In many ways, 2011 has been a forgettable year for the Ohio State football program. Tuesday’s announcement by athletic director Gene Smith, Undergraduate Student Government, Block “O” and OSU Sportsmanship Council of an initiative to treat all visiting Penn State fans respectfully for Saturday’s OSU-PSU game stands as a bright spot.

Since the December revelation that six OSU football players sold team memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos, OSU football and Buckeye Nation has been reeling. Beloved former coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign as part of the fallout from the team’s NCAA violations and the 2010 season, including a 2011 Sugar Bowl victory, was vacated. Ever since, the OSU roster has been a merry-go-round-esque shuffle of suspended and not suspended players.

OSU’s football team, its fans and the university itself continue to be the subject of national scrutiny and ridicule.

Then a troubling, new scandal was unearthed at Penn State last week.

Happy Valley was rocked by its own football program’s misdeeds as former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing children at a Nittany Lions football facility. PSU’s president for finance and business, Gary Schultz, and athletic director, Tim Curley, were also charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse. University President Graham Spanier resigned in the wake of the charges being made public and Joe Paterno, NCAA Division I’s all-time wins leader and the head coach of PSU football for 46 years, was fired.

On the night the PSU Board of Trustees announced Spanier’s resignation and Paterno’s firing, a faction of students rioted in State College, Pa., flipping a TV news truck on College Avenue and harassing police and members of the media.

Off-the-field situations like these, particularly the incidents at PSU, put the true significance of a collegiate athletic competition into perspective, and Smith did well to recognize this by encouraging Buckeye Nation to be respectful toward visiting Nittany Lions supporters this weekend.

“With the incidents occurring over at Penn State University this past week, we thought it was important that we try and share with our fans this reality that we face by hosting Penn State this weekend,” Smith said at OSU coach Luke Fickell’s Tuesday press conference. “We’re asking all of our Buckeye fans… to continue to show the sportsmanship and class that they represent as we welcome our visitors.

“The fans that will come here and the young men that participate in this contest this weekend are coming here as our visitors. We ask that all of our fans continue to demonstrate great respect.”

OSU fans should consider themselves lucky that the Tattoo-gate scandal was revealed with only a neutral-site bowl game remaining in its season. By comparison, PSU still had three regular season games to play — two of which are still to be played at Ohio Stadium and at Wisconsin — when news of its scandal broke. PSU could also play two additional games should it qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game and a bowl game after that.

“Penn State students love their school just as much as we love ours,” USG President Nick Messenger said at the Tuesday press conference. “It is important to remember the victims of this tragedy, but it is also important to remember that our visitors are not people whom we should direct our anger.”

Well said.

The potential for Nittany Lions players, coaches and fans to be verbally abused increases exponentially when they leave State College, but OSU fans should be the last to poke fun at a program in suffering.

OSU students, faculty and staff have probably heard enough tattoo jokes to last them a lifetime. You remember how that feels — it’s not a good feeling. There’s no reason to make another fanbase feel that way.

If you don’t have anything nice to say when you see a Nittany Lions fan on Saturday, do everyone a favor and say nothing.

After all, OSU football is not so far removed from its own troubles that Buckeye Nation should feel that it is in a position to judge other football programs.