There's No Better Time to be a Buckeye

By Kyle Rowland on June 27, 2013 at 9:30a
These are the best of times.

The announcement of the sanctions against the Oregon football program has drawn stern criticism from Ohio State fans. Two years after being handed a bowl ban, Buckeye Nation still feels wronged. But in reality, they’ve suffered no ill fate.

In recent decades, SMU, Auburn, Miami, Alabama and USC, among others, have been dealt severe penalties from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. In each case, it’s taken years for the program to return to an elite level, and in some cases, they’ve never won at the same rate.

The 2011 Ohio State season represented the lowest of lows for many. What was thought to be a potential national championship season turned sour before 2010 even ended. TatGate arose, star players were suspended, and then in March, Jim Tressel’s status came into question. On Memorial Day, Tressel was ousted as head coach.

Six months later, a 6-6 regular season came to a conclusion in Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes lost to Michigan for the first time since 2003. Urban Meyer was introduced as Ohio State’s head coach two days later. And it’s been coming up Buckeyes ever since – unless you count that minor speed bump at the Gator Bowl.

The Death Penalty quite literally ended the SMU football program. From 1980-1984, the private Dallas school had a 45-5-1 record. The Mustangs' win percentage, which hovered near 90 percent, was the highest in Division 1-A. But then the sordid details came out about a slush fund that even the governor was involved in.

The NCAA shut down the SMU program for one season while the school chose not to field a team again the following season. When Mustang football returned, the on-field product was easily the worst in major college football. It wasn’t until 2009 that SMU finally returned to the postseason.

Auburn, Miami, Alabama and USC have all sleepwalked through sanction-riddled seasons. For Ohio State, it was one lost year followed by a 12-0 season. Beyond that appears to be endless success for the Meyer-coached Buckeyes. Few, if any, programs are set up for the future better than Ohio State. It is poised for an unprecedented run after a decade-long period of dominance.

For athletic director Gene Smith, though, the well-rounded nature of the program garners even more gratitude.

“I think everyone has recognized what (Meyer) and his staff have done on the field,” he said. “I think the most impressive thing is off the field – his focus on developing the whole student-athlete, helping them academically, bringing the culture where they develop as men.

Covelli Arena will be home to the gymnastics, wrestling, volleyball and fencing teams.Covelli Arena will replace St. John and French Field House.

“Everyone knows that I’m big on the developing of our young people so they can get ready for tomorrow’s complex society, and I think that’s sometimes the unseen thing that he’s done just a magnificent job in. He’s done a marvelous job.”

Across all 36 varsity sports, Ohio State is unique. Stanford has established itself as the king and queen of college athletics, winning the Directors’ Cup on an annual basis, but the Buckeyes aren’t far behind. Football and men’s basketball receive more than 90 percent of the attention from fans. Several other teams have just as much, if not more, success as the glamor sports.

The women’s rowing team, Blaz Rola (men’s tennis), Michael Newberger (men’s gymnastics), Marco Canevari (fencing) and Logan Stieber (wrestling) all know what it feels like to be crowned national champions.

“I think we are positioned extremely well, first and foremost because of the great support that Columbus and Buckeye Nation provides to our institution and our athletic department,” Smith said. “We have great coaches – Urban is representative of that. We had some great champions this year. Our men’s tennis team hasn’t lost a home match in 10 years. Can you imagine saying that here in Columbus, Ohio?”

A portion of the tennis program’s success - and many other Ohio State teams – has come from state-of-the-art facilities that have few equals at the collegiate level. Ty Tucker’s infectious personality and ability to attract top talent to Columbus certainly helps. But a still new indoor facility and brand new outdoor courts is a contributing factor.

During the facilities arms race of the 1990s, Ohio State was the undisputed winner. Old buildings were renovated and new venues were built. Nearly every athletic program had a new facility. Almost two decades later, the Buckeyes remain in the upper echelon in regards to athletic venues. But that doesn’t mean improvements and upgrades will go by the wayside. Just last month the athletic department announced it would add more than 2,000 seats to Ohio Stadium.

“Andy (Geiger) did a great job of setting the foundation, so our focus has been on deferred maintenance items,” Smith said. “We’re doing the Horseshoe this year with renovating the seats and things of that nature. We’re building what we’re calling an athletics district, which is the area north of Jesse Owens and north of the Woody Hayes facility where we’re going to add the Covelli Arena. The sports medicine facility named after the Crane family will be up in that area. We’ll look at raising money for a small wrestling practice facility, replacing French Field House with an indoor track facility and a small ice rink replacing the ice rink. The area with French Field House and St. John and the OSU Ice Rink is acreage that is more valuable to the academic growth of the institution. A lot of those facilities have deferred maintenance issues. This is a 15-20 year plan. We’ll eventually tear those down and replace them in the athletics district.”

Texas and Stanford, along with Ohio State, are two schools often mentioned when it comes to who has the best facilities in the country. Both of those schools also offer tremendous academics. In recent years, high quality academics at Ohio State have become a reality. Over the past 20 years, the university has thrust itself into the conversation when the best public institutions are discussed.

Academic All-Big Ten and All-American performers have become routine. They haven’t just sprouted in non-premier sports, either. In 2012, Aaron Craft became the men’s basketball program’s first Academic All-American since Bill Hosket in 1968. Craft followed it up by being honored as the Academic All-American of the Year in 2013.

"We would have to create a new structure, and we will have to create a new way we do business. It will require us to reduce our sport programs."

A decade ago it was Craig Krenzel who garnered the academic spotlight. Not only did he quarterback the Buckeyes to a national championship, he also won the Draddy Trophy, which is referred to as the “academic Heisman.” The molecular genetics major proved that achieving success at the highest level of academics and athletics was possible.

“It’s just an honor and a privilege to create an environment for these young people to be successful academically and athletically,” Smith said. “I came here in 2005 and in 2006, our graduation rate was 62 percent. This past year it was 81 percent. We’re on the trajectory that we should be on when you have great coaches like Urban and the great support we have.”

The entire model could change, however, depending on the outcome of the Ed O’Bannon-NCAA case. In the spring, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany infamously said Division I programs would go the way of Division III and not offer scholarships and de-emphasize athletics all together. Not many bit on that assertion and Delany eventually backtracked.

Asked about the subject on Tuesday, Smith said he’s long believed athletes should receive more financial support, especially the ones who are in need. How to go about that is the biggest answer that remains untapped.

“If (O’Bannon) ultimately wins, it will deplete the NCAA endowment fund, it would deplete the reserves of the NCAA,” Smith said. “We would have to create a new structure, and we will have to create a new way we do business. It will require us to reduce our sport programs. There’s no way we will be able to fund 36 varsity sports because we will have to come up with a method to provide compensation and all that comes with that to support X number of sports. It’s going to change the business.”

It’s no secret that intercollegiate athletics has become nothing more than a giant business. It’s why conference expansion swept through football, it’s why conference- and team-specific TV networks exist, it’s why there is an endless amount of bowl games and on and on.

In any business, making money is key. The Ohio State athletic department – or football and men’s basketball programs – has done a good job of that. But when only two sports are making money, it’s fair for people to question the business model. Sports is different from other business, but maybe it’s time for college athletic departments to look in the mirror and ask if sports should be cut or if business models should change.

Not every university is as fortunate as Ohio State. The athletic department is self-supporting, and it kicks in cash to other areas of the university. When the library underwent a major overhaul, the athletic department donated nearly $10 million to the project. That isn’t happening at Ole Miss. Only around 20 athletic departments each year operate in the black.

The O’Bannon case won’t bankrupt the Buckeyes, and the football team won’t be forced to wear tattered jerseys. But national titles in women’s rowing and synchronized swimming could be nearing an end.

For Ohio State, the decisions will weigh heavily. 


Comments Show All Comments

Grayskullsession's picture

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

Posterchild's picture

I don't really know how to respond to this article, because it touched on so many subjects that bring out a wide variety of feels. I would hate, and I mean HATE, to see athletes get compensated anymore than they already do. I worked in college athletics when I was going to school. I put in just as many hours as these kids, using student loans and money out of pocket to pay my way, difference is when they graduate (assuming they will) they have no debt. They have a degree that is worth around $100,000 over a five year period. Probably more in a lot of cases. I think that is fair. They don't worry about food, they get tutoring, and their housing is paid for. 
Do I get the idea that the NCAA capitalizes on the success/popularity of these schools and kids? Yeah. But that is business. I work in business, I get compensated for managing production and shipments. These kids play football, and they get a free education for it and everything else that other student have to work 20 years to pay off.
What I don't agree with is the idea that if someone see's a player in line at Five Guys and wants to buy him a burger, it would be considered a violation. That's just petty. People say allowing that to happen without consequence would open the door for a variety of scenarios in which a player receives benefits. To which I would say you can draw a line, you just have to pick up a pen and write the damn rules in black and white.
Getting off of my pedestal for a minute. This is an awesome write-up. If you really focus on the last two years and the way everyone in the media and fans all over predicted our demise (in football), it is easy to see why we are hated. We went from a crap situation, to 12-0 with one of the best head coaches in the nation, with the best QB in the nation and everyone (except the arse nuggets to the north) expects us to go undefeated and compete for a championship. It's never felt so good to be so hated.
No matter what sport you play for the Buckeyes, if you represent well on and off the field you will always be remembered as a Buckeye great. I want to see more greats come from this university, and I would hate to see opportunities lost...
Go Bucks!

Buckeye Rocket Sci's picture

Bravo, sir! I was about to post similarly but you beat me to the punch!
These kids really do have it pretty well off in most cases. So long as they aren't starving (which we can all say by the looks of them, they aren't) and aren't forced to live in crap housing, they shouldn't worry about being paid hard cash when they're already being paid so much. If they stick with it, work hard, and are naturally gifted they can come out, as you said, with over $100,000 of education and a possible 6-7 figure salary. That's a hell of a lot better than most! 
Should they be allowed to be given a free burger? Certainly. Is it going to be hard to draw that  line in a fair, effective manner? Undoubtedly. However it turns out, I just hope the NCAA doesn't screw this up as bad as they're infractions committee.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence" - Calvin Coolidge

Posterchild's picture

I think what has happened is that getting a scholarship to play football at a major university used to be a great achievement and the value of that scholarship was realized. Now it is just common place, a formality. That is really, really unfortunate to not realize what you have already been given.
I have an idea, give the athletes the options to be paid to play. If they take the pay, they have to give up the scholarship and the money goes back into the athletic department/school. Let them work the math.

Kyle Rowland's picture

You guys all make good points. I think a big sticking point with people who support athletes getting more is the fact that the schools and the NCAA make millions upon millions (and billion in some cases) on the backs of these 18-22 year olds. When the amounts are that high, student-athletes deserve some piece of the pie. Also, one thing that is often lost. Being an athlete is like a full-time job, so a lot of these kids can't make money. The time commitment to their sports doesn't allow them to be employed. 

Posterchild's picture

My response to those voices would be this.
"Are you saying you would be willing to sacrifice the opportunities for those athletes who compete in non-revenue generating, sports for the benefit of of some?"
I understand the time commitment. I've seen it, been there for the two-a-days, for the road games, for the fundraising, for the camps, for everything. I got paid for my work, but I paid for classes and I paid for housing, and I paid for meal plans and books.
If I run the numbers, I made $8,560 for 7 months of work with the football team at my school in 2010.
In 2010, my tuition for 26 credit hours over two semesters came to around 17,000, add in housing for the year 8,000. I didn't take the meal plan because I found it cheaper to go to the grocery store and do it myself. But 25,000 is what it cost me to attend for 1 year.
That puts my net at a whopping $ -16,440 for 2010. I believe the players had it much better. Add in also the best meal plan that they received at 1,250 a semester for a better idea.... 
Those players, FWIW, have opportunities to work in the summer. Instead of going on vacation they could work. Save money and use it during the school year. I did that too.

Buckeye Rocket Sci's picture

The fact that the kids can't hold a full-time job has always been one of my biggest arguments for a stipend. Which goes back to my comment about food/housing. So long as they aren't struggling to live properly outside of football, then I don't think they need the money. If you are going to provide them extra incentive, I think it must be remedial. I just don't want college football to become a bidding war with what school can pay their players the most; it could ruin the game as we know it. Millions of people work for barely anything everyday as the "big man" gets paid riches upon riches for their effort (see just about any major company in the world). It's a way of business and, again, so long as these kids aren't suffering or starving, let them have their education and future, nothing more.
Sorry if it comes off a bit heartless but I already hate teams like the Yankees and Pats for being the best because they can pay the best and really don't want to see college football go the same route. 

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence" - Calvin Coolidge

skid21's picture

Spend some time working at any teaching hospital and you will see med students PAYING to work every day during their rotations. The hospitals are making money off of them. Any graduate student who is involved in research and grants are bringing money in while most are still paying for their education. If you pay the male basketball players what about the female basketball players or any athlete in a sport that doesn't generate funds? It is a slippery slope.

jbcuky's picture

What's slippery about the slope? Let the market decide. If it's worth it to pay a female basketball player, then pay her. If it's not worth it, don't pay her.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

I can attest to your general observation concerning graduate students.  I "slaved away" in the lab sometimes for 70+ hours in a week, and only got paid a marginal stipend.  I won some fellowships, but in the end, I guarantee my work hauled in far more grant funding (proportional to my effort), for my mentors, than the money I was receiving. Of course, such is the nature of obtaining an advanced degree in the sciences, at most (all?) universities.
But still, I am so happy to have had my tuition paid, and some (meager) money on top of it.  I know some students who lost their funding for various reasons, and  easily racked up $100,000+ in debt, at the end of their degree.  The bottom line is that the athletes (and certainly students who have/had my advantage in obtaining funds) should look at their benefits with a bit more gratitude.
*As an aside, I'd like to mention that there are PhD students in the sciences who literally do 80+ hours per week, every week.  Most often, they are Chinese and/or Indian students who would must be in an active program, as a stipulation for being in the country.  Given their respective cultures, and the threat their mentors hold over them (of being shipped back home), they literally work like slaves, and have less say in their research than do Americans.  Ironically, most of them are just as grateful as I am, or more-so.

jbcuky's picture

In response to Buckeye Rocket Sci:
The Pats can pay the best? I'm pretty sure the NFL has a salary cap and i'm also pretty sure the Patriots don't have the highest team payroll.
Also, you don't think college football isn't already dominated by teams that can pay the best? How much is Ohio State paying Urban Meyer? How much did the facilities cost?

Buckeye Rocket Sci's picture

You're right, there is a salary cap which has allowed some better dispersion of funds. Poor example on my part. Still, you can take the NFL in general out of it if you want because that's 32 professional teams with only one team to worry about. We're talking about 120+ colleges with a HUGE range of income, athletes, and teams to account for. Even talking about just the top 25 you can have a very wide range.
And I know there is a separation now, there always will be. But what we're talking about is taking what little hope of uniformity there may be and throwing it out the window. If we want to pay the players then separate the FBS with the "elite" teams who can afford to do so. There has to be some sort of limiting factor is all I'm saying. Whether that be a reasonable cap that most can afford, separating the FBS, or limiting the number of paid players, there has to be some line drawn. There just simply can't be a free-for-all of paying players to come play ball. It would get too dirty too quick, IMO.
I can understand you're side, and am sorry if I offend your opinion since both sides definitely have merit, I just, personally, think the current system isn't perfect but is good enough not to have a complete overhaul. Small stipend? Yes. Salary or something similar of the sort that goes above and beyond? No way.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence" - Calvin Coolidge

NC_Buckeye's picture

Here's my counter to the big sticking point you cite above, Kyle.

I think a big sticking point with people who support athletes getting more is the fact that the schools and the NCAA make millions upon millions (and billion in some cases) on the backs of these 18-22 year olds. When the amounts are that high, student-athletes deserve some piece of the pie.

If I work at a company that gets crazy successful based on my work and 50-60 other people, how would I be treated if I walked into the boss's office and demanded my share of that crazy success. Answer: boss would tell me I'm free to take my talents elsewhere.
The workplace is a free market. It might not be fair but it is what it is.
My answer to your sticking point is that college athletics needs to become a free market. If the NCAA held a special session and decided to get rid of all rules regarding eligibility to turn pro. THEN college athletics becomes a free market as well and the O'Bannon case becomes moot for current players.
Don't like the fact that you're not getting paid. Solution: turn pro.
College athletics retains its amateur status and Ohio State can continue to focus on winning cfb NC's.

kiester's picture

Lets not forget, many of these guys end up getting a year or two of graduate school paid for too. That a free 4/5 year college (undergrad) education plus a year or two of gradate school is a HUGE compensation. 

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Mmmmmmmm Five Guys hamburgers..... aaagggggggg

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I don't think students should be paid a salary or something from the university.  I think they should just ease up on this improper benefits stuff.  How about a little discretionary review?  It's like a cop pulls you over for speeding.  If you were going 30 MPH over the limit, your ass is getting a ticket, but if you were only going 5 MPH over the limit, you probably get away with a warning.  That's all I'm asking for.  The situation that you mentioned with recognizing a player in line at Five Guys and buying their burger - that is the minor violation that they should just let go.  However, if you start giving players large sums of money, say to encourage them to come to OSU, not transfer out of OSU, or maybe stay for their senior year if they could get drafted highly after their junior year, then you have a problem.  You draw a line in the sand, and you punish the more serious infractions, and let the petty stuff go. 
Drilling players for selling their own stuff?  Come on now.  No, you can't sell a jersey with Miller's name on it while he still has eligibility, yet they still sell blank #5 jerseys as if we don't know who that is supposed to represent, and of course the NCAA and OSU make a lot of money off of the on-field product as well as the merchandise sales.  Yet, the NCAA and OSU make all kinds of money off of what #5 and company do on the field. 

Class of 2010.

AhhYes's picture

"They have a degree that is worth around $100,000 over a five year period. Probably more in a lot of cases. I think that is fair."
I don't think that's fair at all. How do you view "fair" compensation in the marketplace? You weigh your contributions to the overall profit margins and expect to receive an amount that reflects your contribution to that margin.
These players (basketball and football) drive all that profit. All of it. 20k a year or so (per your example) is a pittance when compared against the millions upon millions their performances make the University and the NCAA.
It's completely disproportionate.

thatlillefty's picture

Great article Kyle. But I'm surprised you didn't mention the outgoing president, Gordon Gee, when talking about Ohio State's world class facilities and improved academics. He deserves just as much credit as Gene Smith (maybe more) for the school's current standing.

Doc's picture

When is it a bad time to be a Buckeye?  I don't know of any.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

MN Buckeye's picture

Great article, Kyle!  What is impressive to me is that, over the past 20 years, the leadership at tOSU has recognized the need for top-flight facilities and programs and developed the vision to make it happen.  They have invested tremendous time and effort to make it happen, and we as fans are fortunate to benefit from that.  Of course, many of us have also been part of making that happen, but you only have to look around the B1G and NCAA overall to see that this has not been the case at very many places.  Kudos to all of the academic and sports leaders that have us on the upward climb at all levels.

nvbuckeye's picture

FWIW, back in the 60s I lived in Park Hall around several football players.  They had time to find jobs in the off season (most were phony/make work type jobs but they still worked).  It never seemed to interfere with their class work or their off-season workouts.
Also, I like the idea of making them pay for school if they get money for playing a sport.  Take away the athletic scholarship and make them pay their own way or get an academic scholarship.  That seems fair to the 50K+ tOSU students that have to struggle to pay for school and then struggle to pay off loans after school.  Most major collegiate sports athletes are too pampered anyway.  If they want compensation then exchange it dollar for dollar with the cost of getting that free education each receives today.  That will give them an education on campus and about real life in the real world.
Just my opinion and thanks for reading.  Go Buckeyes!!!!!

sarasotabcg's picture

Campus expansion was a common topic when I was an undergrad. I was always in favor of them swallowing the neighborhood to the south all the way to King because it would help keep the campus Oval-centric.

Back then field and tennis courts between the towers and Larkins were untouchable but I'm told those are long gone.

Buckeye06's picture

Are you seriously going to tell me that people on here don't think the Oregon thing stings because that basically cost us a shot at a NC last year.  I'm not blaming it on Oregon, since the school doesn't control what happens, so I'm not mad at them, but more the way it is all handled.
The other sports could win every year everything and people would still care primarily about the big 2 

BED's picture

Two years after being handed a bowl ban, Buckeye Nation still feels wronged. But in reality, they’ve suffered no ill fate.

Except for that little thing called a "National Championship" we'd have won against Notre Dame last year...

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

Young_Turk's picture

Like many if not all of you, I'm a life-long Buckeye fan.  I've never been so proud of the past/present, and so optimistic of the future for this great University.  Not just from an athletics perspective (although this has the makings of a Beautiful Epoch).  Hopefully more fans start attending some of the lesser known and followed sports.  
Don't really know what the right answer is regarding the likely outcome of the O'Bannon case.
I feel that it's time to ...
1)  Create a tier of collegiate athletics that recognizes and compensates the commitment of these  entertainer/athletes.  I haven't thought about it too much, but have a sense that a deferred compensation in lieu of scholarship feels the way to go.  I'm not talking about pro money, something that is roughly the equivalent to a year's tuition for a starter.
2)  Feel that the schools in this tier can afford to pay their athletes as well as fun non-revenue sports.  Trust me the Athletic Departments are flush with cash. See assistant coach salaries.
3)  Hopefully, the O'Bannon case does not impact those schools outside of this tier.  
Here's to the Great Leap Forward!


unholy bucknut's picture

our athletics facilities are second to none. I'm proud of what we are doing in response to bouncing back from our sanctions. still makes me sick Oregon skated through unscathed. But whatever.

BED's picture

UNC getting off with no punishment is about 10,000 times worse.  They cheated for years to make players eligible when they otherwise wouldn't be by giving them fake classes to boost their GPAs.  That actually harms student-athletes.

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009