How Ohio State football is money in, money out: Doug Lesmerises

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State has a new $6 million plan to pay all athletes for academic performance starting with the 2022-23 school year. The idea, according to Ohio State, is to give athletes more incentive to stay on track for graduation and to provide more chances for athletes to leave Columbus with less debt or no debt. (Only all football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and women’s volleyball athletes are on full rides. Many other scholarship athletes are on partial scholarships.)

For athletes not on full scholarships, this fills in some gaps. For football and basketball players, it’s nearly $6,000 a year in their pocket for mostly doing what they’re already doing.

Programs like these are now allowed under a Supreme Court ruling last March that said the NCAA can’t limit educational expenses that schools provide to athletes. Ohio State couldn’t have done this before. It can now. The goal is to make as many athletes as possible eligible for the bonus of $5,980 a year.

Ohio State has more than 1,000 athletes. So that’s your $6 million budget.

How will it be paid for? No problem there.

College sports is in the midst of change. More is allowed, and even more is uncertain. And for the biggest conferences, it’s more money in and more money out.

The Big Ten is in a TV deal that pays the conference $440 million a year. That deal expires in 2023, so it’s negotiating a new contract that reportedly should pay the league $1 billion a year just in TV rights. Commissioner Kevin Warren told CBS Sports this week that deal could be done this month.

TV revenue for each of the Big Ten schools would skyrocket, doubling from something like $31 million to something above $70 million a year.

So yes, Ohio State can handle giving out $6 million a year for grades.

Ohio State previously adjusted its season ticket policy for football this season to encourage more direct giving to the football program. The goal was to jump annual donations from $14 million to something in the $25 million to $30 million range.

But the football team is also paying new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles almost $2 million per year, far more than he ever paid an assistant before. The 10 football assistants as a group will make almost $9 million this year, the largest pool of assistant money in the country.

Money in, money out.

There are more ideas out there to change college sports, and all of them spend money.

SI.com recently reported on an NCAA committee that could recommend major changes, including:

* Eliminating the scholarship caps on all sports, which means sports like baseball, for instance, would no longer by divvying up 11.7 scholarships among 27 players. If a school could pay for more scholarships, they could give them.

* Eliminating the limits on coaches on a staff. This seems unnecessary, because how can 10 full-time assistants and a raft of other staffers not be enough for a college football team? But if this was allowed, teams would do it.

* Finding other ways to pay athletes directly. This would go beyond the increased educational spending like we started with at the top, and go more toward pay for play. So far, every part of the NCAA, including the big schools, has resisted that to this point.

All of that would cost money. But if TV revenue and ticket revenue and donor giving is up, then the costs are covered.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith suggested to ESPN this week an idea where the 130 teams in major college football could basically leave the NCAA. They’d do business under The College Football Playoff, with the teams in those 10 conferences making their own rules. And that means making rules that let them spend more money.

All other sports would stay with the NCAA. Many have thought football might head that direction toward breaking off. Smith isn’t afraid to toss out ideas, so it doesn’t mean this is imminent.

But schools like Ohio State know money will keep coming in. So they aren’t afraid to keep sending money out, while trying to hold off the straight school pay for athlete play idea. But other spending? They’ll keep looking at ways to allow themselves to do that.

Setting aside $6 million for athletes in good academics who are earning their required credits, that’s just the latest step.

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