karan Higdon ran into her on a touchdown run.
Each school decides how to manage the sidelines for football games and how many credentials it issues. For games like Notre Dame at Michigan State or Ohio State at Michigan, demand is greater and as much accommodation as possible is made for accredited media.
Donors and recruits also populate the sidelines, but in recent years, Michigan and Michigan State, for instance, have tried to decrease those numbers during games by not issuing credentials. Donors and NFL scouts, for instance, are often given access to the sidelines before the start of the game but must leave before kickoff.
Michigan State’s biggest home game this year was Notre Dame. The Spartans credentialed 70 field photographers, including print outlets, websites and TV stations, and they cap that group at 90 credentials. Fox received 117 for the MSU-ND game, but about 30 worked on the field, while the rest were working elsewhere for the television game production. For a typical game at Spartan Stadium, MSU issues about 70 passes for the broadcast network.
Sidelines at all the stadiums can be tight and after a game, security can be an issue, especially if students are storming the field. Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich said a few days before the Michigan-Ohio State game that what he remembered most about last year’s game at Ohio Stadium is getting hit in the chest by a fan.
“It just really bugged me the way … what really got me personally was the storming of the field and that fan, I still don’t know who it is, who shot the double bird at me and the other fan tried to take me out,” Winovich said.
“It’s crazy. I was running off to the locker room. The police made sure they protected the field goal posts but not the opposing team players, so we’re running off and a fan shot a double bird at me, and I was looking at him and this other roly-poly kind of fan kind of ran into me, I hit him subsequently, he hit me in the chest, and he went down. As I ran off into the locker room, it was probably one of the worst injuries I’ve sustained in my Michigan career here from a fan and their lack of being able to protect the opposing team players. It hit me right in the sternum. That made me a little bitter toward them, to say the least.”